There ' thats the only negative with another Annika Sorenstam storybook season. She won victory No. 7 over the weekend at the Mizuno Classic. Oh ' it was the fourth consecutive time she has won this tournament. And yes, thats a record.
Annika has now outlasted Tiger Woods as the most impressive story in golf. Tiger is somewhere in the top five. Annika is No. 1, as she has been for the past four years. The problem, of course, is that shes No. 1 in the LPGA, and that makes for an awfully quiet announcement. Annika Sorenstam is the greatest womens golfer at least since Mickey Wright 40 years ago, undoubtedly deserving of a much bigger fanfare. But she does much of her sterling stuff in relative anonymity ' hasnt that always been the plight of women golfers?
There is Michelle Wie, and then there are a whole bunch of women who play along at the game. Annika is admittedly the best-known, simply by virtue of her remarkable feats. Wies tender age (15) has been her prime calling card, though she unquestionably can play this game. But its quite difficult to always know what is transpiring with Annika, outside of the bare scores and the wins which now come at almost a one-in-two clip.
She won the Mizuno in Japan by nine strokes. Yes, I said nine strokes. The best of the women were there, but she dusted them by a full lap.
Annika has several things going against her in the publicity game. Number 1, of course is being a woman in an exercise that is still thought of as played mostly by men. Number 2 is her country of origin ' she is not an American, though she has lived here 13 years now. She is a native of Sweden. Number 3, she is not by nature a great athlete ' just a good one who has made herself great by her extreme work ethic. And No. 4, she does not toot her own horn. She always says the correct things, always carries herself as a lady, and finds it very hard to brag on herself.
This is Annika.
Cristi Kerr, Grace Park, Lorena Ochoa, Se Ri Pak - all have made some noises about the future of the LPGA. But they will have to wait awhile. As long as Annika wants it, she will remain the best in the game. Just look at her statistics this year:
She, of course, is leading the tour in wins ' seven ' more than twice the number of the No. 2s, Kerr and Meg Mallon. And she has only played 17 times (Christina Kim leads the LPGA in events played with 29).
She leads the tour easily in scoring at 68.69, more than a shot under second-place Grace Park. Oh ' she is miles ahead in money won ' her jackpot of better than $2.3 million is more than $800,000 better than second-place Park.
She averages 269.4 in driving distance, which last year would have placed her in the lead. This year two are better, but she is tied for third ' again with Park. But that T3 makes her by far the best driver on the tour because she is 21st in driving accuracy. Distance leader Sophie Gustafson is 164th, second-place Wendy Doolan is 78th and Park is 100th.
OK, how about putting? Sorenstam used to be very mundane at putting, but she has made herself into a very good putter. Last year she was No. 1, this year shes tied for fourth.
Maybe shes impressive because she made herself into a great player. Karrie Webb looked for all the world like she was going to be the best in the world for years to come when she was No. 1 in 99 and 2000. But Sorenstam, in a gritty display of determination, made herself the best.
She won eight times in 2001, 11 times in 2002, eight times last year and seven more this year. Thats 34 victories in just four years. That, people, is unheard-of in modern golf. Webb never could have guessed that it meant that much to Annika. No one could have ' but heres evidence that it did.
Or maybe she is impressive because she is always improving. Can she get any better than she is right now? Definitely, if you listen to what she is saying:
I think certain parts of my game have improved every year, she said. My long game is pretty similar, but my short game has improved, especially my chipping and putting. I think I have become a better player, and I think experience helps too.
She just passed her 34th birthday, and she and her husband have so much they want to do in life. This has been her livelihood, her reason for being since she turned down a future in tennis at about the age of 15. She will give this life up and start down a new path before long now. But until that day in the not-too-distant future, she is a one-word description of excellence.
Just say Annika.
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