Sorenstam Achieving All Her Goals

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It seemed like a small step for her, and easy to overlook, because it came so soon after her giant leap for womankind.
 
But winning the British Open on Sunday meant the world to Annika Sorenstam. And maybe it won't end with her.
 
Capturing the final major (and her second) of the season made the Swede only the sixth female golfer ever to accomplish a career Grand Slam. But those things weren't driving Sorenstam down the stretch at Royal Lytham. This win wasn't about proving something to others as much as proving something very important to herself.
 
Sorenstam put her game and her personality under the microscope by displaying both at the Colonial in May. Fifty-eight years had passed since a woman tested herself against men on the PGA Tour, and as long as Sorenstam lasted, it looked and felt like anybody who'd ever had an opinion on the subject found a way inside the gates.
 
The galleries on some holes were eight deep. The course crackled for two entire days. There were moments when the electricity rose to the level of Nicklaus making a final-day surge at the Masters.
 
But generating all that buzz came with costs -- short- and long-term.
 
As resolute and patient as Sorenstam was during the first round at Colonial was how overmatched and frayed she looked by the close of the second. She walked off the 18th green that day in tears, but that shouldn't have been anybody's lasting memory, either.
 
Sorenstam didn't agree to become one of the more interesting Rohrshach tests that sports has devised without getting something in return. And that was learning how to play golf under extreme duress. To remember how it felt to stand in the fairway under an open sky and feel like there wasn't enough oxygen to go around -- yet still find enough to draw the club back calmly and pull off the shot.
 
'Like I said, this is what it's all about: to have a chance to win a major championship where you've just got to perform,' Sorenstam said afterward. 'I'm nervous, but I love it at the same time. It's kind of a combination.'
 
Up until Sunday, the same could be said about her Colonial experiment: The results were mixed.
 
In June, Sorenstam played steely golf over the closing holes to win the LPGA Championship, delivering one clutch shot after another to force a sudden-death playoff against Grace Park and win on the first extra hole.
 
But at last month's U.S. Open, the opposite happened. With a chance to slam the door on the 18th hole, Sorenstam kicked a 4-wood into some trees, made bogey and finished out of a playoff.
 
A few days later, she withdrew after just six holes of the Canadian Women's Open, citing sickness and exhaustion. The only person who seemed surprised at the time was Sorenstam herself.
 
'I learned that I can't go 100 percent every single day,' she said. 'I have enjoyed pretty much everything since I decided to play Colonial. But I've been nonstop.'
 
Against that backdrop, the British looked tough enough. It already held the best field of the season and empty memories for Sorenstam -- a runner-up three times. This time, though, she didn't get the lead until the 65th hole and parred the last three to keep it.
 
'I was very nervous on the first tee, and I was very nervous on the last three holes. It's funny how the emotions works, but I hit some great shots when I needed to,' Sorenstam said.
 
'That's all the hard work. I mean, that's why I hit balls at night, that's why I hit so many putts, that's why I go to the gym, to be in this situation, and then to win. That's what motivates me and keeps me going,' she said. 'I love it.'
 
You don't know whether to feel happy for Sorenstam, because this moves her closer to the best women golfers of all time, or sad because no matter what she accomplishes, nothing will likely eclipse the memory of her two rounds playing men. Then again, blazing a trail isn't supposed to be easy.
 
Sorenstam has done her part to clear the path and shared in some of the rewards. She now has six majors and back-to-back seasons that would make Tiger Woods look as if he really was in a slump. More important, Sorenstam's willingness to temper her competitive nature with experience suggests she can get better.
 
She is 32, just two years younger than Mickey Wright was when she quit playing full-time. Wright was the greatest women's player ever -- even Hogan called her swing the best he'd ever seen -- but she was effectively off the LPGA Tour by 1969, no longer up to the burden of carrying the flag for an entire sport.
 
Since then, Nancy Lopez and a few others have taken it up. Now it's Sorenstam's turn. There will be a woman playing regularly on the PGA Tour someday, and while it won't be her, chances are good Sorenstam will have a good view of the moment from where she planted the flag.