The Best Even Without Her Best

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ORLANDO, Fla. ' Annika Sorenstam was so dominant during her heyday that she could win without her best game. Of course, you wont get the humble Swede to admit it outright ' and fellow competitors dont want to hear of such nonsense ' but it happened. She often won with her C-game.
 
When Sorenstams final putt drops this week at the ADT Championship at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Fla., she will have put the finishing touches on a 15-year LPGA career that produced 72 victories, 10 major championships and a mind-boggling 209 top-10 finishes. If shes able to capture ADTs $1 million first-place prize, add one more to the victory and top-10 categories.
 
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam goes for her 73rd, and perhaps final, LPGA title this week. (Getty Images)
In an exclusive sit-down interview with GolfChannel.com, Sorenstam openly discussed her career from beginning to end. The most havoc she wreaked on the LPGA came in the middle portion of her career, saying that 2001-04 was the best stretch of golf shed ever played. Thing is, she won 10 events and two majors in 2005, a year she failed to mention, probably because she didnt want to acknowledge it as successful since it was the year her first marriage ended.
 
I dont divide them up into years, it was just one stretch. Sorenstam said. It didnt really matter where I went, if I didnt win or finish in the top-3 it was a disaster.
 
At any rate, that five-year stretch from 2001-05 was when Sorenstam picked up more hardware than Lowes and Home Depot combined. This golf writer was lucky enough to be on hand for a bulk of Sorenstams glory years and saw her, in person, win seven of her 10 majors.
 
Sure, the legend all began with the U.S. Womens Open victory in 1995 when the shy, petite, little-known Sorenstam delivered her Hello, world moment, but Annika became 'Annika' in 2001 when she produced the goods by shooting 59 early in the season at the Standard Register Ping. No other woman has posted golfs magic number and only three others have shot 60.
 
Over the next five years she did things that were unfathomable.
 
Sorenstam, now 38, won 43 events and seven majors from 2001-05. She won consecutive Kraft Nabisco Championships in 2001-02, then captured the major again in 2005. From 2003-05, Sorenstam won three consecutive McDonalds LPGA Championships. Her five consecutive tournament victories at the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005 matched a record set by Nancy Lopez, and she claimed the Mizuno Classic five consecutive years from 2001-05. In each of those five years, Sorenstam topped $2 million in earnings, something that has only been done three other times. She collected LPGA money title and Player of the Year honors all five years and captured the Vare trophy for lowest stroke average in 2001, 2002 and 2005. None of this even includes that little deal in 2003 where she dared to play against the men at the PGA Tours Colonial.
 
I was obviously on a roll, things were going my way, said Sorenstam, who is quick to add that at one time several years ago she owned at least a third of all LPGA records. I had been on the tour for probably five or six years so I was a veteran player. I knew the courses; I knew what worked for me. I was very dedicated to the fitness. All of those pieces together made me perform, gave me the results.
 
I was very, very prepared for every tournament. I was so focused on what I had to do. I was just living in the moment of each tournament. It was all I did. And the results came. The more motivated I got, the more I practiced.
 
Everyone Sorenstam faced over the past eight years knew that she was looking to beat their respective brains out. The intimidation reached such levels at times that it was almost as if Sorenstam already had a two-stroke advantage standing on the first tee. Recognized as just an average putter, if Sorenstam had been as good with the short stick as, say, Rosie Jones, the LPGA would have had to shut down its doors because she never would have lost.
 
What will always be most impressive to me is how she prepared to dominate, said Dottie Pepper, who still ranks Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright above Sorenstam on her all-time best list.
 
Battles with Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak made Sorenstam even better and their performances elevated the LPGA to new heights. If one wasnt winning, the other two were in the hunt. When one wasnt winning she wasnt exactly pleased and it made her work that much harder to close the gap. It was healthy, fun and entertaining but Sorenstam always wanted it more.
 
When I was as focused as I could be is when Karrie and Se Ri had our duels, Sorenstam said, saying she left Lorena Ochoa off her list of biggest rivals because it never had time to develop like the ones with Webb and Pak. Were all so competitive ' and so very different from one another. We dont hang out, we dont go to dinner, but there is a mutual respect. It wasnt about the money, it was about prestige.
 
Also, not to be forgotten is Sorenstams epic performance at the 2003 Solheim Cup in Sweden. The whole world knew that the only reason why the Cup was at Barseback was because of Sorenstams mighty stature within the game. Then, sadly, the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Anna Lindh early in the week cast a pall over the country. But Sorenstam responded with a personal 4-1 record that willed Europe to a huge 17 -10 victory that gave Swedes reason the smile again.
 
Annika Sorenstam
Sorenstam reacts to her birdie putt on 17 at the 2003 Solheim Cup. (Getty Images)
The final match of Day 2 still ranks as one of the best Ive seen in person. With the momentum of the matches in question, Laura Diaz and Kelly Robbins had a tap-in birdie on the 17th hole that would have given them a 1-up lead heading into the home hole. But Sorenstam drained a 20-footer from the fringe to assure that she and teammate Suzann Pettersen walk to 18 all square. Pettersen then split the fairway and Sorenstam responded with an approach to 10 feet. Diaz missed her birdie attempt and Pettersen made hers to win the match, send the gallery into a frenzy, and give Europe a three-point lead going into Sunday singles.
 
But it wasnt always pretty, there were hiccups along the way and three of her biggest came on the biggest stage of the U.S. Womens Open. Sorenstam held a two-shot advantage in the final round of the 2002 Open at Prairie Dunes but fell victim to a final-round 66 by Juli Inkster. A year later at Pumpkin Ridge, Sorenstam was in the middle of the fairway, 236-yards from the green on the par-5 18th and needed birdie to win. But she sailed her 4-wood into the right trees and her ball landed next to a fence surrounding portable toilets behind a large scoreboard. She made bogey and was a shot out of the Monday 18-hole playoff with Robbins, Angela Stanford and eventual winner Hilary Lunke. In 2004 at the Orchards, Sorenstam shot a final-round 67 and looked in prime position to win until Meg Mallon shot a back-nine 32 to close with 65 and capture the championship.
 
Vindication came at the 2006 Open when, along with the fog that marred play all week, talk swirled that Sorenstam was in a slump, that perhaps her best golf was behind her. She hadnt been as dominant as she once was, and some of the focus of the LPGA was beginning to turn to younger stars like Ochoa, Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie. But Sorenstam proved that, no matter the circumstance, if shes in the field, if she wants something badly enough, shell find a way to make it happen. When she beat Pat Hurst in an 18-hole Monday playoff it left all her detractors with egg on their faces.
 
All the stars were aligned, she says now about that peculiar week in Rhode Island. It took 10 years for me to win it again, a tournament I thought I owned. That was very special, the way it happened, in a playoff.
 
Said Sorenstams longtime caddie Terry McNamara, after that feat: There is nothing she cant do when she puts her mind to it. Nothing. There is a determination in her about everything she does that you just dont find in many other people.
 
Sorenstam is not like many other people, which is why shes accomplished so much. She doesnt have any regrets, knows she made mistakes and openly says she learned a lot along the way. Sorenstam wishes she would have gone through media training earlier to better deal with all the press and pressure that goes with being No. 1 and she believes she should have began her charity work earlier.
 
But thats all just a perfectionist who is nitpicking. Its difficult for anyone to argue with Sorenstams end result.
 
The domination was the end result of extreme preparation ' from her on-course statistics, off-course preparation and single-mindedness to achieve her goals,' Pepper said. 'Preparation, I believe, is her hallmark above all.
 
And many times when Sorenstam wasnt completely prepared, she was so good that shed win anyway.
 
Related Links:
  • Annika Sorenstam Trivia
  • Annika Timeline
  • Best of Annika Photo Gallery