Annika Alone Against History

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2005 McDonaldThe practice range at the LPGA Corning Classic is small. Really small. It can only accommodate 12 players at a not-so-comfortable time.
 
Wednesday, prior to the start of the tournament, the range was busting at the seams. Players lined up behind one another, hoping that the person in front of them would just hit and run.
 
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam has won nine of her last 13 LPGA Tour events.
Rather than stay idle and let the onslaught of gnats and the apathy of waiting get the best of her, Annika Sorenstam dipped down into a little valley left of the proper range and began hitting balls in what was actually the rough of the adjacent ninth hole.
 
When Annika Sorenstam strikes a ball, you know its hers. You can tell it in the purity of its sound. You can tell it most definitely in its length and trajectory.
 
If youve ever wondered, How can Annika Sorenstam win almost every time she competes? Watch her hit balls next to the other women on the range. Youll start to wonder, How can Annika Sorenstam not win every time she competes?
 
Winning is something Sorenstam has done quite often this season. Entering this weeks McDonalds LPGA Championship, she has teed it up seven times and won on five of those occasions.
 
Shes the two-time defending champion at this event, so the odds of her adding yet another title to her resume are pretty stock. But for the first time in 12 years, the DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del., is not serving as host. Instead, that distinction has been given to Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Md.
 
It was too bad that they moved the course, Sorenstam said. I finally figured the other one out.
 
Three times a player has tried to win three consecutive LPGA Championships, and three times theyve failed. Mickey Wright (1960-61 champion), Patty Sheehan (1983-84) and Juli Inkster (1999-00) all had the same opportunity now presented before Sorenstam.
 
For that matter, no female has ever successfully pulled off the three-peat in any of the four current major championships. Patty Berg (1937-39) won the first three Titleholders Championships, a major which was last played in 1972.
 
Sorenstam has even had her chances: at the 2003 Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she fell one shot short of Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, and at the 1997 U.S. Womens Open, where she missed the cut after winning two straight.
 
Annika loves records. She wants to forever be remembered for doing things that no one else has ever done. And, to this point in her career, shes been quite successful in that endeavor. But after 11 full seasons, shes now more dominant than ever. And that opens up sections in the record book that she never bothered to highlight.
 
Theres certain records that mean a lot to me. Theres some records that I never really thought I could achieve, and to me its like, well, if they dont come naturally then Im not going to make stuff up, she said.
 
But right now there are certain things that motivate me, that keep me coming back out every week and keep me practicing and keep me wanting to get better.
 
What motivates a player who has won 61 times on tour; someone who has won seven Rolex Player of the Year trophies ' and counting; someone who owns outright the tours 18-, 36-, 54- and 72-hole scoring records in relation to par; someone who is so great that she literally transcends her sport?
 
Well, majors, she said point-blank. Id like to win more majors. I believe I can do that. Obviously I want to shoot 54. I shot 59, so thats one record. I keep track of the history books. I know whats out there, but there are certain things I just think its going to be impossible to do.
 
Like what? What could possibly be unattainable for Annika the Great? Is it the 88 career wins record held by Kathy Whitworth? She's 27 behind that number. That might seem like quite a bit, but at her current pace she could get there by the end of 2007 -- maybe early '08. Remember, she's only 34 years old.
 
Is it Mickey Wrights record 13 wins in a single season? She won 11 in 2002 and, as mentioned, has five in just seven starts this year.
 
Patty Bergs record 15 major titles? Shes over half-way there, having claimed her eighth at Mission Hills in March.
 
The single-season Grand Slam? Shes finished the first leg this season, and has but three more to go.
 
They all would be great, Sorenstam said when asked which of these accomplishments she would most like to attain. I would settle with one. Im not going to be greedy. Right now in my mind, theres the Grand Slam. Id like to win majors. I believe I can do it and thats whats really on my mind.
 
When Rosie Jones left the interview room after her pre-tournament press conference at Corning, she said she was headed to the range. Gotta keep up with the Big Girl, she said.
 
That, of course, was in reference to Sorenstam, whose gravity is greater than everyone elses on tour combined. For the Big Girl, the big goal at the moment is the single-season Grand Slam. And thanks to her triumph at the Kraft Nabisco, that goal is still intact for 2005.
 
But the Big Girl has another big goal in mind ' one thats more far reaching, both in terms of time attainable and also where it will eventually situate her among the games greats.
 
That would be Whitworths 88 wins ' more than any player, male or female, on any tour.
 
I have to pinch myself a lot, Sorenstam said. I mean, I love what I do, but I never thought I could win this many tournaments.
 
If I can continue on this pace ' Im not really sure I can (reach 88 wins).
 
Who knows what will happen the next three years, but thats a record that I never really thought was possible. I know Im getting closer, but I still have (27) wins to tie, and thats a lot of wins. Right now I just want to take one tournament at a time, one major at a time, and well see. If Im one day at 87, then yeah, I will give it another shot. But until then, its a long ways to go.
 
Remember the Annika who won the 1995 U.S. Womens Open for her first tour title?
 
Diminutive, demure. I was playing with a lot more fear, she said of those younger days.
 
Shes now full of muscle and might. Confident and cool. Shes developed in every aspect imaginable over the years, expediting that progression over the last five seasons.
 
And perhaps her greatest asset isnt her power or her precision or her mind or even the aura around her; it may well be her knowledge of self, which has buried all fear.
 
I have learned to figure out my weaknesses; I have learned to figure out my strengths. And I know how to apply them. I use my brain a lot more on the course ' more strategy. I know what shots I can hit. I dont experiment too much, she said.
 
I know what I can handle.
 
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Related Links:
  • Photo Gallery - Annika Sorenstam
  • Full Coverage - McDonald's LPGA Championship