Annika Sorenstam’s influence will continue to be felt with the tour’s second season without her beginning Thursday at the Honda PTT LPGA Thailand event at Siam Country Club’s Old Course in Chonburi.
Sorenstam, 40, will continue to impose her ambition on the tour without hitting a single shot.
Anna Nordqvist and Pernilla Lindberg will play under the Annika Team banner. While there’s no financial or management connection uniting these up-and-coming Swedish players to Sorenstam, there’s emotional and spiritual bonds to the LPGA Hall of Famer. The duo is the beginning of what Sorenstam hopes will become a larger alliance of young Swedish professionals.
“The team’s purpose is to help young players transition from amateur golf to professional golf,” said Sorenstam, winner of 72 LPGA events. “The role I play is to share my experience and knowledge and try to inspire these girls to take their games to the next level.
“Most of all, it’s to help them avoid making mistakes.”
While the Swedish Golf Federation and national team have given young amateurs in that country solid foundations, there’s no bridge helping them cross to the professional ranks. The Annika Team was built to serve that role and falls under the reach of Sorenstam’s foundation. She says it’s one of her ways of giving back.
According to the Annika Team mission statement, the team’s goal is to “produce the next generation of talented young women who will play on the LPGA tour and represent Sweden on future European Solheim Cup teams.” The team aims to provide the resources to do that.
“When you become a professional, you are on your own and it isn’t always easy,” Sorenstam said. “I remember what it was like. I remember when I was in that situation 16 years ago. I remember what a big change it was, what an adjustment. I remember the headaches. I made mistakes I could have avoided with help.”
Nordqvist, 22, the first member of the Annika Team, broke through to win the McDonald’s LPGA Championship as a rookie last season. She showed she’s no one-hit wonder with a bold charge to win the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship, beating world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa and No. 2 Jiyai Shin in an impressive finish. It helped Nordqvist surge to her place today at No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
Sophie Gustafson (No. 18), Maria Hjorth (No. 24) and Helen Alfredsson (No. 28) are all Swedish forces on the LPGA, but Mikaela Parmlid (No. 100) is the only other Swedish player under 30 among the top 100 in the world rankings.
Lindberg, 23, is a promising rookie. She’s a former Oklahoma State standout who made it through the LPGA and Ladies European Tour qualifying schools this winter to earn status on both tours.
Nordqvist and Lindberg spent a week training at the Annika Academy at the Reunion Resort in Orlando last month in preparation for this week’s start of the LPGA season.
“I always watched Annika growing up,” said Nordqvist, who won the Annika Sorenstam Trophy as the best young Swedish amateur while playing at Arizona State. “She was my role model. I really wanted to play with her, but when I made it to the tour as a rookie last year, she was gone.”
In the long run, it might have been the best thing for Nordqvist. As a player competing for the same trophies, Sorenstam wasn’t likely to give up all her secrets to her competition, even if it were a fellow Swede. Nordqvist gets full access as an Annika Team member with Sorenstam saying she has no plans to return to golf this season. Sorenstam said she’s committed to her new life as a mother to Ava Madelyn McGee, her 5-month-old daughter, and to growing her businesses.
Sorenstam’s life is all about nurturing now. It’s about nurturing family as well as her businesses. Nordqvist and Lindberg are part of her golf family.
After winning the McDonald’s LPGA Championship last June, Nordqvist’s life changed dramatically. She concedes it was overwhelming.
“After winning that, there was a lot more pressure,” Nordqvist said. “All of a sudden, there was the expectation I was supposed to win the very next tournament. I remember finishing 30th the week after and feeling like I played very well. I was exhausted, and I was happy the way I played, but everyone else was disappointed.
“I remember talking to Annika about how I should move forward.”
Sorenstam talked to Nordqvist about staying focused on what got her in position to win her first event and about not getting caught up in the hype over what other people now expected of her. Sorenstam’s first LPGA victory was the U.S. Women’s Open in 1995.
“I shared with her my experience when I won the U.S. Open,” Sorenstam said. “I shared how I was thrown into the big arena right away and the things I had to deal with. I shared how to handle sponsor relations, the media, how to continue to reach short-term goals, long-term goals and stay on the right path while still trying to improve. The hardest part is finding balance.”
The Annika Team includes Henri Reis, Sorenstam’s long-time swing coach, and Kai Fusser, her physical trainer. There’s also IMG’s Eva Herder, who is Sorenstam’s Swedish manager, who offers education in the agent and media realms. And there’s Katarina Vangdal, the former Swedish National Team coach who serves as the Annika Team coach.
Lindberg joined the Annika Team this year. She tried to make the most of her meetings with Sorenstam at the Annika Academy last month.
“I had some questions for Annika, but mostly they weren’t about golf,” Lindberg said. “They were about agents, sponsors, caddies, media. I needed help with all of that. It’s what I wanted to get most out of my week with Annika.”
Sorenstam would like to have four players on her team by next year.
“There is a real need for this,” Herder said. “Annika is the key.”
The Annika Team has another strong focus this season. It’s getting a Ladies European Tour event back in Sweden. After Sorenstam retired, sponsorship of the Scandinavian TPC hosted by Annika was dropped last year. This will mark the second season there will be no Swedish event on the Ladies European Tour.
“Young Swedish girls need to see these players,” Vangdal said. “We need this event back. A generation of young players will miss seeing that event for a second year. There’s going to be a price for that.”
Herder said Sorenstam’s leading a push for the event’s return. A title sponsor’s needed.
“We had a very successful women’s tournament that’s now disappeared, and I’m sad about that,” Sorenstam said. “We’ve worked very, very hard to try to get that back. The economy has hit us hard there, but we are optimistic we can get that back next year. I’m a big force behind that.
“We need a professional tournament for junior girls to see, for our professionals to be able to showcase themselves in front of a home crowd. I feel strongly about that. It’s part of the responsibility of being a golfing nation, helping the European Tour out.”
Someday, Sorenstam would love to see an Annika Team member win that event.