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Annikas Not Fretting Over 2006

The whispers have become almost audible now. Annika Sorenstam has given up her throne at the top of womens golf, they say. Lorena Ochoa is the one. Karrie Webb is it again. Annika was great ' WAS being the key word. But now shes become expendable.
Has she?
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam is looking for her third straight ADT Championship victory this week.
Well, she IS 36. For the last five years prior to this season, she won more than any women in golf ' 43 times, an average of well over eight times a season. But this year was a rather quiet year for Annika. She won just three times on the LPGA, exactly half as many as Ochoas six. Those three wins on the LPGA were her lowest total in seven years. She also won in Sweden, in Dubai and has a World Cup. But even five individual wins is way below her average.
Is Sorenstam done? Is Kathy Whitworths 88 wins safe after all? (Annika is stuck on 69 after appearing to be a good bet for the mark prior to this season.) And Patty Bergs record of 15 majors ' that also is appearing a long shot for the Swede who now has 10 major championships.
She plays in the LPGA season finale this week, the ADT Championship. one last time this year to win, one final time to get to 70 career LPGA victories. She may be 36 years old, she may have slowed down somewhat, but she says she hasnt given up yet. Dont expect her to go quietly into the night, just another face in the crowd.
This year I have struggled a little bit with my swing, and you know, in the past, I would just go up and I would hit a shot and I would not really think about it - I would not at least wonder where it is going, said Annika. This year, it has been totally opposite; it has been, Where am I going and what am I doing? I have not played to my potential.
So I have done a lot of thinking, a lot of analyzing. And in August, I just went back to my coach (Henri Reis) and said, Hey, we have to go back to basics; we have to work on my grip, my setup, and everything, just to get back to my consistent swing. I mean, I cannot play with a swing that only works for 14, 15 holes.
And the increased work has had the dual effect of re-energizing her.
I do think, to be positive about the whole thing, this is probably good for me, she said. This keeps me motivated, this keeps me on my toes and I continue to work hard and not just take things for granted.
Sorenstam realizes that, to stay on top of the heap, she will have to get better. Can she? No one knows, of course, but she herself knows that Ochoa and Webb and Cristie Kerr and the young South Koreans have gotten better ' a lot better.
The competition level is so much higher now, says Annika. I mean, we used to say if you shot level par at majors, you will win every major. That is not true anymore, and you know, the last few times I have played, you had to be in double digits to finish in the top 10. And that is pretty much every week.
But if she never wins another tournament, she will be adored for what she has already done, revered for that certain something that has driven her the past 12 years.
Annika went out and researched the game, says Meg Mallon, looked at the stats, saw Karrie beating her week-in and week-out and said, How am I going to be better?
I kind of equate her to Michael Jordan. When Michael Jordan first came out, they said all he can do is dunk and doesn't win championships. So Michael Jordan went and perfected his jumpshot and became one of the best in the game. That's what Annika does year-in and year-out. She finds her weaknesses and makes them better. She made herself great.
Tiger Woods concedes he is in awe of her.
We have a great friendship and one I certainly treasure because to see what she's doing out there, it's a lot of fun to watch because it's precise golf, he said. Her focus, her determination, her preparation over the winter months - people don't realize how hard she works. We worked on our short games together last fall. You can't believe how hard she works. She didn't get to this level by just hoping she could play well.
Mallon, who has been a pro for 19 years, knows the reason Annika has been such a huge success. Incredible mental strength, Meg says simply. Discipline that every athlete would envy, I think in any sport - how she's maintained that. Incredible work ethic.
It sounds simple, but she has accomplished all of those things, amazingly well for a long period of time. I mean, we're all human beings, and we do have our tendencies to go through ruts and she just has not allowed that to happen, and that's incredible.
Sorenstam has slowly spread herself over a wide vista this year ' she now does design work, she is about to have a golf academy, fitness DVDs, clothing contracts. But playing golf is still paramount.
The fundamental thing is, I enjoy it, she said with finality. I love what I do. I have a passion for the game and that's really what keeps me going. And I think just - I enjoy the practice and enjoying being in the position I'm in. That is very, very important.
Its largely because of those other interests that have made 2006, in her words, a wonderful year I have done a lot of things off the golf course that have been very, very successful. It's just not the victories that you can look at. I'm happy overall.
Webb says lighten up on her ' Sorenstams only fault is that she has made a living out of being Sorenstam.
Annika - I think it's really hard to keep the standard of golf that she's played. She won 10 tournaments last year, says Karrie. She could have won six tournaments this year, and you guys would have said it was a bad year. So it's a very, very high standard of golf that she's played.
Maybe Karrie Webb is right. Maybe Annika is still the best. Maybe this has been a bit of an off-year. Ochoa and Webb and maybe Kerr havent really surpassed her ' maybe this is a one-year anomaly.
But if she isnt No. 1 any longer, then she is for sure No. 2 or No. 3. There always will be only ONE Annika.
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