Influx of Child Stars Baffles Annika

By George WhiteMarch 24, 2005, 5:00 pm
Annika Sorenstam finds it incomprehensible that she would be considered the grande dame of womens golf. But thats what happens when you wake up one morning and discover that you are 34 years old. And thats what happens when you have compiled an incredible record of 58 LPGA wins, 70 around the globe.
 
But Annika, as grande dame, is asked her opinion on just about every conceivable topic relating to life on the LPGA Tour, and many of those off it. So it was not a surprise to find her being queried at this weeks Kraft Nabisco Championship about the sudden influx of teenagers who are now direct competitors. This week there are nine of them in the field of 144 at the LPGAs first major.
 
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam has collected 70 trophies around the world so far in her career.
Michelle Wie has brought this kiddie phenomenon to the front, of course. She is only 15 years old, yet she routinely makes cuts when she plays with the adults. Thus far, she hasnt shown the least bit of interest ' publicly - in turning professional. Privately, it has had to cross her mind. Last year she would have won in the neighborhood of $250,000 ' money that she just walked away from because she is an amateur. That isnt counting the $20 million over four years that some knowledgeable economists say she would be worth in endorsements.
 
Sorenstam is acutely aware of the trend. Its a situation that is pretty much the domain of the womens tour. Male players tend to go to college, spend at least two or three years, then turn pro. The women do it differently. Women have consistently shown that they can compete at the highest level while still a teenager. No man in the past 50 years, save for a 19-year-old Sergio Garcia, has shown that he can consistently compete against the men of the PGA Tour.
 
Sorenstam, though, insists she was not mature enough to turn pro as a teenager. She came from her native Sweden at the age of 19 to the University of Arizona, where she played before joining the LPGA at age 23.
 
I had no idea, really, if I was ever going to come through (to the LPGA Tour), she said. It was just a great opportunity for me to learn a new language, study a little bit and play some golf. I didnt really know what my future was going to be like.
 
At 18, being a pro really never crossed my mind. I dont think I was mature enough. I wasnt ready. My golf was definitely not at the level where it needed to be.
 
That doesnt mean, though, that she disapproves of this sudden influx of teenage talent that will tee off in the Kraft Nabisco.
 
They are playing great, she said. Last week I played with Brittany (Lincicome). I was very impressed with her, I like the way she plays. You have Paula Creamer playing excellent. Youve got Michelle Wie playing some good golf.
 
I think the young generation is really showing some talent. I think they are showing some great attitudes, and I think the future for the LPGA is really, really good.
 
The teenagers, of course, are similarly awed by Sorenstams talent. Eighteen-year-old Creamer said her first time playing with Annika was a life-changing experience.
 
Ive learned so much from her just watching her, she said. I played with her last year, and its probably the most Ive ever learned in a round of golf in my entire life. Shes a fantastic player, and thats where I want to be in a short time.
 
But Ive learned a lot, that shes incredibly consistent, and she has a fantastic mental game. Thats what you need you need out here.
 
Young Ai Myzato, the 19-year-old Japanese star, opined Wednesday that Annika is her role model. Annika was overwhelmed.
 
I take that as a compliment, I really do, said Sorenstam.
 
I have idols. I think thats how you learn, is to look at other people, maybe follow their path and then find your own way. I was very impressed with her when I played with her in Japan she was really cute and really good, but she was down-to-earth and really nice.
 
Annika, in just a matter of two years, will be twice the age of many of her young rivals. She herself was just a kid not that long ago, playing on the Swedish National team, then going to college in America and discovering she was good enough to become a professional.
 
Nowadays, it happens continuously, with many of the young ladies discovering they can turn pro while still just 18. It will be a long, long time, though, before they can discover they have a chance to be Annika Sorenstam. Annika is one of a kind, regardless of the generation.
 
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