When Annika Sorenstam retired from professional golf in 2008, she never envisioned making a comeback. And 10 years later, when the U.S. Golf Association held the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club and people started to gauge the LPGA legend’s interest in competing, Sorenstam was consistent in her response: I’m too young, I’m too young.
“Well, now I’m not too young,” said Sorenstam, who turned 50 in October.
On the heels of the year’s final major, the U.S. Women’s Open, Sorenstam revealed that she has dusted off her clubs with the intention of returning to competition in 2021. Don’t call it a comeback, though; Sorenstam says she’s not interested in playing LPGA events, or even much on the Legends Tour, the LPGA’s senior circuit.
However, the Aug. 19-22 national championship at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Connecticut, is definitely on her radar in what would be her first professional start in nearly 13 years.
“When I retired, I didn’t want to play then; I was done with my career, I had achieved what I wanted to achieve, and sometimes you just need a little space, a little gap,” Sorenstam told GolfChannel.com on Tuesday. “It’s been 12 years now and I’m starting to maybe appreciate it again, and the pressure is not there. … I don’t have the pressure of feeling like I have to shoot 59 every time I go out; that gets tiring and very hard on you. I think I have enough space now to where if I have to use my clubs to do a little bit more of the talking, I’m ready to do that.”
Sorenstam, who since retirement has become one of golf’s top global ambassadors through her foundation and other partnerships, has rededicated herself to playing in recent months. In addition to practicing and playing more regularly, she signed up for this week’s PNC Championship in Orlando, Florida, where she will compete alongside her father, Tom, for a second straight year. She also is slated to play in the celebrity division of next month’s LPGA season opener, the four-round Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, also in Orlando.
The rest of Sorenstam’s playing schedule remains up in the air, though. She still has other priorities off the course. She is committed to captaining the European Junior Solheim Cup team in Toledo, Ohio, in early September, and she was recently named the new president of the International Golf Federation (her first term begins Jan. 1, in an Olympic year). Any tournaments she enters will have to fit around her other responsibilities.
“I’m not here to start a second career,” she said. “It’s more to complement what I do.”
Sorenstam won 72 times on the LPGA, including 10 majors, during her Hall of Fame career, which ended at the 2008 Dubai Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour, a tour where she won 17 more times. Her last professional victory came 12 years ago at the Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open.
Yet, Sorenstam knows that despite her reputation and past accolades, she can’t just show up to the U.S. Senior Women’s Open in August and expect to play well. She will have to get back in competitive shape in the championship’s runup, or she won’t play. That’s why she’s getting serious now, fitting in practice time between Zoom calls and trips to the grocery store while adding some of these exhibition tournaments.
Sorenstam said she’s not close to her new peak, but she is consistently shooting between 2 under and 2 over from 6,500 yards, and she can still carry her driver up to 240 yards.
“To be honest, it’s not as fun because I know what it used to sound like, I know what it used to look like, I know how far it used to get out there, and all of sudden you’re standing there with different clubs,” Sorenstam said, “so you have to have a different attitude. You think. ‘I can do it,’ and then you realize you’re 50 now, you can’t expect to play like you’re 35, but sometimes I do, and that’s my problem.”
So, why compete? Sorenstam’s biggest inspiration has been her children – Ava, 11, and Will, 9 – who have been wanting to see their mom compete as they’ve become more interested in the game. While Ava would still rather do cartwheels down the fairway, Will has gotten more serious about playing. Will’s interest has sparked his mom’s desire to play again.
Teeing it up at Brooklawn next summer with her family watching from outside the ropes would be a career highlight for Sorenstam, whose career has had many.
“It would be tremendous,” Sorenstam said. “I would love to play well for them. I want them to be proud of me, and the biggest thing is I want them to see that when you have a passion for something, when you work hard for something, and you want to be good at something, you have to put in the work. You can’t just take a pill and all of a sudden it happens. … It takes commitment, and that’s what I want them to see.”