SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — Annika Sorenstam stood on the third tee at the U.S. Women’s Open, signaling to 12-year-old daughter Ava and 11-year-old son Will behind the ropes to drink some water and stay hydrated.
A few holes later she reminded them to reapply sunscreen.
Those aren’t responsibilities Sorenstam had to deal with while winning three U.S. Women’s Open titles, including 1996 here at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club.
“There were a lot of thoughts going in my head,” Sorenstam said with a laugh. “... Yeah, sometimes I get a little distracted. There was a few holes I’m like, where did Will go? Is he OK? Is he climbing some tree somewhere?”
She added: “And then it’s like, OK, trigger, now you’ve got to play, you’ve got to hit a hybrid. That’s just kind of the way it is now.”
For a brief moment, it looked like Sorenstam might pull off a Phil Mickelson and turn back the clock at a major.
The 51-year-old Sorenstam was even par through 12 holes before bogeying three of her final six holes for a 3-over 74 on Thursday, leaving her in danger of missing the cut. The top 60 players, plus ties, make the cut.
There was time when that score might have upset her. Those days have long since passed.
This was more of a celebratory walk down memory lane for Sorenstam, who hasn’t played in the U.S. Open since 2008 when she walked away from the game.
“One of the reasons I’m here, they (my kids) want me to play and we’re doing this together,” said Sorenstam, who earned her way into the tournament by winning last year’s U.S. Women’s Senior Open.
The eight-time LPGA Player of the Year seemed to cherish every moment.
After starting on the ninth hole, she made the turn at 1 over and walked to No. 1 tee. She had a chance to cuddle up with Will, smothering him with hugs and kisses on the head before blasting a driver down the middle. She hit an approach shot to 5 feet and made the birdie putt, drawing a rousing ovation from the crowd.
A spectator said to her husband and caddie, Mike McGee, “That was a heck of a birdie.”
“Yeah, pretty wasn’t it?” he replied with a smile.
After teeing off on the next hole, Sorenstam reapplied her own sunscreen and then began jogging down the fairway to catch up with the rest of her playing group when a tournament volunteer in a purple shirt shouted, “Take your time, don’t hurt yourself.”
Sorenstam looked back and laughed, then slowed to brisk walk.
Sorenstam’s drives were much shorter than her playing partner Ingrid Lindblad, another Swede who set a new U.S. Women’s Open amateur record with an opening round 6-under 65. She admits that’s something that has taken some getting used to.
But she knows that’s simply part of getting older.
“I mean, I’m a lot more content in my life,” Sorenstam said. “My playing days are over. I’m not here to create a new career or start something new and make a mark for myself. I’m more here to enjoy what I’ve done and enjoy being invited to come here and play and kind of share it with my loved ones. I think that’s more the attitude I have ... I don’t get as mad as I used to. I kind of bounce it off.”
As she walked up the 18th hole, she admitted getting a little teary-eyed after receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.
American Lexi Thompson, who was in the group ahead of Sorenstam, called her a great role model for young girls.
“It’s just an amazing accomplishment what she’s done for the game in general on and off the golf course,” Thompson said.
Like most parents, Sorenstam’s greatest pleasure is watching her children do well.
On Wednesday, young Will aced the No. 5 hole and shot 24 on The Cradle, a nine-hole par-3 course at nearby Pinehurst.
“I’ve heard it quite a bit,” she said with a laugh. “He made it from 50 yards and it was so neat. I mean, we called him ‘ace’ last night. That was his nickname, and every time we said ‘ace,’ he lit up.”
Through her Annika Academy and the Annika Invitational, Sorenstam has gotten close to many of the golfers on the LPGA Tour. And she takes great pleasure in watching them play well.
But make no doubt about it, while Sorenstam has no illusions of winning, she would also love to stick around and play on the weekend. She has a late tee time Friday and joked that she’ll probably have to take Will to play The Cradle again before her round.
“I’m obviously not going to try to leave anything out there,” she said. “I have nothing to lose.”