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  • Alistair Tait

Fingers crossed for Annika

Watching Arnold Palmer play in the 1994 PGA Championship at Southern Hills was slightly depressing. He hit driver, 4-wood to the par-4, 18th hole. Vijay Singh played the hole with a 3-wood and 9-iron.

Palmer was 64. Singh was 31, and in his prime.

Watching players past their sell by date might be a thrill from a nostalgic standpoint, but it’s always a reminder of their mortality, how far removed they are from their best. I never got the chance to see Palmer in his prime, when he attacked golf courses like a mongoose taking on a cobra. I wish I had. It would have been a sight to behold.

Watching Annika Sörenstam in her prime was also a sight to behold. Ten majors among her 72 LPGA victories, eight Player of the Year awards, six Vare Trophies, the only woman to shoot 59 in competition, and records galore. Without doubt she’s the best woman golfer of the modern era. Perhaps the greatest of all time for many, although fans of Patty Berg, Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs, and Babe Zaharias may argue differently.

All of the above is why there should perhaps be reservations about Sörenstam’s decision to return to the fairways 13 years after her retirement. She gets back to competitive action in the Gainbridge LPGA tournament, 25-28th February, at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club.

“I am excited to announce that I will play in the Gainbridge LPGA in two weeks at our home course of Lake Nona Golf & C.C,” Sörenstam wrote in her newsletter this week. “It will be my first LPGA tournament since I stepped away from competition to start a family in 2008.
“A lot has changed for the better during that time, most notably the birth of our two children. Ava and Will are excited to see ‘Mama’ play. I have to admit if this tournament hadn’t moved to our home course, it never would have crossed my mind to enter. But it makes sense to do so, not just because it will be a ‘home game,’ but also because my goal, schedule permitting, is to play in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open later this summer. To work toward that goal, I have realized that I need more tournament reps to have a chance to reach my potential. I’m not expecting much, but I look forward to the challenge!”

The 50-year-old lives on Lake Nona’s 16th hole.

Sörenstam’s 72nd and last LPGA win came in the 2008 Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill. She retired at the end of that year after the Dubai Ladies Masters, where she finished equal seventh. Her most recent competitive outing was in last month's Celebrity division of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, a modified stableford format in which she finished ninth.

Quite how Sörenstam will fare back among the LPGA’s best is going to be a fascinating watch. Put it this way, TV ratings for the Gainbridge might be a lot higher than the corresponding World Golf Championships at the Concession.

I know which tournament I’ll be watching.

No matter how anyone feels about the Hall of Fame player following her highly questionable decision to accept the Medal of Freedom from former President Donald Trump the morning after the riots in the US Capitol, Sörenstam was a dominant force in women’s golf during her prime. She has done a ton of good for junior golf and charity since her retirement, and should be fully applauded for that work. Yet the thought of a comeback so long after retirement comes with a sense of trepidation.

Whether she’ll be a dominant force or even a competitive force remains to be seen. Surely she wouldn’t tee it up if she didn’t think she could compete?

Watching athletes past their prime can be a depressing sight. Let’s hope it’s an ecstatic return for Sörenstam, and not an agonising one.

Fingers crossed.

#JustSaying: I know the time is right and, therefore, I feel very happy at the same time as obviously, if you think about 15 years and all of the things I've achieved, it's sad. But new chapters – you close the door and you open another one.” Sörenstam announcing her retirement in 2008

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