The class of Annika Sorenstam
One moment in Annika Sorenstam’s career stands out for me. It paints a perfect picture of the type of person Sorenstam is as she celebrates her 50th birthday today.
Sorenstam’s record should stand for a long time. Eighty-nine professional victories including 10 major championships, 72 LPGA victories, 18 Ladies European Tour wins, the first and so far only woman to shoot 59 on the LPGA Tour, which she did in the 2001 Standard Register Ping; no wonder her Twitter handle is @Annika59. A PGA Tour appearance, the first woman in 45 years to play in a PGA Tour event. So many awards and LPGA records it’s impossible to list them all, and over $22 million in LPGA career earnings.
Sorenstam is the Greatest of All Time in women’s golf for me. Others may argue for Patty Berg, Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs or Babe Zaharias.
Those of us fortunate to see Sorenstam play knew we were watching someone special, a living legend. Albeit I didn’t think that the first time I saw her in the flesh, pardon the expression. I was a little underwhelmed standing beside her on the practice ground before the Pro-am for the 1993 Weetabix Women’s British Open at Woburn.
Sorenstam had won seven times in college golf, including the 1991 NCAA Championship, while at Arizona University and arrived in the professional game with a lot of hype. She seemed to be papping her driver about 200 yards down the Woburn practice range. I remember thinking: a bit lightweight. She won LET rookie of the year that season but I wasn’t convinced she’d be a huge deal in women’s golf.
I certainly wouldn’t have predicted she’d go on to win 10 major championships and rewrite the record books. Boy was I wrong!
Sorenstam was involved in controversy at Loch Lomond Golf Club during the 2000 Solheim Cup. It happened on the morning of the final day after poor Saturday weather meant she and Janice Moodie had to complete their fourball match against Kelly Robbins and Pat Hurst. In one of the worst examples of poor sportsmanship I’ve ever witnessed, Sorenstam was forced to replay a chip shot she’d already holed when it was deemed she was actually closer to the hole than Robbins and had therefore played out of turn.
Under the rules of golf, U.S. captain Pat Bradley was entitled to ask Sorenstam to replay the shot, which she missed. Sorenstam could have had a massive head off but was remarkably constrained given the incident was not in keeping with the spirit of the game. It seemed poetic justice when Europe won the cup later that day.
And so to the moment that will stand indelibly in my mind when I think of Annika Sorenstam. It also happened in the Solheim Cup, but not between the ropes.
In the 2007 match in Halmstad, Sweden, myself and two other scribes stood in the darkness late on Saturday evening outside the European team dressing room waiting to talk to European captain Helen Alfredsson. It had been a long day thanks to a weather delay of over two hours. The European Team were having a team talk before the Sunday singles.
Aside from with myself and the two other journalists, the only other two souls standing in the cold, damp night were a young girl of about 10 and her mother.
Sorenstam was the first European player to emerge from the team room. Like the rest of her team mates, she was probably desperate to get back to the team hotel for a hot bath, a decent meal, and a good night’s sleep. The young girl stepped forward and shyly asked Sorenstam for her autograph. It was probably the last thing the Swedish legend wanted to do at that time of the evening, but she gladly obliged. As Sorenstam started to write her name in the program, she realised the pen the girl had handed her wasn’t good enough for the glossy paper.
Many professional sports people wouldn’t have given it another thought. They’d have quickly scrawled and kept walking. Not Sorenstam. She just smiled at the young girl and told her to wait. Sorenstam returned to the dressing room and emerged with a sharpie pen, and gave the young girl a proper autograph.
The wee girl’s mother politely asked for a photograph of Sorenstam with her daughter. Sweden’s greatest golfer did more than oblige. Realising the photograph wasn’t being taken in the best possible light, she told the mother and her daughter to walk closer to the clubhouse where the light was better. She posed for the picture, and then thanked the young girl for waiting for her.
Class. Pure class. Happy 50th Annika.
#JustSaying: “Life goes on. I feel very content and very happy about my decision to move on.” Sorenstam announcing her retirement in 2008
Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour