Swedish star Annika Sorenstam is one of the best players, male or female, in the history of golf. This hard-working young woman has shattered numerous records in the course of her career; in 2001 alone she tied or broke thirty of them. Yet even though her dominance in the sport of golf seems nearly unchallenged, she still continues to push herself to work harder and to further improve her game.
Sorenstam grew up in a golfing family-her mother and father are both good recreational players, and her younger sister Charlotta is also on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour-but Annika's first sports love was tennis. Swedish tennis star of the late 1970s and early 1980s Bjorn Borg was her hero, and for seven years, starting at age five, Sorenstam tried to learn how to emulate him. She only turned to golf as a potential career when she was 12, but by age 14 she had joined the Swedish junior golf program.
Sorenstam's father worked for IBM when she was a child, and from him she acquired another enduring love: computers. She combines this passion with her golf by keeping detailed statistics of her rounds, as she has done since she was 14. By examining the charts and graphs that she created from her statistics, Sorenstam can easily see where the flaws in her playing are and work to improve them.
Sorenstam joined the Swedish national golf team in 1987, when she was still a teenager. There she fell under the influence of the team's coach, Pia Nilsson. Nilsson taught her players to think about golf with "54-vision": golfers should think that it is possible to birdie (shoot a score of one less stroke than par on a hole) every hole of a golf course and then should visualize themselves doing just that. No one has ever actually scored a 54, of course, but still, it was the goal her team was to shoot for.
Becoming a Professional
Sorenstam played golf for the University of Arizona for two years, from 1990 until 1992. She was the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion in 1991, but after the 1992 college season she quit school to become a professional. Sorenstam joined the LPGA Tour in 1993, and by the end of the 1994 season she had finished in the top ten at LPGA events five times. She got her first victory ever on the tour in 1995, at the U.S. Women's Open, and after that she seemed to be unstoppable. By the end of the 1996 season Sorenstam had won four more tournaments, two Vare Trophies, and one Player of the Year award.
Sorenstam's dominance, however, was slowly being challenged by a phenomenal young Australian named Karrie Webb . Although Sorenstam continued to improve, Webb had a better seasonal scoring average than Sorenstam did in three years, was named player of the year twice, and won seven tournaments to Sorenstam's five in 2000. But Webb's presence actually encouraged Sorenstam to be a better player. "If Karrie wins five tournaments, it makes for tougher expectations and makes me think, 'What else do I have to do?' I really want to reach my goals and I have the extra desire now to play. I wake up every morning wanting to practice," she told Tom Spousta of Golf World early in 2001. Sorenstam concentrated particularly on improving her putting, but she also worked to increase her strength. As a result she added 15 yards to her drives.
Two Historic Seasons
Sorenstam's hard work paid off in the 2001 and 2002 seasons, as she became a breathtakingly consistent golfing machine. In 2001 Sorenstam reclaimed the Vare Trophy with a 69.42 scoring average, only one one-hundredth of a point below Webb's record-breaking 1999 average, and then in 2002 Sorenstam shattered her own record with a 68.70. She hit the fairway from the tee and the green from the fairway 80 percent of the time, which made her the most accurate golfer, male or female, in the world.
Armed with her new strength and her consistency, Sorenstam shot the best single round of golf ever by a woman on the LPGA Tour at the Standard Register Ping in 2001. She scored a 59, something that only six male golfers have done. Had she not missed a 9-foot putt on the last hole, Sorenstam could have claimed the scoring record all for herself: No one on the Professional Golfers' Association or LPGA Tour has ever scored a 58 in competition. Nilsson was in the gallery at that event, watching her former pupil put the "54-vision" into practice.
|1970||Born October 9 in Stockholm, Sweden, to Tom and Gunilla Sorenstam|
|1987||Joins the Swedish national golf team|
|1990||Enrolls at the University of Arizona|
|1992||Quits college to become a professional|
|1993||Joins the LPGA Tour|
|1997||Marries David Esch January 4|
In 2002 Sorenstam tied another longstanding record by winning 13 tournaments in a single season, something that had been done only once before, by Mickey Wright . Sorenstam's achievement was even more impressive because she compiled her 13 wins in only 25 tournaments, while Wright played in 33 in 1963. Sorenstam added two competitions to her schedule in October in order to give herself a better chance at reaching 13, but it still came down to her last tournament of the year, the ADT Championship, which Sorenstam won with a score of 13 under par.
Aiming for the Hall of Fame
Sorenstam long ago acquired all of the points she needed to be inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame; she merely needed to complete ten seasons on the tour to be eligible. This means that, barring any disasters, Sorenstam would be inducted into the Hall of Fame after the 2003 season. She was not sure yet what she would do after that. "I want to play 2004 as a Hall of Famer," she told Sports Illustrated 's Michael Bamberger after the 2002 season, but "[a]fter that, I don't know. I want to be a mother. I don't think I can be a mother and devote myself to golf the way I need to. I'm too competitive." That competitiveness means that, even though she is already one of the best golfers in history, she continues to work on improving her strength. Her hard work should ensure at least two more phenomenal seasons from Sorenstam, and perhaps a few more records to remember her by when she is gone.
Awards and Accomplishments
|Forty-two official and two unofficial total career victories.|
|1991||Becomes NCAA Champion|
|1991||Named NCAA Co-College Player of the Year|
|1991-92||Named an NCAA All-American|
|1992||Named World Amateur Champion|
|1992||Named PAC-10 Champion|
|1994||Named Rolex Rookie of the Year|
|1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002||Wins Solheim Cup|
|1995||Wins Athlete of the Year Award in Sweden|
|1995-96||Wins U.S. Women's Open|
|1995, 1997-98, 2001-02||Named Rolex Player of the Year|
|1995-96, 1998, 2001-02||Wins Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average|
|2001||Standard Register Ping (LPGA record-low score of 59 in the second round)|
|2001||Wins Nabisco Championship|
|2001||Set or tied 30 different LPGA records|
|2002||Wins Kraft Nabisco Championship|
SELECTED WRITINGS BY SORENSTAM:
(With Cameron Morfit) "The Amazing Adventures of Annika." Sports Illustrated Women (October 1, 2001): 22.
Bamberger, Michael. "The Amazing Annika." Sports Illustrated (December 2, 2002): 46+.
Burnside, Elspeth. "It's Annika Again." Golf World (June 21, 2002): 84.
Burnside, Elspeth, and John Huggan. "Sorenstam Strikes First." Golf World (March 1, 2002): 56.
Esch, David. "Pro Husband." Sports Illustrated (August 31, 1998): G11.
Galvin, Terry. "Solo Act." Golf World (October 11, 2002): 18.
Garrity, John. "Peer Group." Sports Illustrated (May 12, 1997): 68-71.
Johnson, Sal. "The Week." Sports Illustrated (March 4, 2002): G25+.
Lipsey, Rick. "Numbers Game." Sports Illustrated (October 26, 1998): G10.
Mickey, Lisa D. "59! It's a Vision Thing." Golf World (March 23, 2001): 22.
Shipnuck, Alan. "Sweet 'n Low." Sports Illustrated (March 26, 2001): G9+.
Sirak, Ron. "The Ultimate Trophy Wife." Golf World (June 14, 2002): 22.
Spousta, Tom. "Cookie Monster." Golf World (March 16, 2001): 24.
Strege, John, and Annmarie Dodd. "Land of Opportunity." Golf World (April 5, 2002): 19.
Van Sickle, Gary. "Fighting for Five." Sports Illustrated (April 30, 2001).
Yen, Yi-Wyn. "Trumped." Sports Illustrated (November 26, 2001): G17+.
"Annika Sorenstam." LPGA.com. http://www.lpga.com/players/playerpage.cfm?player_id=52 (January 16, 2002).
"The Vare Trophy." Hickok Sports.com. http://www/hickoksports.com/history/varetrop.shtml (January 19, 2002).
Sketch by Julia Bauder
Swedish golfer Annika Sorenstam is one of the best golfers to set foot on the green. She won the first two U.S. Opens that she competed in and has been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. "I'm very proud about what I've done and pleased about my career," she told Golf World. By June of 2004 she had fifty-two victories to her credit, ranking her in sixth place among the best players in golf history. With such impressive achievements behind her, she began to consider the possibility of retiring in the next few years.
Chose golf over tennis
Annika Sorenstam was born on October 9, 1970, in Stockholm, Sweden. Her father, Tom, was an executive for IBM. Both her parents were athletically inclined, and participated in several sports including track and field, handball, basketball, and golf. As a youth Sorenstam most enjoyed playing tennis. She participated in her first tennis tournament at age five, but by age sixteen she began to feel burned out on the sport. She had begun playing golf at age twelve, and now turned her energies toward this sport. Golf, she found, suited her better than tennis. "In tennis, you always have to have a partner.... In golf, I could be on my own," she told SI.com. She qualified for the Swedish junior national team, and her career took off from there.
In 1990 Sorenstam was offered an athletic scholarship to the University of Arizona at Tuscon. In her freshman year she won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) golf championship and was also named College Player of the Year. She left school after her second year in order to play golf professionally. She went to Europe, qualifying for the European Women's Tour in 1993. She was named Rookie of the Year on that tour. The following year she qualified for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and earned the title of Rookie of the Year. In 1995 Sorenstam finished in the top ten for seven of the eleven tournaments and then won the U.S. Women's Open, which is the most prestigious event in women's golf. That same year she was awarded the Vare Trophy, given to the player with the lowest scoring average of the season, and was named LPGA Player of the Year.
"I am a person that's all or nothing. If I can't be on top, because I have been there, then I don't know if I can handle that. I don't like finishing in the middle. I never have."
After working so hard for all her achievements in the early 1990s, Sorenstam needed a break. She gave herself until mid-March of 1996 before returning, refreshed, to the golf circuit. Once again, she won the Women's Open, as well as the Vare Trophy—this time with the second lowest score ever (70.47), next to Beth Daniels who finished 1989 with an average score of 70.38. She also won the Samsung World Championship of Golf and the CoreStates Betsy King Classic. Sorenstam made the top ten in fourteen tournaments and finished in the top five seven times.
Failed to win a three-peat
No women's golfer had ever won at the U.S. Open three times in a row. In 1997 the pressure was on Sorenstam to do just that. Although she performed admirably that year, with six wins—the Chrystler-Plymouth Tournament of Champions, the Cup Noodles Hawaiian Ladies Open, the Longs Drug Challenge, the Michelob Light Classic, the CoreStates Betsy King Classic, and the ITT LPGA Tour Championship—she could not pull off another Women's Open win. Her top rival that year was Kerrie Webb, who took the 1997 Vare Trophy. But the competition inspired Sorenstam to work harder, and she was once more named the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year.
In 1998 Sorenstam reclaimed the Vare Trophy, breaking Beth Daniels' record by finishing the year with an average score under seventy. She won five more championships: the Safeco Classic, the Michelob Light Classic, the ShopTire LPGA Classic, and the JAL Big Apple Classic. The following year she won only one tournament, but in 2000 she performed at top level, winning five championships.
In 2003 Sorenstam became the first woman to play in a Professional Golf Association (PGA) event in fifty-eight years. That May she competed in the Bank of America Colonial. However, not all of her fellow players appreciated her presence. Two weeks before the tournament, Vijay Singh said, according to SI.com, "I hope she misses the cut." Although Sorenstam did fail to make the final cut, she found the experience invaluable, feeling that she had come away from the Colonial a better player. She called the event "the greatest thing that will ever happen to me, golfwise," as quoted by Steve Elling of the Knight/Ridder Tribune News Service. "The pressure I was under, I figured if I can handle that, I should be able to handle everything."
Inducted into Hall of Fame
That same year Sorenstam was inducted into the World Gold Hall of Fame, becoming the youngest person ever admitted to the Hall. For her, 2003 was "definitely the most memorable year I've had," according to Elling. Indeed, after winning three of the four major LPGA tournaments and participating at Colonial, 2003 could easily be considered her best season yet.
Yet the Women's Open title still eluded her. After her two initial wins, she failed to claim another U.S. Open title. She had come close several times but, as she told Hank Goal of the Knight/Ridder Tribune News Service, "A lot of the time I get in my own way. I want it so badly that I screw up." But Sorenstam did not let this get her down. "The competition is tough; the courses are tough," she told Gola. "But I've learned a little bit the last few years." Her game-plan for future U.S. Opens was, as she told Gola, "to go back to basics, playing my own game, taking it one day at a time and one shot at a time."
By 2004 Sorenstam had begun to talk about the possibility of retirement. Her desire is to keep playing as long as she still enjoys the game and pushing herself to perform at top level. But, as she told David Teel of the Knight/Ridder Tribune News Service, "The competition is getting tougher every year. So the question is how much longer can I do that? I think that will determine how long I play." Sorenstam married David Esch in January of 1997. In her free time, she enjoys computers, cooking, and music.
For More Information
"Annika Sorenstam." Great Women in Sports. Visible Ink Press, 1996.
Elling, Steve. "Sorenstam Makes It to Hall." Knight/Ridder Tribune News Service (October 20, 2003).
Gola, Hank. "Sorenstam Struggling Heading into U.S. Open." Knight/Ridder Tribune News Service (July 2, 2004).
Sirak, Ron. "Let the Debate Begin: As Annika Sorenstam Adds Seventh Major Trophy to Her Collection, Some Peers Ask: Is She the Best Female Golfer Ever?" Golf World (June 18, 2004).
Teel, David. "When Sorenstam Exits LPGA, It Will Be on Her Terms." Knight/Ridder Tribune News Service (May 6, 2004).
"Daddy Knows Best: Sorenstam Owes Success to Father's Early Lessons." SI.com (October 18, 2003). http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2003/golf/10/18/bc.glf.sorenstam.ssucce.ap/index.html (accessed on August 26, 2004).
Annika Sorenstam is one of the most accomplished golfers, male or female, in the history of the sport. Sorenstam's career has been one of ceaseless achievement on both the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour and on a broader international level.
Sorenstam was born into a family with pronounced athletic interests. After taking up golf at age 12, she joined the Swedish junior national program at age 14. Sorenstam ascended to the Swedish national team at age 17, in 1987.
Sorenstam was one of the first foreign born players recruited to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) women's golf when she accepted a golf scholarship to the University of Arizona in 1990. Arizona had produced a number of highly successful professional players, the most noteworthy being Masters champion Phil Mickleson. Sorenstam won the NCAA women's title in 1991.
After the 1992 college season Sorenstam left Arizona to become a professional golfer. Sorenstam joined the LPGA Tour in 1993, and by the end of the 1994 season she had finished in the top ten at LPGA events five times. Sorenstam earned her first victory on the LPGA tour in 1995, at the U.S. Women's Open, a victory that touched off a remarkable run of success. By the end of the 1996 LPGA season Sorenstam had won four more tournaments, as well as capturing the LPGA Player of the Year award.
Notwithstanding the challenges mounted in individual tournaments from notable players such as Kerrie Webb and Lori Kane, Sorenstam continued to be the player all other LPGA players aspired to match. Sorenstam was never a competitor to be perceived as resting upon her hard earned playing laurels, and she forged a reputation as one of the hardest practicing players in golf, male or female.
Sorenstam's hard work in practice paid off in both the 2001 and the 2002 LPGA seasons, as she became a breathtakingly consistent golfing machine. In 2001 Sorenstam reclaimed the Vare Trophy, awarded to the player on the LPGA tour with the lowest scoring average, with a 69.42 scoring average, only one one-hundredth of a point below Webb's record breaking 1999 average, and then in 2002 Sorenstam shattered the record with a 68.70. Sorenstam hit the green from the fairway 80% of the time that season, making her the most accurate golfer, male or female, in the world.
Sorenstam remained committed to a total fitness and strength training regimen notwithstanding her success. In 2001, armed with her new strength and her consistency, Sorenstam shot the best single round of golf ever by a woman on the LPGA Tour. At the Standard Register Ping tournament in 2001, Sorenstam shot a 59, something that only six male golfers have done in the history of the sport.
In the 2002 year, Sorenstam tied another longstanding LPGA record by winning 13 tournaments in a single season, matching the standard set by LPGA Hall of Fame player Mickey Wright. Sorenstam's achievement was all the more impressive because she compiled her 13 wins in only 25 LPGA tournaments, where Wright played in 33 events in setting the record in 1963.
The process for admission into the LPGA Hall of Fame is unique in professional sport. Unlike those sports where Hall of Fame status is first advanced by a nomination and followed by a subsequent vote by a committee tasked to determine the eligibility of the prospective member, the LPGA adopted a points system as a more objective standard for Hall of Fame inclusion. LPGA major wins are worth a set number of points towards the Hall of Fame total, as are lesser amounts for regular LPGA tour event wins. In addition to points accumulated on the LPGA tour, the player must have won at least one Vare award, and have played on the LPGA tour for at least 10 years. Sorenstam became the earliest inductee into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 2003, as she accumulated her 49th tour victory and easily surpassed the requisite point total for Hall of Fame admission.
From the commercial perspective of women's professional golf, Sorenstam's career winnings of over 18 million dollars as of the commencement of the 2006 season was the record for the most money ever won on the LPGA tour.
An enduring question in competitive women's golf is that of the comparison between the elite women's players, such as Sorenstam, and the best of the men's PGA tour. At 5 ft 6 in (1.7 m) tall, Sorenstam is much smaller than most male players, and there is little question that her average driving distance off the tee of approximately 260 yd (200 m) pales in comparison to that of many capable male amateur players, let alone a elite level PGA touring professional. In 2003, in an event designed for a television audience, Sorenstam competed against leading male professionals Fred Couples, Phil Mickleson, and Mark O'Meara in an event called the Skins Game.
Sorenstam's most controversial participation in a men's golf tournament occurred in May, 2003, when she was invited to play through the device of a sponsor's exemption in the PGA Colonial tournament at Fort Worth, Texas. Sorenstam's entry attracted some stinging commentary from a number of male professionals, most notably that of elite player Vijay Singh, who was so aggravated by the Sorenstam entry into the tournament that he declared that he would not play if he were paired with Sorenstam during the event. At the Colonial, Sorenstam became the first woman since Hall of Famer Babe Zaharias in 1945 to play in a men's event. Although she failed to make the cut, Sorenstam' creditable play against an elite male field placed her at the 96th position, out of 111 golfers.
Sorenstam has another distinction on the LPGA circuit, as her sister Charlotte has toured for a number of seasons as very capable professional in her own right. Two sisters playing on the LPGA tour at the same time is a rarity.
In golf, given the influence of technological advances in both clubs and golf balls, it is difficult to compare the performance of players from one era to another. Sorenstam is demonstrably one of the greatest player in the history of women's golf.