The Tahoe-area resident who has taken women’s golf by storm.
Annika. Everything about her seems larger than life.
She has achieved one-name status. She is the first woman to shoot 59 in a professional tournament. Through 2006, she had captured 69 career victories, including 10 majors. She is the first woman to surpass the $20 million mark in career earnings. She averages more than 260 yards off the tee. She is living proof of the benefits of harmonious training and maintaining peak physical condition.
It seemed odd, then, that the first thing that struck me upon meeting her was her small size. In my mind, Annika is a legendary, formidable woman who repeatedly generates her successes through discipline and determination. While that may be a good description of her tournament persona, off the course, Annika Sorenstam is a petite woman with a gentle manner, pleasant voice and charming smile. She’s powerful, yet humble. She’s focused, yet engaging. She’s guarded, yet open.
My interview, scheduled in early 2007 to coincide with her appearance at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, by necessity was interrupted. Soon thereafter, my cell rang and the voice on the other end said, Hi, this is Annika Sorenstam . . .
What was your first association with golf?
My mom says I got my rhythm in golf because I played golf when I was pregnant with you. So that was my introduction. When I was 12, I went to a junior camp but before that I would hang out with my parents on the course.
What attracted you to the game?
I was slow to respond to the game. As a kid in Sweden, I played all kinds of sports&emdash;tennis, soccer, badminton. Golf was slow and not something I really wanted. I enjoyed hitting balls, but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I got a bit more serious about dedicating myself to golf.
How has golf affected your life?
Golf is my life. I’m lucky to have a hobby that turned into a job that doesn’t feel like a job! If it wasn’t for golf, I wouldn’t be in the United States. I wouldn’t have met all these people and be where I am today. I’d probably be an engineer. Or maybe I would have taught tennis to kids. I live for golf. My sister is a professional and my family loves the game. It’s a big part of what we do.
How important is fitness to today’s game?
In today’s game, it’s huge. It’s always been important. I just don’t think anybody thought it was that important. There are a few exceptions. Greg Norman and Gary Player many years ago were into it and that’s why they’ve been so good and sustained it so long but fitness is definitely a big part of the game. At the end of the day, it’s so competitive that it’s not enough to hit big drives and make putts. You have to stay in shape not only to prevent injuries but to stay strong with the heavy travel schedule.
Quick fitness tip?
I think consistency is important. Whether you do cardio or weights&emdash;and there are so many theories&emdash;consistency is important. As a professional golfer, you can’t go hard in the off-season and then quit for nine months. That’s not going to do it. You have to stay consistent and that’s how you get better.
How do you sustain your consistency of strength in mind and body?
Balance is very important in your life, in your golf. You have to schedule enough tournaments, enough practice and enough rest. All three really matter. Some people practice too much and reach a point where they’re not getting any better and the body needs time to recoup. At the same time, if you don’t practice enough or play enough, you just get rusty.
What is the mistake amateurs make most consistently?
They try to hit the ball too hard. It’s funny how you have different swings for different clubs. They don’t trust their ability and think they hit the ball farther than they really do.
Do you think men and women are different on the golf course?
It’s hard to say that women do this and men do that. I’ve played a lot of Pro-Ams with men and some are pretty competitive and some just want to have fun. I would say men are more about hitting power shots and hitting big drives and women are more about let’s get the ball in the hole.
What can we do to encourage more people to take up the game?
I think we need to speed up play. It shouldn’t take more than four hours to play and with golf carts there is even less reason to be slow. It’s a wonderful game but few people have five to six hours a day to play.
What would you say to non-golfers to interest them to try the game?
Go to the range and hit some balls. Try it out. There are people in Japan that have never been to a golf course but they’re hitting dozens of balls on the range. It’s not always about being on the golf course. Try it out and see what it’s about. It’s a great social game. It really is.
What do junior golfers need to do if they have aspirations of playing on tour?
The key is in the fundamentals. Work with a coach at an early age to prepare yourself for life on tour. What I mean by that is to be able to adjust to different courses, to different surfaces; you really have to take your time and grow up and go through the steps in life&emdash;amateur golf, high school golf and college golf and maybe Futures Tours&emdash;there are no short cuts really. You have to have a long-term perspective on the whole thing and most of all, have fun along the way.
Anyone you haven’t played with that you’d like to have the opportunity to play?
As a golfer, I’ve been lucky to play with lots of the male golfers and most of the female golfers, at least of my era. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to play with Kathy Whitworth or someone like that. Obviously I’ll never have the chance but in the modern times, I’ve had the opportunity to play with all the top players.
How does golf in Northern California stack up with the rest of the country?
I haven’t had as much opportunity as I’d like to play there. Obviously you have Pebble Beach, which I’m sure is the highlight. Being in Tahoe, I’ve played a number of courses there. We had a tournament in Sacramento, one in Napa. It’s beautiful every time we go there. There’s so much to do there. It really is a treat.
We’re fond of Natalie Gulbis in Northern California. What’s your impression of her from inside the ropes?
Inside the ropes, I’m very impressed myself. She’s probably one of the players I’m closest to on tour. I’ve stayed with her and her mom. I think she’s a terrific young lady with a lot of talent and I think she’s going to win very soon. She’s just a class act.
You have a home in Incline Village. What is it about Northern California that appeals to you?
It’s beautiful. I bought a beautiful home in Northstar. Great skiing. Nice community. For me, it’s all about lifestyle. I’m an outdoors person and I love that atmosphere, the fresh air, the hiking, the biking. You can do everything there.
How much input do you have with design and color with the Annika Collection from Cutter & Buck?
I have a lot of input working directly with Julie Snow from the design team. I give her a player’s feedback on functionality, comfort level, how it performs traveling and on the course. The last thing I want to do is play in tournaments and feel uncomfortable or worry about my clothes. When it comes to travel, I tell them we don’t want to worry about dry cleaning when we’re in a different city every week. I tell them what colors I like, patterns I like, the length of the pants or the shorts, the number of pockets and more. They tell me about fashion and what the trends are going to be and what sells. It’s not about using my name and do what you want. A combination of their expertise and some of my knowledge results in the Annika Collection. I wear every piece and I’m having a lot of fun.
What’s the benefit of the new performance fabrics?
It’s almost like golfers. You have to be more competitive and now we’re seeing that in the fabrics. It’s all about the textures and the functionality. It’s amazing the fabrics they have now. Some keep you cool when you’re hot and warm when you’re cold.
What should women look for when they select clothing for the golf course?
Women and men are very different when it comes to golf clothes. Men love to buy a golf shirt with the course logo on the left chest and women don’t want to look like golfers. They’re more into style, more into fashion; but it needs to be functional and that’s the difference. Women are a tougher audience to please. They want to wear something on the course and then pick up the dry cleaning or go to the grocery store and not feel like they’re still on the golf course.
Who inspires you?
When it comes to golf, there are several players I admire. Arnold Palmer is somebody I admire, not only for his skill but for his personality and his love for the game and he’s doing it at almost 80 years old. I admire Greg Norman. He’s a tough guy, very competitive and very successful. And I admire his talent. When it comes to the women, Nancy Lopez is a great person who has achieved a lot. She’s had great success on the course and off the course, too. She’s married with two great kids. That to me is remarkable. Outside of golf, I admire people that work hard. Work ethic is impressive to me. I value honesty and I value people that stand for what they think.
What accomplishment makes you most proud?
I can’t single out one thing, but for me to take the big step from Sweden to come here to college&emdash;I’m proud and happy I did that. I’m very proud to be the first woman to break 60 and shoot 59. Playing with the men at the Colonial was an incredible week. I won my first LPGA tournament at the U.S. Open in 1995. The Hall of Fame summarizes everything. It’s not just one achievement but a culmination of 10 years. And I’m the first foreigner in the LPGA to do that and I’m very proud of that.
With so many accomplishments, what do you still hope to achieve?
I still think I can be a better player. I’ve learned a lot along the way and I know it’s probably to play smarter golf and be more efficient. I don’t think I can get any stronger or hit the ball any farther, but I think I can manage my game around a little better from all the experience and I would love to win more majors and I know I have that in me. And there’s a part of me that believes I can win the Grand Slam.
How do you want people to remember you?
I hope people remember me as somebody who loved the game and somebody with sportsmanship.