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Golf losing a great as Annika waves goodbye

Iain Carter | 14:48 UK time, Monday, 8 December 2008

She used to practice for hour after hour after hour and not realise she'd missed dinner; the only hunger was a desire for success. But not anymore; in recent times she would belt balls for a while but her mind would soon wander towards other jobs that needed to be done.

This is why women's golf is this week bidding farewell to probably the greatest player it has ever known. It is why Annika Sorenstam is playing competitively for the final time at the age of 38.

She's looking forward to getting married, to starting a family and to developing her burgeoning business interests, but all of these could have been accommodated within a continued playing career if the overwhelming desire to win tournaments was still there.

Sorenstam has acknowledged, though, the appetite for collecting trophies is no longer what it was and so the decision to quit professional golf was a relatively simple one.

Annika Sorenstam

"Two years ago I was washing my car in the driveway on Christmas Eve," the Florida based Swede revealed in a recent interview. "I saw Michelle Wie driving past in a cart with her golf clubs. I remember thinking I didn't know what was stranger; that she was practicing on Christmas Eve or that I was washing my car.

"When that voice inside you starts to question your life, listen to it, have a conversation with it," she told Golf World.

To have been as successful as Sorenstam was, the focus had to be without compromise.

She undoubtedly made the most of her talents through relentless practice and with a physical development regime that brought athleticism to the women's game to match the impact of Tiger Woods in men's golf.

In a 15-year career, Sorenstam has won 89 tournaments worldwide including ten majors and 72 victories on the LPGA Tour. These statistics barely scratch the surface of her achievements in a game she took up in preference to tennis, skiing and football when she was twelve.

Painfully shy as a junior, she would deliberately three putt final greens to throw away wins to avoid making victory speeches. But once she overcame that fear she became a serial winner, amassing prize money in excess of $22 million.

At the Moon Valley Country Club in Pheonix she opened her second round at the 2001 Standard Register Ping tournament with eight consecutive birdies. From then on the challenge was to keep emotions in tact and by the final green she two putted for par to become the first woman to shoot 59.

The round contained 13 birdies; the longest par putt she faced was no more than 3 and a half feet from the hole. Sorenstam branded herself Ms 59 and relentlessly marched on winning eleven times the next year with a record low scoring average of 68.69.

In 2003 her domination was so great it became a legitimate sporting question to ask how she might fare against leading male players. The Colonial Tournament was hand picked because the course wasn't the longest and the sponsors wanted to cash in.

Sorenstam was in the spotlight like never before. The girl who hated public speaking had become the woman who at that time was the hottest interview in the game - not that she has ever been the most forthcoming in front of microphones.

Even so she acquitted herself well in the press room and despite not making the cut she performed with credit on the course. Those two rounds and the publicity they generated were the bedrock of the brand "Annika" that she is now seeking to develop without the crutch of competition.

She won the Women's British Open at Lytham in 2003 to complete her set of the biggest titles in the women's game and in 2006 won her final major when she claimed a third US Open.

In seven Solheim Cup appearances she won 22 of 35 matches, but never managed to be on the winning side when Europe played away in the US.

It's perhaps the one thing missing from her CV but she can cope with that. Sorenstam said: "I wouldn't say that put a dampener on my career at all. I guess there is always something but I have been part of many Solheim Cup teams and we had the win in Sweden which was huge.

"I want to be remembered for my golf, sportsmanship and as somebody who enjoyed the challenge and wasn't afraid to push and get better," Sorenstam added.

Rest assured she will be remembered for all those qualities and many more.

Understandable as it is, Sorenstam's departure is a big blow to a women's game that, despite the wonderful Lorena Ochoa, is struggling to capture the imagination of the sporting public. The fact that Michelle Wie has secured her LPGA playing rights is welcome news but hardly compensates for the loss of a true great.

For one more week we can enjoy Sorenstam's presence on Tour. It must be correct to assume that for this final appearance her desire for victory will be as strong as it was at the height of her powers.

If she does win this career closing event, the Dubai Ladies Masters, she will have successfully defended that title for the second year running. Only the very brave would bet against it happening.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    A true inspiration for young women everywhere. Agressive, determined, focused,fiercely competitive but above all the epitome of good sportswomanship at all times. Annika is quite happy to pass the mantle of best woman golfer to Lorena Ochoa who will carry it with all the qualities that we so admire. Annika along with Laura Davies and Karrie Webb went to the US and showed the world that there was women capable of competing and winnig on the LPGA tour. These three ladies set the standard for all the wonderful women from all over the world who have followed.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am surprised there aren't more comments. I hope Annika doesn't retire completely but I must admit it does look we are losing probably one of the best ever Ambassadors of the game good luck to her!

  • Comment number 3.

    Truely a magnificent personality and a tremendous athelete. I have always written on cricket on this site but my favorite golfer is waving good bye to golf and i cannot stop myself writting here. She is by faar the greatest female golfer ever.

  • Comment number 4.

    We're going to miss her now that she's gone. She was the best in the world at what she does, yet never boasted or acted like a big shot. She always had time for her fans and earned everything she received.

    Good luck to a very classy lady.

 

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