Annika Sorenstam’s foray back into competitive golf in February at the inaugural Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona, the club in Orlando, Florida, where Sorenstam lives, left many in her fan base wanting more.
Get ready for the summer of Annika.
Sorenstam is in Sweden this week competing in and co-hosting the Scandinavian Mixed along with fellow Swede Henrik Stenson. She has also announced that next month, she will compete in the American Century Championship, a 54-hole Modified Stableford event to be played July 9-11 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Club in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Sorenstam last played the event in 2014 and finished T-2. She also has already committed to the U.S. Senior Women’s Open in August.
Sorenstam, a part-time resident of Lake Tahoe, is the fourth female to enter an American Century field featuring several sports and entertainment stars. She joins NBC News/TODAY Show host and meteorologist Dylan Dreyer, NBC Sports anchor and on-air personality Kathryn Tappen and Golf Channel on-air commentator Kira K. Dixon, 2015’s Miss America, in the female contingent.
Golfweek caught up with Sorenstam from Sweden to hear about her summer of competition, her game and player responsibilities.
You’ve signed up to play in the American Century Championship, which makes quite a trio of competitive starts for you this summer between the Scandinavian Mixed and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. Why American Century?
Tahoe is kind of our second home. We’ve been there for years and we spend the summer there. I just think it’s really such an amazing place, there’s nothing more beautiful. I love the format, I think it’s fun golf. It’s serious but it’s so much fun – the atmosphere is great. The guys and the girls that are playing are super nice so it’s like serious but not really, and I need competitive rounds. I need just to keep playing and do that. Why not? We’re going to be in Tahoe all summer and I’ve played there before, great memories from just practice rounds but then even playing (in 2014). It’s a good lead-up getting ready for the Women’s Senior Open.
Speaking of the Scandinavian Mixed, you’re preparing to play in – and also hosting! – that event this week. The fact that these next two starts are in mixed fields, why is that important to you at this point in your life and your career?
I’m a believer that we can grow the game in different ways. This is not the only way to grow it, absolutely not. But I think it’s a way to create some more interest, a little excitement, a little bit of awareness to the game and then also I think the timing is very right for these types of initiatives. It’s different, so yeah it takes a little – not just planning – the logistics of course are going to be really important. I think it’s fun for some future events, moving forward, for partners and to feel like they’re including women.
It’s like we always talk about, to grow the game we’ve got to make sure it’s inclusive and accessible and I think these are the things we can do in our space. So therefore, as far as just why these? I think the timing has a lot to do with it. Being in Sweden and I think it’s a great start, but then we are here together with my tournament next week and so I have a few more events before the U.S. (Senior) Women’s Open and so it just turned out to align nicely, I guess.
Annika Sorenstam during the 2014 American Century Championship.
Looking ahead to the U.S. Senior Women’s Open – it’s your first USGA championship in 13 years and certainly a different field makeup than the Gainbridge at Lake Nona. What excites you most about that event?
I look forward to seeing all my veteran friends. All the seniors, I look forward to catching up with them, I haven’t seen many of them – even more than 13 years for some of them. So I think it’s good. I want to support the event because the USGA, it’s a big commitment from their behalf. So how can I support them? I’m really enjoying playing now, even though it’s a different level, my expectations are different. I’m enjoying playing. My kids are more part of what I do than when I was younger. Now they want me to play, they want to see me. It really is a family effort on a lot of levels. It’s in the summer, they can go there and they can be with me. Mike (McGee, her husband) is going to caddie for me. It’s just a lot of fun things to do, and I’m totally in a different space in my life or whatever you call it, different chapter. Just support the event and see the players is what I look forward.
Rewind two or three years – even 10 or 11 years. Could you have imagined that at 50, you’d compete three times over the course of the summer?
No, I don’t know – maybe hit a midlife crisis. (Laughs) But you know when I stepped away, they didn’t have these two women’s seniors. I’m only going to play one. But they didn’t have the U.S. Women’s Senior when I stepped away and I was done, I really was. But I think, with COVID, just certain things you realize that’s fun, that’s important and spending time with my family, especially our son Will he loves golf so much. I spend time with him out there and I was just watching him. I was like, I might as well bring my clubs. And then when I start bringing my clubs and I start practicing, I start to hit it a little better which is more fun. And now I’m inspiring him.
We really have a fun connection together there and I want him to see what it takes to be good at something because he’s very, very competitive. I think a lot of things – one thing led to another and again just wanting to support these events because if players don’t support them, they will go away. I think it’s fun that they have them and therefore, to answer your question, the answer is no I never really thought of playing and, again, and I really didn’t for 11 years. I did a few charity outings and corporate events the first 10 years and sometimes I feel like I’m starting from scratch because I haven’t done it and I certainly haven’t competed.
Annika Sorenstam during the 2014 American Century Championship.
As someone who was the face of the LPGA for a long time and did countless interviews: One thing we saw this past week was Naomi Osaka’s decision not to do press at the French Open. As a player, we know you were kind of a shy player and had to get over that, what are your thoughts on Naomi’s decision and how you handle that?
First of all, I think we all wish Naomi the best of health. If you don’t have health, you really don’t have much. And mental health is something that, I feel, is not really talked about. It’s almost like people are quiet about it, they’re ashamed about it. I applaud her for bringing that to the forefront and addressing it. But there’s no doubt that being an athlete, you have some responsibility and it’s a fine line, there’s no doubt. Players handle things very differently, but it’s also part of playing on that big stage. I think it was good that she addressed it, and hopefully now she can get help but hopefully others can get help.
In the end, the message came through and I think – within golf, we haven’t really had this type of situation occur. It needs to occur, but I also think you have to find that balance of what expectations are and being role models. It’s not an easy path to take for sure but I think it’s good that she brought it up. Hopefully she gets help and gets better because she’s good for the sport, she’s a great female athlete so I wish her the best and hope to see her soon again.
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