MADEIRA, Ohio – “It was cold and raining one day. …. and I was hitting balls on the driving range, but I didn’t want to be there. So I called my dad,” Annika Sorenstam recalled to the crowd. “I said, ‘Can you pick me up?’ and he did. As we drove away, we saw a few other kids hitting some balls and he looked at me and said, ‘You know Annika, there are no shortcuts to success.’ I still remember that to this day.”
As one of the greatest, if not the greatest golfer in the history of the LPGA, Sorenstam has a large reputation, and for good reason. She paved the way in the sport, becoming the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame shortly after that feat, in 2003, and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2021, 13 years after her retirement from competition.
So, what made her come to Cincinnati this week?
Well, her desire to pay it forward.
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The inaugural Kroger Queen City Championship presented by Procter & Gamble is about more than golf. It’s about empowering women to do what they enjoy, what they’re passionate about, to foster relationships and to bring women’s sports to a busy hub like Cincinnati.
A highlight of Wednesday’s pro-am was Kroger and Always teaming up to give away four scholarships to young women of color in the area. Those four women were Caitlyn Morrow, University of Cincinnati; Jessica Williams, University of Dayton; Honesty Lyon, Wilberforce University; and Bryanna Hall, Northern Kentucky University.
There was a fifth recipient, Yugandhara Nalawade of Miami University, who was not in attendance at Wednesday’s award presentation.
The scholarships came as part of Kroger’s new platform, Game Changers.
Kate Meyer, a representative from Kroger, said the tournament itself is just one key pillar in the platform’s foundation. The other two pillars come from the women’s leadership program, which was held on Tuesday, and the scholarship program.
“It’s about the support of you women, here, at the beginning of your leadership careers, working and pursuing degrees in what will be the game changers of tomorrow,” Meyer said.
Sorenstam congratulated the attending winners with a short putting clinic, where she taught them the groundwork to get them started on their golf careers – from tips and tricks on putting stance, to how to grip your club and even how to rotate your body for peak performance (shoulders, not wrists!).
She said she was happy to be a part of this week’s tournament behind the scenes, because she’s always trying to find ways to help out the younger generation of women’s golfers. She knows her journey is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean she can’t share the tools she’s picked up along the way to make it a little easier on them.
“It’s a big role, but I like to approach it in the sense that, I’ve had mentors in my life, people that I’ve looked up to and that I’m thankful for, so this is a way to pay it forward and say thank you,” Sorenstam said. “To inspire others, whether it’s through the game of golf, meeting other women, or talking about their dream, just to inspire them to do something they enjoy is really important to me. Whether it’s with one person, 10 or 100. … (it’s important) to be out there, doing what you say and what you believe in.”