LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Cheyenne Knight played in Annika Sorenstam’s junior events and attended her clinics. But being introduced on the tee alongside Ms. 59 was next-level cool for the 24-year-old LPGA player.
“I hit my drive in the trees on the first hole,” said Knight of the extra nerves that accompanied the experience.
Competing inside the ropes alongside the greatest player in the modern game never seemed like a possibility for many of today’s LPGA stars, given that Sorenstam retired in 2008 and turned her attention toward her family, foundation and brand. But her latest partnership with Diamond Resorts opened up a unique opportunity for Sorenstam to compete in the celebrity division of the LPGA’s season-opener, where she finished ninth.
Much has changed since Sorenstam dominated the LPGA with 72 titles. Knight said Sorenstam’s caddie/husband, Mike McGee, had to remind her that she could now tap down spike marks and take a drop from knee height.
In her preparation for the event, the 50-year-old couldn’t believe how winded she got after ramping up her range sessions, especially given that she’s scheduled to soon compete in a triathlon.
“To hit a lot of balls is different type of endurance that I didn’t appreciate,” she said.
Annika Sorenstam competes in the celebrity division of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions (courtesy Diamond Resorts).
At the peak of her game, Sorenstam carried the ball around 250 yards. Now she’s down to about 235. She still hits her irons about the same distance.
“It’s the short game,” she said at the start of the week, “that’s where it is. I know the basics, I know the technique, but it’s the feel. The constant feel.”
Sorenstam was Gaby Lopez’s superhero growing up, along with countrywoman Lorena Ochoa. Lopez, the 2020 TOC champion, played Round 1 of the TOC with Sorenstam and called it one of the luckiest days of her life.
“We talked a lot about short-term goals,” said Lopez. “She dominated in so many ways, and she was always asking herself, ‘How can I just get better in this area, this area?’ Just breaking it down so she feels she’s achieving different goals in short-term to gain confidence, be comfortable.”
Danielle Kang considers Sorenstam a mentor, and while she didn’t get the chance to play alongside her last week, she wanted an up-close look at the Swede’s routine, how she handles distractions and how her energy changes over important putts.
“I would love to see how she executes shots,” said Kang, who lost in a playoff to Jessica Korda.
Sorenstam planned to compete in this year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open for the first time but the championship’s new dates, July 29-Aug. 1, conflict with the Tokyo Olympics, and that’s a massive problem given that Sorenstam is president of the International Golf Federation.
Sorenstam and 2011 ANNIKA Invitational winner Celine Boutier, who were grouped together in the final round of the TOC (courtesy ANNIKA Foundation).
She also wanted to compete in the Senior LPGA Championship at the French Lick Resort in Indiana, but those dates conflict with the Junior Solheim Cup, and Sorenstam is captaining the European team this year.
“I’ve enjoyed practicing and getting ready,” she said. “I’m not going to stop, going to keep on going and see what happens.”
The multi-year Diamond Resorts partnership includes sponsoring the ANNIKA Invitational which in recent years has taken place in St. Augustine, Florida. Sorenstam said the tournament will move close to the TOC next January so that juniors can take part in the activities of the LPGA event as well.
Those who didn’t get the chance to play alongside an LPGA legend last week will have another chance in 2022.
“The thing that stood out to me was that she birdied 17 and 18 (on Saturday),” said Knight, “and her husband said she was so mad because she shot over par each day. She birdied those last two holes to shoot even par. Even though she doesn’t still play competitively, she still has that fire. I was like, that’s why she’s the GOAT.”
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