LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – Annika Sorenstam and husband Mike McGee went back to their car several times in search of a lost mask at Tranquilo Golf Course. Much has changed since the last time a retired Sorenstam teed it up in an LPGA event. For starters, she’s in the celebrity division of this week’s Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, competing against an almost entirely male field of entertainment and sports celebrities.
And, for the moment at least, the LPGA Hall of Famer is embroiled in controversy after accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump alongside fellow legend Gary Player one day after the violent U.S. Capitol attacks Jan. 6 in which five people died. As Sorenstam waited out an early-morning frost delay Tuesday, she spoke with Golfweek about her decision to accept the medal. The original ceremony was scheduled for March 23, 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.
“Ever since I heard I was going to receive this award back in 2019, I’ve always viewed this in the context of the people through history who have received it,” said Sorenstam, “and as you know it started in 1963. It’s individuals from all kinds of walks, whether it’s science, art, entertainment and sports, just to make the world a better place. Listen, I share the sadness and the fear with everyone, what happened at the Capitol. But I’m not one to look back. I focus on young girls, as you know. Just came back from St. Augustine yesterday, our 13th Annika Invitational. That’s what I’m going to continue to do is open doors, create opportunities for young girls around the world.”
Sorenstam said that she arrived in Washington on the evening of Jan. 6 with her family. When asked if she regretted going ahead with the ceremony the next day at the White House, Sorenstam reiterated that she’s not one to second-guess.
“I’ve always been somebody to move forward,” she said. “I’m going to spend energy and continue to give back to the game of golf.”
Sorenstam, 50, won 72 times on the LPGA including 10 major championships and remains the only woman in history to shoot 59. The mother of two thrust herself into the business world after her retirement from the tour in 2008, building her ANNIKA brand and boosting the game worldwide. In 2019, more than 600 girls from 60-plus countries competed in seven events across five continents through the Annika Foundation. There are 146 players competing on the Symetra Tour who have played in Sorenstam’s events and more than 60 players that have status on the LPGA.
Last December, the International Golf Federation Board elected Sorenstam as IGF President, a significant role given that the Olympics Games are scheduled this summer. In September, the eight-time Solheim Cup player and 2017 captain will lead Team Europe at the Junior Solheim Cup in Toledo, Ohio.
Many feel her sterling reputation a global ambassador for golf has now been significantly tarnished.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people, and you can imagine the range of emotions and comments,” Sorenstam said. “I hear clearly those who see it differently. … Now I’ve got my golf hat on. I am going to continue to be the mother I am, continue to be the philanthorpist I am, continue to be the golfer that I am. This week I’m going to pick up the clubs and we’re going to do that.”
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