‘I’m still a fighter’: Annika Sorenstam takes on legendary field in U.S. Senior Women’s Open debut

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FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Laura Davies withdrew from last week’s Amundi Evian Championship because she didn’t want to add more potential risk to her participation in the 3rd U.S. Senior Women’s Open. Even she’s still a bit surprised by the move.

“If you’d have told me that 10 years ago,” said Davies, “I’d say don’t be ridiculous. But that’s how important this one is to me and all the other players.”

Annika Sorenstam’s first title on the LPGA came at the 1995 U.S. Women’s Open. The 50-year-old Sorenstam, a three-time USWO champion, called it a privilege to be at Brooklawn Country Club making her U.S. Senior Women’s Open debut.

“I think it’s important to support the USGA because they’re the ones that put up this tournament,” said Sorenstam. “If we don’t support it, they will go away, so I think it’s my way to say thank you to the USGA. The USGA has (played) a big part in my life, a big part in my heart.”

Winning, of course, factors in, too. Juli Inkster has twice finished runner-up at this event – first to Davies in 2018 and Helen Alfredsson in 2019 – and would like to “move up a notch.”

Inkster is one of 13 players in the field who competed at Brooklawn in the 1979 USWO.

“My mom reminded me last week that I actually did play here before,” said Inkster, “which I didn’t know. But she brought out the old photo albums, and yeah, there I was.

“So I was a 19-year-old kid then, playing as an amateur. And, of course, I don’t remember anything about it. But I think I should have because it reminds me a lot of the course I grew up on, Pasatiempo, with the undulating greens and the undulating fairways and stuff like that.”

Carol S. Thompson with Juli Inkster and Pat Hurst as they walk off of the 7th tee during a practice round at the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Darren Carroll/USGA)

After a nearly 13-year layoff from the tour, Sorenstam teed it up last February in her first LPGA event at her home course of Lake Nona and made the cut. She also has played in a couple of celebrity events against the men. She’s enjoying the par-72 6,011 layout at Brooklawn.

“(The men) hit it 100 yards past me, and I’m hitting longer irons in,” said Sorenstam, “and here I come, and I feel comfortable. I’m hitting shorter irons in and I can be a little more precise and I can fire at the flag. My approach shots are not releasing 20 yards over the green. Here actually I had two shots that were spinning back. I can’t remember the last times I had shots spinning back.

“I think this course fits me very well. I love it.”

Davies said distance control will be key at Brooklawn, which was always a strength of Sorenstam’s game.

“Pin high is your friend,” said Davies. “Short and long is definitely not your friend. You can even miss it pin high and still have some easy chips, especially if you miss it to the low side of the green. But that’s what the practice rounds are all about. Very important this week to get to know the course … the greens are what they are, but we now have to deal with some serious problems around them if you get a bit scrappy with your distance control.”

There are 11 U.S. Women’s Open champions in the 120-player field including two-time winner JoAnne Carner, who at 82 is the oldest player in the field. There are eight World Golf Hall of Famers and 33 amateurs. A total of 58 players made it to Brooklawn through qualifying and 41 are here for the first time.

What feels like a reunion week at Brooklawn also doubles as a bona fide championship. It’s an intriguing mix of happy-to-be-here and playing-to-win.

“I was playing a TV match in Norway with Suzann (Pettersen) and Lorena (Ochoa) and I believe it was Se Ri (Pak),” said Sorenstam, “and Suzann came up to me and she said, ‘You know, your swing hasn’t changed. I said, thanks. And she goes, ‘but you don’t hit it anywhere.’ That’s Suzann for you. I’d like to see what her swing looks like now when she has two kids.

“But no, kidding aside, the swing looks the same. My game is not really the same, but I feel as good as I can be at this age and what I do in my life. … I’m still a fighter, still a competitor, and we’ll see what happens.”