With Tiger Woods on her mind, Annika Sorenstam readies for first LPGA start since 2008

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Beth Ann Nichols
·4 min read
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ORLANDO, Florida – Annika Sorenstam was on her way to the first tee Tuesday when she picked up her phone to check on her kids and saw the news of Tiger Woods’ single-car rollover crash. Sorenstam felt sick to her stomach as she shared what she’d read with Danielle Kang.

“I felt this kind of sting in my heart,” said Sorenstam, “like what’s happening. Because really at that time it was probably 3 p.m. or so. There was really not much information. … I’m just glad that he’s alive.”

Two of the greatest to ever play the game. Two icons. Two former partners at Bighorn. Two parents with golf-crazy kids who view their roles in the game so differently than they once did. The somber mood that fell over the PGA Tour event in Bradenton felt the same at the Gainbridge LPGA in Orlando.

Tiger Woods is beloved on this tour, too.

This week is a rare, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime experience for many on the LPGA to compete alongside Sorenstam inside the ropes. A chance to reflect and appreciate the 72-time winner who, at age 50, has become a mentor to players like Kang, who was admittedly nervous on the first tee of that practice round.

As Woods has become a friend and mentor to younger players on the PGA Tour, twentysomethings and thirtysomethings lined up for the chance to play a practice round with Sorenstam.

Annika Sorenstam talks to teammate Tiger Woods at the Bighorn Golf Club during the “Lincoln Financial Group Battle at Big Horn” event in Palm Desert, California, July 30, 2001. (Photo credit Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images)

Anna Nordqvist was the first to receive a scholarship from Sorenstam around 15 years ago. Nordqvist was a rookie on the LPGA in 2009, the year after Sorenstam retired and while they both lived in Lake Nona for a time, this week marked the first time they’d played a round of golf together. Sorenstam, of course, captained Nordqvist in the 2017 Solheim Cup.

“I’m out there and she wants to look at me and see how I go about things,” said Sorenstam. “I’m trying to, OK, maybe I should listen to my own advice, how you go about your pre-shot routine and how you prepare for a tournament. Yeah, it’s really warming. It makes me want to continue what I do.”

Sorenstam, who is ultimately getting reps in for her debut in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, will spend the first two rounds of the Gainbridge alongside Nordqvist and Madelene Sagstrom, another Swede who won last year’s edition of this event in Boca Raton. Sorenstam and Sagstrom, who also played on that 2017 Solheim team, have a personal relationship but have never played.

“We’ve spoken a few times, her and her mom,” said Sorenstam. “We sat down in Starbucks and she was firing away with questions about caddies, sponsors, agents, you name it. So been there to kind of be a little support group to her.”

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Sorenstam first moved into Lake Nona in 2000 and has lived in three different houses. She currently resides just off the 16th tee.

After Sorenstam left the tour in 2008, she reckons that she didn’t step on the course more than two of three times a year for about a decade.

“To get to our house nowadays,” she said, “you have to drive between the back tee and the men’s tee on the 16th tee. That was as close as I got to the golf course. People always say, ‘How good of shape is the course?’ I said, I don’t know, but I’ll look on the tee box when I go home.”

That only changed in 2019 when she started to compete in the PNC Championship with her father Tom. In the run-up to this year’s PNC and her debut in the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, Sorenstam’s 9-year-old son helped her get prepared.

“When kids go to school I go to the gym and hit some balls,” said Sorenstam, “and sometimes my husband, Mike, will pick up Will from school and then he will drop him on the driving range and we go practice together, because he’s been bit by the golf bug. He’s been my training partner the last few months, so it’s been a lot of the fun.”

For Sophia Popov, it’s a pinch-me moment to warm up on the range close to Sorenstam.

“I’ve never seen her play like in real life,” said Popov, the breakout star of last year’s AIG Women’s British Open.

The first time she ever met Sorenstam was a dozen years ago at the Solheim Cup, after Popov had competed in the Junior Solheim Cup. The second time was last fall on the pickleball courts at Nona, where Popov sometimes partners with good friend and Nona resident Anne van Dam.

“I watched her play at the Father-Son event and that was so cool,” said Popov. “I was like man, she’s got all of the shots in the bag. I’m low-key scared to have her back out here.”

It will be unforgettable.