It is mid-winter in Florida and Annika Sorenstam and her 12-person team of business associates, including her husband, Mike McGee, are busy. Very busy. It’s the first day in their new offices that are located in a quiet office park just outside the gates of her Lake Nona home. Scores of framed pictures and various Annika memorabilia sit in the front hallway, waiting patiently to be hung.
The first thing you notice when she arrives is how comfortable Sorenstam appears inside her own skin. It has been 14 months since she played her last round of competitive golf. It has been four-and-a-half months since she gave birth to her first child, daughter Ava.
And for the better part of the next hour, in a one-on-one interview with Global Golf Post Editor-In-Chief Brian Hewitt, Annika talks candidly and openly about anything and everything that comes up. The subjects range from motherhood and growing her business empire in a tough economy to new LPGA commissioner Michael Whan and golf in the Olympics. When the delicate subjects — the pros and cons of Michelle Wie and the downfall of Tiger Woods — are broached, Sorenstam does not shy away.
Yes, Annika has talked with Elin, a good friend, on more than one occasion since November. Yes, Annika is “disappointed” in Tiger. And yes, Annika is still a little bit baffled at all the attention Wie received in her teens.
For more on those and many other things, keep reading.
GGP: What’s motherhood like?
AS: I think it’s amazing. I love it. It’s hard work. I mean, it’s all the time. But it’s also a lot more than you can expect and read about and talk to other people. It’s just – you look at this little individual and it just warms your heart. You feel love for somebody you never felt before. But you also see how vulnerable they are. I mean, they need you. And I don’t think you understand how time-consuming it is. I’m sure people are different. But I’m pretty much hands-on. I want to make sure everything is all right. All the elements. It’s just hard work.
GGP: Has Ava got any kind of personality going yet?
AS: She’s smiling, she recognizes voices. She wants to stand up. I think she’s stubborn. She wants to achieve things. Laying on the ground and not going anywhere is not her style. You lift her up and she wants to touch different things. She loves to sleep, which is good for both of us. Her nose and mouth are just like me. Her eyes and cheeks are just like Mike’s. The stubbornness is both of us. But she loves people. She loves to be a part of what we do. So I guess that’s maybe Mike’s thing. It’s fun to see some of your things going into another person.
GGP: It’s work, but work you don’t mind doing?
AS: Exactly. I mean, time flies. All of a sudden it’s 3 o’clock. What happened to the day? I’m so delighted that I was able to have a career and do all that and also to experience motherhood. Because I just think that’s just … I don’t know … if you had the chance … how can I say this after four-and-a-half months? … But everybody says it gets better and better. And if this is the beginning, I can not imagine what it’s going to be like. So I feel very lucky that way.
GGP: You were very organized as a player. Has that helped you organize yourself now that you have a baby and a business and a personal life to manage?
AS: Absolutely. I think sports in general teaches kids a lot of things about life. I learned a lot there, got older, matured, then took my sport to another level, learned a lot there, traveling. Many of the things I learned in golf taught me lessons. It’s patience, it’s goal-setting, it’s focus … all these things. I’m using them in business. Nowadays, you know how tough it is. You have to be innovative, flexible. You have to work so much harder. You have to be more patient. And all those attributes are what I was taught in golf and how to take it to another level. And now I work with a team. There’s 12 of us, including me. It used to be me and Terry (caddie Terry McNamara) and that was it. So it’s all these different elements now and it’s really testing me and testing what I stand for and what I want to achieve. But I’ve always stood up to challenges, and I believe as far as business goes, if you weather the storm now and build a solid foundation and do the right things, when it clears up we will be just fine.
GGP: What are the biggest work challenges and the business mantra for your group?
AS: The bottom line is I’m following my passion. I’ve got the Academy; the golf course design; the foundation. We’ve got a financial group; we’ve got wine; fragrance line. It keeps us busy, but the tagline I have is “Share My Passion.” I want that to come through all the things I do. In the end it’s me and what I stand for. We have to build and be clear in what we’re all about. We’ve got to build partnerships now. The golf course design, I’ve been lucky to have Asia, so that’s just going forward. The Academy, we’ve got the coaches, the principles, the basic packages, it’s just that we’ve got to be a little bit more innovative. People ask for a little bit more. You have to change your sales technique. You have to be more aggressive.
GGP: Is any one area outperforming another?
AS: The golf course design. I’ve just signed another deal in Turkey. I’m on my ninth golf course and only two have finished. So I haven’t been affected there. I don’t think I would have 20 even if the economy was good because there’s only so much you can do. But as far as The Annika Academy, I see it turning around quite a bit. We’ve had to adjust what we do but we’re doing, I think, very well compared to others because we’re an exclusive golf school. I wish the wine and the fragrance (brands) would do a little better. Everybody who’s had a sip of our wine or smelled our perfume loves it. Then how do you transfer that to buy it? People love it when it’s served at outings they go to, but they’re not paying for it.
GGP: What are you doing for personal recreation and when was the last round of golf you played?
AS: I played nine holes Saturday but it was the first time in eight weeks. We were up in Tahoe and skied. But as far as taking time for myself, time for me I spend with Ava or Mike or we have friends over. I would love to play tennis, but if I have time, I will squeeze in a workout. There’s not a lot of time to sit there and go, “What now?” It’s boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.
GGP: How much do you get to work out?
AS: About three times a week.
GGP: Do you still work with Kai (longtime Sorenstam trainer Kai Fusser)?
AS: I still do his programs and I still call him on certain things. I wish there were 36 hours in the day.
GGP: When you were playing and healthy, how many days a week would you work out?
AS: At home, five days a week. On the road, it was three.
GGP: When was the last time you played 18 holes and actually kept score?
AS: That was when I played in Dubai, a year and two months ago. (Sorenstam shot 71 in the final round of the 2008 Dubai Ladies Masters to finish T7.)
GGP: Any withdrawal pains on the golf?
AS: None at all. I probably played 10 times last year. I went from all day long every week to nothing. My game is not where it was but I really don’t care. I have so many other fun things. I feel better about, hey, this is the right thing and I don’t regret it.
GGP: Were you able to enjoy the nine holes Saturday?
AS: It was frustrating because I didn’t hit it well. So you can never win (laughter).
GGP: On another front, what’s your take on the new commissioner, Michael Whan, and have you had a chance to speak to him?
AS: I’ve spoken to him a few times by phone and we’ve exchanged e-mails. My first impression is I like the guy. He’s smart, he listens. He has some good ideas and he’s not afraid to voice his opinion. What I’ve heard from people who have met him is they like him. They think he’s a breath of fresh air. So far, so good.
GGP: What is the most important issue facing him?
AS: He needs to gather the troops, get everybody in the same room and say, ‘This is our plan; this is what we’re about and this is the direction in which we are going,’ just rally everybody. We’re talking players, sponsors, media, you name it. It’s just so important because there’s been talk over here and talk over there. There’s just been no working together, so that’s the biggest thing. It’s not so much that we need to get more more tournaments, because a lot of tournaments have signed on again and I’m not so much worried about the schedule, it’s just as far as media exposure and marketing and how can we get our brand out and get people connected.
GGP: There have probably been more commissioners in the last 20 years in the LPGA than the organization wanted. Why has that been?
AS: Other commissioners came in and it all sounded good but people have not agreed or not understood. It’s hard when you have so many international players and domestic players. There’s just so many visions. And I think that’s where you get the friction a little bit. Some commissioners have tried to adapt to that but haven’t gotten the approval from other players.
GGP: Has the industriousness of the Koreans changed the work habits of the other players?
AS: I think some of them have. There’s no doubt they work extremely hard. I do think that top players drive the other players to work hard. I think I had a good work ethic. Lorena Ochoa works very hard. There are a lot of players at the top who work hard. To be able to catch up or stay at the top, you’ve got to work.
GGP: Maybe this is hard for you to measure, but do you feel like anybody outworked you when you were in your prime and playing your best golf?
AS: I don’t know if they were outworking me. Karrie (Webb) worked hard. Se Ri (Pak) worked hard. I worked hard on a lot of aspects. The fitness, I worked very hard. Overall, I would say at my peak that’s all I did. I worked until there was no more daylight, so whoever beat me would have to practice in the dark. ***** So, it’s hard to tell. There are some very talented players who don’t have to practice as much. But I lived for golf. That’s all I did. Practice, work out an hour-and-a-half in the morning, home, quick shower, practice, have lunch, and then play a few holes and practice. I got home when it was dark. That was it.
GGP: You were actively involved in the recent push to get golf into the Olympics. How important will golf in the Olympics be?
AS: Number one is the awareness to the world, which, I think, will lead to growing the game because interest will be there. And giving the opportunities for other countries to spend monies on golf. There are a lot of federations that will only spend money on golf if they’re in the Olympics, which means there will be more courses, there will be more driving ranges, and the industries within golf are going to grow in those countries that didn’t have golf before.
GGP: Michelle Wie withdrew from your tournament in 2007, citing an injury, and then showed up a couple of days later practicing at the next venue. You were understandably displeased. She has now won on the LPGA and played in a Solheim Cup. How important is she to future of the tour and are your differences with her a thing of the past?
AS: I think Michelle is a great addition to the Tour because she has a name. I don’t know why she has a name, really, because it’s not for her achievement on the golf course. It’s more the controversies, and that’s what I’m happy to see she’s stepping away from. She’s going about it the right way. She went to Tour School (2008). She won a tournament. She made the Solheim Cup team, played well there and her teammates liked her. That’s all what she has created and that she certainly deserves. And that, I think, she can add a lot to the Tour. I’m over what she did at my tournament. I’m over what she’s done. But she certainly is an example of what people can look at and say, “We can learn from this.” But she has now kind of come out of her own mess, and I’m proud of her for that. I think she’s really doing the right things, and I hope she can help the LPGA Tour now. You need more than just one player. You need several players. She’s one of them that people care about. And for that reason I’m happy. But, again, she has to earn her own way.
GGP: The Tiger thing: You know Tiger. You know Elin. You’re a mother now. There are small children involved in Tiger’s situation. How difficult has this been for you to watch unfold?
AS: Number one, it was a shock. As a friend of both of them, I had no idea. I’m disappointed in Tiger’s actions because I know Elin very well and she’s been very hurt. And so have her children. It’s just been sad to watch. And now I hope they can heal as people and I hope that they can move forward and find a solution and put this all behind them. Those are my wishes for them. But like I said, it’s shocking.
GGP: It’s going to be difficult for them to move forward, is it not?
AS: Again, I feel bad for Elin and the children. He (Tiger) has to take care of his behavior. A lot depends on what he wants. Other than that, you’ve just got to let them do it on their own and however they want. I’m not sure what Tiger’s objective is from here on.
GGP: Have you had an opportunity to talk to Elin or Tiger?
AS: I’ve spent time with Elin. Just as a friend through a tough time.
GGP: Has that been time well spent?
AS. Yes, that’s what friends are for.
GGP: OK, back to you: Would you like to have more children?
AS: Mike and I do want that. We’d like to have one more. After I’ve said I don’t have any more time, (laugh) but I do. I think it would be nice for Ava to have a sibling. Again, I feel so fortunate to experience this part of life. I was so focused on golf, golf, golf, golf, I didn’t think about other things. Now I step away and we have the house that we spend nights in, when we wake up we actually have a morning paper. Things like this we never had … tea in the morning, going out with neighbors, meeting people in your community. It’s a sense of stability.
GGP: Could you see yourself playing for Sweden in the Olympics in 2016? (Editor’s note: Sorenstam will be 45.)
AS: It would be attractive but is that something I can do then? I’m not getting any younger. The players are younger. It takes a huge commitment. I think it’s great that whoever gets the opportunity, that what’s going to be so much fun to see. If I get my motivation back, obviously I work hard, to achieve that would be a goal. But, otherwise, I want to be a part of it. I want to see it. I’d love to be there, because it’s going to be an historic moment. We’ll see. Seven years is a long time. Especially when you’re turning 40 soon.