Annika Sörenstam turns 50 today.
For many fans, those words feel like a blow to the forehead. Fifty? Five-Oh? How can that be? Wasn’t it yesterday that we watched the young Swede shoot 59? And how about those back-to-back U.S. Women’s Opens? Could that possibly have happened before Collin Morikawa and Lydia Ko were born?
Remember Annika’s start at Colonial with the guys? You couldn’t have missed it, assuming you were old enough to be aware of the news. The fact that she is now eligible for AARP membership and a U.S. Senior Women’s Open start seems impossible.
The good news is, she’s never ventured far from the game. In addition to being at most majors contested in years other than 2020, Sörenstam can always be found at the Annika Invitational junior series, the best collection of girls’ golf events in the world, and the Annika Intercollegiate, which has vaulted up the ranks in women’s college golf. And that’s before her promotion of the Rolex Annika Major Championship Award, given to a major winner who played well in at least one other.
“It’s nice to see the LPGA doing so well. Look at the schedule the last decade. It has gotten so much better. The planning is better. Things are a lot more organized. Purses are higher, which is nice.” – Annika Sörenstam
Speaking on the last day of her 40s as she watched the opening round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship from her Florida home and prepared to send her two children back to a school building for the first time since the COVID-19 shutdowns, Sörenstam seemed to take the coming landmark birthday as she has most things in her life: with a quiet nod to the passage of time.
“It’s nice to see the LPGA doing so well,” she said in the tone of an elder stateswoman. “Look at the schedule the last decade. It has gotten so much better. The planning is better. Things are a lot more organized. Purses are higher, which is nice. There are more majors, so it creates more interest.”
At that moment in the conversation, she was distracted by Brooke Henderson hitting a shot into one of Donald Ross’ knuckle-shaped greens at Aronimink. In a reflective mood, Sörenstam said, more to herself than me, “I’m so happy to see us playing these classic courses.”
She’s not the only one. For decades, LPGA players have begged to compete at the game’s most storied venues. Now more than ever, it seems to make sense. Take a few recent examples. The 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was played at Sahalee and produced a shootout between Henderson, Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn that had people on site comparing it to the 1975 Masters. Then, at the 2017 Women’s PGA, Danielle Kang had to two-putt the final green at Olympia Fields for birdie to stiff-arm Henderson, who charged from behind again.
The U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 won by Michelle Wie remains one of the most popular moments in the women’s game. And just 47 days ago, Sophia Popov authored what is arguably the best sports story of 2020 at Royal Troon.
A case can be made that Brittany Lincicome and Kelly Tan, who sat atop the leaderboard after the first day of this year’s Women’s PGA, played Aronimink in much the same way Gary Player did when he won the 1962 PGA Championship there. Certainly, Twitter didn’t come ablaze with calls to roll back equipment after the opening round.
“You walk on property and know that this is a major-championship venue,” Stacy Lewis said. “It’s big, it’s grand. You know, it’s just got that feel to it. For us as players, this is truly a treat. We don’t play places like this enough. Just the difficulty of it, the condition of it, it really is special. You want to qualify for these majors. You want to be in this field. You want to play this golf course.
“And you kind of think of history, you think of the guys playing here. Just to be on the same golf courses as the guys, it creates that memory and maybe people that watched the guys, now they’re going to come watch us here … if we had fans, of course.”
Popov, making her second major start of the year after winning the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon, said, “I’m someone who’s watched a lot of golf my whole life, especially the men’s side, just because when I was in Germany they wouldn’t show women’s golf. So, I would watch all the majors and I would see tournaments happening on these courses all the time. I think it’s amazing since KPMG has stepped in, the kind of courses they get us on is incredible.
“I love it. It’s so pure. It’s a championship golf course. It’s long, it’s very difficult. And I think that’s what a lot of us want. We want these kinds of golf courses. It’s really nice to see because you can compare the (men’s and women’s) games side by side, same golf course, maybe not the same conditions and you’re not playing the same time of year, but in general it’s awesome. I love it, and I’m just super excited for the next few years to come.”
The next few years include the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club and Pebble Beach as well as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, Congressional and Baltusrol.
“Women care about history, too,” Sörenstam said as she watched Ko make another birdie. “We care about these classic courses and we want to showcase our skills at these venues. I was a huge advocate for that when I was playing. And I still am. Donald Ross is my favorite designer and seeing women play these kinds of courses, a true test, gives the women’s game more credibility.
“I couldn’t be happier,” she added, the rumbling of her kids’ footsteps in the background. “The LPGA is in a good place.”
Top photo: Michael Reaves, Getty Images
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