Confidence is the key for any golfer. But for Annika Sörenstam a touch of self-belief ended up catapulting her career into the public consciousness.
When she left the University of Arizona in 1992, Sörenstam’s career didn’t take off as some might have thought after she won the individual NCAA Championship as a freshman the previous year. Yes, she won on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf tour and was named LPGA Rookie of the Year while remaining winless in 1994, but LPGA victory did not come as quickly or easily.
That maiden victory didn’t come until the following summer, in a stirring comeback performance at the 1995 U.S. Women’s Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. With that victory in the 50th edition of the tournament, that golf course is a place she still recalls fondly.
“The Broadmoor has a soft spot in our hearts for sure,” Sörenstam said.
The then-24-year-old arrived at the Broadmoor’s par-70, 6,398-yard East Course flying under the radar. Even she couldn’t imagine making her first win the most important in the women’s game.
“I fought from behind just to get up there on the leaderboard and somehow managed to hold onto it and beat some of the stars on the LPGA at the time,” she said. “Playing 72 holes against Meg Mallon, Pat Bradley, Nancy Lopez, just all of the top players, Beth Daniel … just knowing I belonged there, and my game was good enough to compete in just my second year, I was just starting to get the hang of it with traveling, my caddie, sponsors, dinners, pro-ams and press conferences, which are important.”
Sörenstam admitted she was very nervous down the stretch.
“I wasn’t a big leaderboard-watcher at the time because I was never on the leaderboard,” she said. “And once you see your name up there, you start to think about it, you think what it means. What am I doing? I just didn’t have the experience – I’d never played in a big tournament like that or been in that position, seeing that many people. I just really thought I’d never win a U.S. (Women’s) Open. But I just managed to get the ball in the hole.
“And that tournament really kick-started my career, not just from a confidence standpoint but from a lot of different perspectives as far as knowing I made the right decision to turn professional, and knowing I was working on the right things, just knowing I could play in all these bigger events and get up there to the top of the LPGA.”
A year later, she had not only won her first LPGA tournament – a major championship no less – but she also had added two more titles, had topped the ’95 money list and had become the first non-American winner of the Vare Trophy. Then, Sörenstam was back at the U.S. Women’s Open, defending a title for the first time.
The 51st U.S. Women’s Open held at Pine Needles saw a different Sörenstam, a player brimming with confidence – a player who knew she could win. She says now she has incomplete memories about that week aside from putting 72 holes of solid golf together in order for her to become the first non-American to win the championship in back-to-back years.
“I was really in a zone,” Sörenstam said. “To be honest, there are a lot of things I don’t remember from that week. I was just so focused on what I was doing. I felt extremely prepared.”
One memory that sticks out is the 72nd hole at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina, after closing out her six-stroke victory.
“Pine Needles, Peggy Kirk Bell, I got to know her through amateur golf,” she said. “It was a great week. It’s funny though, when I finished on the 72nd hole, I won by five or six, but Peggy, when I got to know her, she couldn’t pronounce my name, Annika. So, she called me Heineken, for some reason. First off, it’s German, which I’m not, and I don’t drink beer, so I really don’t know where Heineken came from. But that was my name.
“So, I finished my putt on the 72nd hole and I somehow, I walked through the bunker. Don’t ask me why, I don’t remember, but I walked through a bunker to the scoring and I hear someone scream, ‘Heineken!’ and I looked up there and there she was, Peggy, waving at me, giving me the thumbs-up and being very happy for me. … I’ll never forget that.”
The win truly launched Sörenstam into a different realm, the place of one-name stars such as Tiger and Cher and Bono. She became Annika, a name everyone learned to pronounce.
After that successful U.S. Women’s Open title defense, she won twice more in 1996. For her career, Sörenstam’s total of 72 LPGA victories – including a third U.S. Women’s Open title at Rhode Island’s Newport Country Club in 2006 – is the third-most all time in the women’s game. She collected 21 additional wins worldwide, and she earned more than $22 million in LPGA winnings – making her one of the most successful golfers, man or woman, in history. She entered the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2003.
“When you win tournaments like that, it’s confidence,” said Sörenstam, who has been named ambassador for this year’s 75th edition of the U.S. Women’s Open now scheduled for December at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas. “Knowing you should be there, and knowing you can do it, knowing you can handle the pressure. That is the biggest thing.
“You know, there is a lot more to a win than just holding the trophy, and winning majors on top of that kind of establishes you there. I also think it has to do with how other players look at you, as far as, she’s won a major, she can handle pressure, or she’s done that in the past. At least, that’s how I think of other players, if she wins a major, she gets that little extra respect.”
One of the game's greats, Sörenstam is one of only six to have won three or more Women’s Open 🏆s and the only one to achieve the feat in the last 3️⃣5️⃣ years.
— U.S. Women's Open (USGA) (@uswomensopen) June 3, 2020
Ahead of the rescheduled U.S. Women’s Championship, the USGA and Fox Sports on FS1 will re-air the following championship on Sunday:
- Sunday, June 7: 2015 U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club, In Gee Chun (champion) at 6 p.m.
Golf Channel will also air several classic championship final rounds during the originally scheduled championship week, including:
- Thursday, June 4: 2010 U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club, Paula Creamer (champion), 11 a.m.–1 p.m. EDT
- Friday, June 5: 2011 U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor, So Yeon Ryu (champion), 11 a.m.–1 p.m. EDT
- Saturday, June 6: 2007 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, Cristie Kerr (champion), 11 a.m.–1 p.m. EDT
- Sunday, June 7: 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Michelle Wie (champion), 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. EDT
Annika Sörenstam after winning the 1996 U.S. Women”s Open at Pine Needles. Photo: Craig Jones, Allsport via Getty Images
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