Orlando, FL | Annika Sörenstam wasn’t on TV much when Yana Beeli, 18, was growing up in Switzerland. Sörenstam retired from the LPGA at the end of 2008, long before Beeli got into the game. It’s hard for Beeli to put a finger on when she first became aware of Sörenstam, a World Golf Hall of Famer who won 72 times on the LPGA Tour, and yet she can’t imagine not knowing her.
“You just hear from her; I don’t know,” Beeli said by way of explanation. “If you’re in the world of golf, if you’re a girl playing – probably it was my coach or someone who said she’s the greatest of all time. So, I kind of got into it and kind of got to know her. But I’m not sure when that exactly was.”
Just like a whole generation of girls, Beeli knows Sörenstam, 53, as a tournament host, mentor and champion for women’s golf thanks to the lineup of tournaments she hosts for girls in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Australasia region. Sörenstam is hands-on in her mission to create more opportunities for female golfers worldwide, gently guiding everything from their on-course thought patterns to the trajectory of their careers.
Sörenstam traditionally hosts a clinic before her invitationals, and Beeli recites one of the lines that stuck from the 2023 Annika Invitational Europe last June: There are no shortcuts to success. Beeli, who won the title that week in Sweden on her way to making Europe’s Junior Solheim Cup team, said it’s been on her mind ever since.
So has this: When the flap on her golf glove closes, she flips the switch to competition mode, just as Sörenstam did as a player.
“She’s concentrated; she’s focused on her next shot; she knows what to do,” Beeli said in relaying the tip from Sörenstam’s own career. “And then when she takes her glove off, she’s kind of like, ‘OK, I’m more relaxed now. I can think about something else’ and put golf aside until she walks up to the ball.
“That’s something I really tried to put into my game, and I think it really works well.”
The same tip stuck with Josefin Widal, another member of Europe’s Junior Solheim Cup team.
“You need to be focused, of course, but sometimes you are so focused that you forget to relax and enjoy the time on the golf course,” said Widal, an 18-year-old from Sweden.
“I want it to be more personal. I would think for them to know that I’m somewhat following their career, because I can talk to them. I still talk to many of them through different things. They send texts or call. If I’m not up to date, then I wouldn’t be relevant to give them information.”– Annika Sörenstam
Sörenstam has long been one of her biggest idols, which contributed to last year’s Annika Invitational Europe, where Widal finished 26th, feeling like an elevated tournament.
“Annika is always [at] the place we’re playing,” Widal said. “She has the clinic, and that’s so fun to see her and see that she’s really caring about us, and she really wants us to be as good as she was.”
This is not the way every junior tournament named after a professional player works. Sörenstam is deeply embedded because to her, it is unfathomable that she would be anything but present.
“If I get engaged in something or sign up for something or create something,” she said, “I’m part of it.”
When she’s at an event all week, she understands the way it unfolds, which makes it easier to give meaningful input. Plus, building relationships with the players takes time.
At the beginning of the week, Sörenstam watches them eye her shyly in passing, especially those meeting her for the first time. By the time she’s given her clinic, they’ve warmed up for hugs and selfies. It’s a gradual process of becoming more comfortable around her, and Sörenstam loves that.
“I want it to be more personal,” she said. “I would think for them to know that I’m somewhat following their career, because I can talk to them. I still talk to many of them through different things. They send texts or call,” Sörenstam said. “If I’m not up to date, then I wouldn’t be relevant to give them information.
“And I’m proud of how far these girls have gone.”
In 2023, 45 women in the 72-player Augusta National Women’s Amateur field had played at least one Annika event. The U.S. Women’s Open later in the summer featured 58 alumnae. The next two majors, the Evian Championship and AIG Women’s Open, featured 50 and 49 alumnae, respectively. Sörenstam will greet many of these women by name.
Through her Annika Foundation, Sörenstam also hosts a college event and sponsors the Annika Award for the women’s college player of the year. The foundation recently launched the Annika Development Program for graduates of college golf and aligned with the developmental Women’s All-Pro Tour.
“What attracted me to accept her invitation to join the Foundation Board was having seen her and her husband Mike in action many times over the years,” said Jim Nugent, Publisher of Global Golf Post and an Annika Foundation board member. “She doesn’t just affix her name to an event; she and Mike (and increasingly son, Will) are all in, all day long, every day”.
“She’s there, I think is really what the big part of her events are. Her being there and us being able to talk to her is really good for all of us, I think, and a really good motivation.” — Trinity Beth
Clearly there are plenty of checkpoints on the growth path established by her foundation, but the clinic traditionally has been a key point of interaction between Sörenstam and the players in her junior tournaments. She often goes in with a theme but will allow player questions to guide each session in whatever direction feels natural. She loves to bring up a volunteer or two.
As her playing career gets farther in the rearview, Sörenstam finds herself searching for a role that’s part teacher but more lighthearted.
“I think that’s why I’m starting my clinics and going more in the direction of being more of a motivational inspiration,” she said. “More of a lesson and not so much about just the golfer but more how you go about it.”
The clinics are never about hitting shots to impress or even talking about tournament wins, Sörenstam said, though those things still translate. For example, Trinity Beth, a 16-year-old from Calvert City, Kentucky, who is competing in her second Annika Invitational this week, didn’t initially realize just how many times Sörenstam had won. Once she knew the number, she couldn’t get over it.
Widal looked up to Sörenstam for her famous round of 59 at Moon Valley in Phoenix in 2001, but also as a fellow Swede.
Beeli noted that she watches Sörenstam and her son, Will, compete in the PNC Championship, where Sörenstam is not just a golfer but a mother.
Mostly, they just love that she’s around.
“She’s there, I think is really what the big part of her events are,” said Beth, whose top-10 finish at the 2023 Annika Invitational gave her fully exempt status on the AJGA, changing her whole year. “Her being there and us being able to talk to her is really good for all of us, I think, and a really good motivation.”
Beth Wu, now the women’s assistant golf coach at the University of Florida, won back-to-back Annika Invitational titles in 2013 and ’14. After her 2013 win, she was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” feature. She played on a Junior Solheim Cup team and a Junior Ryder Cup team on her way to the UCLA roster and eventually the Epson Tour. She said the first Annika victory kickstarted her junior career.
“I remember at the time if you win an [AJGA] invitational, that gets your name out there,” Wu said. “And then the fact that Annika’s name is tied to it – she’s the GOAT, right? Any time you’re attached to Annika, it means something a little bit more.”
Wu had never met Sörenstam before playing her invitational, but showing up each year allowed her to build a relationship. Last November, a decade after she was an Annika champion, Wu attended the LPGA’s Annika Driven by Gainbridge at Pelican to support former UCLA teammate Lilia Vu. Sörenstam greeted Wu by name.
“Imagine if Tiger Woods remembered your name?” Wu said. “Or Jack Nicklaus?”
This is that.
© 2024 Global Golf Post LLC
Top: Annika Sörenstam makes a point of getting to know as many competitors as possible at tournaments she is involved in. Jeff Haynes, USGA
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