The MacKay Files: Annika Sorenstam

Annika Sorenstam played on the LPGA Tour for 15 years and won 72 championships, including 10 majors, and has been honored with both the Francis Ouimet Award (2010) for “Lifelong contributions to golf” and the Bob Jones Award (2012) by the USGA for “Distinguished sportsmanship in golf.”

Annika — everyone in the golf-playing world is aware of the woman behind that one given name.

The name resonates with achievements and awards, and although her flawless, simple swing no longer graces the LPGA Tour, Annika Sorenstam has remained as popular and well known today as she was during her 15-year career from 1993-2008.

To some, Annika is “Ms. 59” for her 2001 feat as the only woman to break 60 in tournament play. To others, she is the winner of 89 worldwide professional titles—72 on the LPGA Tour—and 10 majors, ranking her fourth in the LPGA record book. To still others, Annika is a World Golf Hall of Famer (2003), an eight-time Player of the Year, and the first woman to pass the $20 million mark in earnings.

She has been honored with both the Francis Ouimet Award (2010) for “Lifelong contributions to golf” and the Bob Jones Award (2012) by the USGA for “Distinguished sportsmanship in golf.” When the Women’s World Golf Rankings began in 2006, Annika was number one for 15 months before Lorena Ochoa surpassed her. Also, Annika and six others were voted in as the first women members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

Who can forget Annika’s teeing it up with the Big Boys on the PGA Tour at the Colonial in 2003 and just missing the cut? Or, who can forget her three appearances (2003-05) in the Skins Game, playing with Fred Couples all three times and Tiger Woods twice, winning five skins and $225,000 in that first year and offering Fred Funk a floral pink skirt after she outdrove him in the 2005 edition?

Annika left the LPGA Tour with the intent of raising a family and establishing the ANNIKA brand of businesses. In January of 2009, she married Mike McGee, the managing director for the ANNIKA brand. They have two children, Ava, 8, and Will, 7.

To all who know about the native from Bro, Sweden, she is not only a cultural icon for her era but also an inspiration for women athletes in general and for women golfers in particular.

“Share My Passion” is her mantra, and Annika has been unconditionally sharing her love for the game with us for years.

Annika is a frequent guest on Golf Channel, offering insight, analysis and wry commentary about the professional game, both men and women’s.

NEG: How has life been treating you since you left the LPGA Tour?

AS: Life has been pretty good, and I would say a lot of things have changed for the better. Mike and I got married, and we have two children to raise. That’s certainly a lot different from life on the Tour! It’s been over eight years now, and when I stepped away, I made the right choice at the right time. I just knew it in my heart. I was ready to experience a new chapter in my life, and I’m glad I did it.

NEG: What are some of your undertakings that have been keeping you busy?

AS: The ANNIKA Foundation takes a lot of my time because we host four junior golf tournaments around the world: one in Orlando, one at China’s Mission Hills, and two in Sweden. What’s exciting to me is that we’re working on becoming even more global and offering juniors more opportunities to pursue their dreams. The Foundation also hosts the ANNIKA Intercollegiate Presented by 3M, which last year had the strongest field in all of college golf, with 12 top Division I teams. Golf course design is another thing I really enjoy although it’s been a little slow for several years now.
I have the ANNIKA Collection, my line of clothing with Cutter & Buck, which is growing very nicely and gaining market share every year. I also enjoy both the TV commentating work that I do at tournaments and my guest analyst spots on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive. And the rest of my life is being a mom and a wife and being at home.

NEG: How did you learn the game?

AS: From my parents, who still live very close to a golf course in Sweden. I would play with them and Charlotta as a child. Early on, I really didn’t think golf was fun. I thought it was too slow. I was very competitive in tennis and in soccer and in skiing. The more I played golf, however, the more I liked it. I competed a little bit on the regional level and then on the national level. Then I went to the University of Arizona to play golf there and turned professional in 1992. So, thanks to my parents, I became a golfer.

NEG: Do you return to Sweden periodically?

AS: We go once a year to visit my parents and to see friends, and we combine the trip with the junior tournament I host. I just like to keep in touch with my Swedish upbringing. I’ve been in the United States since 1995 so my roots here are equally as strong as they are over there. I became an American citizen and now have dual citizenship, which I thought was the right thing to do. I’m very proud of where I’m from and like to share the culture, traditions, and history with the kids. They both speak Swedish so that they can feel comfortable and not feel like strangers when we visit relatives and friends in Sweden.

Shown here with many enthusiastic young golfers, Annika enjoys sharing her passion for the game with children.

NEG: What do you remember most about your LPGA experience?

AS: First of all, it was my career for 15 years, and I wouldn’t be who I am if not for the LPGA. They gave me the platform to do what I enjoyed doing the most—to compete at the highest professional level and to make a great living while traveling around the world. Playing professional golf became my dream, and I was lucky enough to turn the dream into reality. I still keep in touch as I’m involved in the game with my TV commentating, and I work with some of the players. We created the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award, which goes to the LPGA player who performs the best in the year’s Major Championships. Another aspect of the Foundation, besides hosting the events, is that I’m involved in the ANNIKA Award Presented by 3M, given annually to the best Division I collegiate female golfer. The LPGA changed my life, and I lived my dream. Now one of the missions of my Foundation is to help other girls live their dreams.

NEG: Who were your toughest competitors?

AS: At first, they were Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak. I’ll never forget the three of us battling back and forth in the majors from 1997 on. It was really a healthy rivalry because they pushed me to get better. Then it was Lorena Ochoa, and we went back and forth between number one and two.

NEG: Are you pleased with the global direction of the LPGA under Commissioner Mike Whan?

AS: Absolutely, yes! I think he’s done a tremendous job in all aspects—in securing tournaments, in building relationships, in marketing the competitions. He’s been a great asset to the LPGA Tour.

NEG: Are you optimistic about the on-going efforts to encourage girls and women to join the game?

AS: I think all the organizations are trying hard, from the USGA to the PGA to the LPGA. I try to do some initiatives from my end. This is something we have to continue to work on just because it’s tough to make sure the girls stay in the game. They need to take the game past the junior level, past the college level, and continue to play as adults with their families and friends. Get Golf Ready and First Tee and Girls Golf are all worthy programs. I am also involved with Wee Golf, which I think will make an impact. The LPGA players are role models, and it’s great what they do every week and how they work with the communities and the sponsors.

NEG: Who would be in your Dream Foursome of today? Of any time period?

AS: If you had asked me that question 10 years ago, I probably would have chosen movie stars or other celebrities. Today, life has changed for me, and I’m about to turn 47. I would really love to play with my family—Ava, Will, and Mike—reminding me of the times when my family played with me when I was a child. Playing with two LPGA Founders, Babe Zaharias and Mickey Wright, and with the LPGA’s career win leader, Kathy Whitworth, with all of us in our primes, would be fun.

In January of 2009, Annika married Mike McGee, her former caddy and the managing director for the ANNIKA brand. They have two children, Ava, 8, and Will, 7.

NEG: How would you like to be remembered by your peers, friends, and fans?

AS: As someone who enjoyed the game; as someone who was competitive; as someone who greatly respected her competition; as someone who loved sportsmanship and tried to show class in victory and defeat; as someone who was not afraid to step up to the challenge of trying to win and not afraid to step out of her comfort zone; as someone who gave back to the game that she loved.

(Photographs courtesy of the Annika Foundation.)

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As a caddie, greenkeeper, and Ouimet Scholar from Marshfield Country Club on Boston’s South Shore, Leigh developed his love for the game at an early age. The BA from Amherst College and MA from Dartmouth prepared him for his 36-year career in education, most of it teaching Advanced Placement English and coaching varsity golf. In 1986, a sabbatical from teaching students to writing stories for “Golf World” magazine prepared him for his second career in golf journalism. Leigh is a low-handicap golfer who has won the Golf Writers Association of America’s championship seven times. He is currently a member of Southers Marsh Golf Club in Plymouth, MA, and PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL.

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