HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut and regional golf fans will get a special treat this week when legendary Annika Sorenstam plays in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield.
Sorenstam retired from the LPGA Tour 13 years ago to raise a family and hasn’t played in a U.S. Golf Association tournament since the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open when the last shot that she ever struck in the championship was a 6-iron from 199 yards that found the cup for an eagle 2.
“I thought at that time, I’ve played my last USGA competition,” Sorenstam told Ron Sirak, a free-lance writer from Wellfleet, Mass. “It was certainly quite a way to finish because the way I started my USGA professional career was my win at the Broadmoor (in Colorado) in 1995. The USGA has a special place in my heart. The USGA has certainly been a highlight of my career.”
But the Hall of Famer who turned 50 in October thought now was time to participate in a major championship again after making the cut in her warmup in the Gainbridge LPGA in March on her home course, Lake Nona Country Club in Orlando, Fla. Like many, Sorenstam was led back to golf during the pandemic by her children, Ava and Will, who is an avid player.
“It’s almost thanks to COVID that I started to practice a little more,” Sorenstam said. “What else can you do when you’re not allowed to do much, right? Kids would do virtual school, and after that, we just had to get out, get some fresh air. Swimming, biking, pickleball and golf were some of the things that we did living in Florida, and our son is really into it. Our daughter plays a little bit. We’d go out as a family and play.”
Sorenstam’s husband, Mike McGee, is the son of 1979 Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open winner Jerry McGee and caddied for her in the Gainbridge LPGA as Ava and Will closely followed them. They’re all be at Brooklawn CC to watch Annika make her U.S. Senior Women’s Open debut after three victories in the U.S. Women’s Open, her first two starts in 1995 and 1996 and at Newport (R.I.) Country Club in an 18-hole playoff with Pat Hurst in 2006. Her three Women’s Open titles are surpassed only by the four of fellow Hall of Famers Mickey Wright and Betsy Rawls.
The Women’s Open wins are three of Sorenstam’s 10 major championships, which highlighted her 72 overall titles, third most to fellow Hall of Famers Kathy Whitworth (88) and Wright (82). But among those players whose careers began after 1970, the closest to Sorenstam is Nancy Lopez (48). A week before her victory in Rhode Island, the Australian became a naturalized U.S. citizen and then a fog delay canceled play on Thursday, giving her time to work out some kinks in her swing with longtime coach Henri Reis. It proved to be time well spent.
Sorenstam’s legacy is everywhere in women’s golf annals. More than 13 years after retiring, she still tops the LPGA career money list with more than $22 million, still has the only 59 in Tour history, achieved in the second round of the 2001 Standard Register Ping in Phoenix, and still has the single-season stroke average record of 68.70 in 2002.
Since leaving competitive golf at 38, Sorenstam has given birth to her two children, emerged as a successful businesswoman under the her brand, including golf course design, and is president of the International Golf Federation, having been a key figure in the successful effort to get golf back into the Olympic Games. It was IGF officials who encouraged Sorenstam to play in the Senior Women’s Open after she hesitated because women’s golf in the Olympics is next week.
Sorenstam received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump on Jan. 7, and she’s playing this week at a club hosting its fifth USGA championships, following the 1974 U.S. Junior Amateur, won by David Nevatt, the 1979 U.S. Women’s Open (Jerilyn Britz), the 1987 U.S. Senior Open (Gary Player) and the 2003 U.S. Girls’ Junior (Sukjin-Lee Wuesthoff).
“It’s been an interesting 13 years,” Sorenstam said. “I stepped away in 2008, and the highlight is being a mother of two. I’m lucky, I have a good life. I never thought I would come back and play anything.”
Sorenstam will play the first two rounds Thursday and Friday with fellow Swede Liselotte Neumann and Hall of Fame Laura Davies of England, who won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open. And it’s ironic Sorenstam will be in Fairfield as former longtime Connecticut resident and first female PGA of America president Suzy Whaley will be inducted into the Connecticut Golf Hall Fame on Thursday night at The Patterson Club in Fairfield. Whaley qualified for the 2003 Canon GHO when she became the first female to win an individual PGA of America championship, the 2002 Connecticut Section PGA. She was the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event since Babe Didrikson in 1945.
Whaley’s success inspired Sorenstam to accept a sponsors’ exemption to the 2003 Colonial Invitation, played two months before the Canon GHO.
“I had thought about playing in a PGA Tour event because I knew so many of the players, including Tiger Woods,” Sorenstam said during a teleconference call for the Colonial. “But that would last about 10 seconds, and then I’d go back to watching TV. But when Suzy qualified, I thought I’d give it a try.”
Whaley’s induction was originally scheduled to be at Brooklawn CC after the first round of the tournament but was moved to nearby Patterson Club. The ceremony begins at 6:30 p.m., and some players from the Senior Women’s Open who were contemporaries of Whaley, who played on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993, are expected to attend.