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Clock ticking on Sorenstam's LPGA career

Listen closely as Annika Sorenstam discusses her career as a professional golfer and you would swear you can hear two clocks ticking in the background.

One is biological. Sorenstam, 32, is married and wants to be a mother . . . someday. But she has no desire to balance diaper changes with the pursuit of sub-par scores for fear that she couldn't meet self-imposed high standards in both areas.

The louder clock has an alarm set to go off at the end of the 2004 season. Sorenstam refers to it frequently, sounding like a tired worker at the end of an overtime shift who is anxious to punch out and head home.

Although she stands today as the most dominant female golfer on the planet, with a gender-bending visit to Fort Worth for the PGA Tour's Bank of America Colonial on her docket for May 22-25, Sorenstam freely admits she may not play another competitive shot on any circuit after 2004.

"I have not reached my potential as a player. But the question is, `How much do you want to push and push and push?,' " said Sorenstam, who has 43 career victories on the LPGA Tour and won 13 times in 25 starts worldwide in 2002. "I've worked so hard the last 10 years on tour, I've done nothing but golf. For me, golf has a time in my life. And then, I think there is a time for other things. And I'm fine with that. I'm very satisfied at this point. I have won more tournaments than I ever thought I could. I don't think being out here for years and years will make my career any better."

Already qualified in terms of accomplishments to join the LPGA Hall of Fame, Sorenstam will meet the 10-year minimum for membership in this season. After that, she envisions a victory lap in 2004 as a Hall of Famer. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess.

Of all the reasons given why Sorenstam has chosen the 2003 Colonial as the right time and place to become the first woman in 58 years to compete in a PGA Tour event, the most overlooked factor is this: She's collecting memories to savor, with an eye toward early retirement. Sorenstam wants to push herself to the limit over the next 18 months, before that mental alarm sounds at the close of 2004 and she ponders stepping down from the top perch in women's golf.

Read between the lines of her actions and words, however, and it sounds like Sorenstam already views 2004 as her personal finish line. During last week's Takefuji Classic in Las Vegas, Sorenstam talked at length about becoming weary of travel demands and her maniacal workout schedule. She expressed a desire to challenge herself in business ventures outside golf, possibly as a professional chef.

She said she's started a diary to chronicle the buildup to Colonial week, which has included appearances on the "Tonight Show" and "60 Minutes", because it's a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" and she doesn't want to forget any details when she retires and looks back on her career.

Sorenstam's husband, David Esch, said his wife has been pondering her future for some time. In March, Esch said: "At the end of the year, I can see her putting her clubs up for good and going to other things. We want kids. She loves to cook. Maybe she'll be a ski instructor. Who knows? But with her, it's all or nothing."

During the past month, Sorenstam has reached the conclusion that she wants it all in 2004 - a final bow as an LPGA Hall of Famer. But after that, don't count on her if you're a tournament official.

"It's not like I'm retiring tomorrow. I've got the rest of this year, with everything going on, and next year ... I want to come out here and play as a Hall of Famer," Sorenstam said. "I've worked hard to achieve that, and I'd like to go out and be recognized as that. But then, we'll see, after that. I'd like to try some other stuff.

"If we start a family, I don't think I can play on this level. And if I can't play on this level, for me, I don't want to be out here. I'm not a person that wants to be less than the best at what I'm doing."

Asked about Juli Inkster, a seven-time major champion who has balanced motherhood and professional golf since 1990, Sorenstam said: "I admire that. I'm impressed with what Juli has done. But I don't think I could do it."

If she tries another business venture, such as cooking, Sorenstam said she "couldn't give 100 percent to golf," a commitment she deems necessary to meet her minimum standards for success.

"It's tough to start out and think that you have to win 14 tournaments to have a better year," Sorenstam said, reflecting on her challenge in 2003. "That's a lot of pressure."

For an elite athlete, it's even tougher knowing when to say goodbye. Although Sorenstam remains in her prime as a golfer, her personal clock clearly is ticking in that direction.


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