Sorenstam getting ready for 2004 season
Trust us, stuff like this doesn't happen to Annika Sorenstam every day. If it did, there might not be a fourth Girl Power Golf Club outing next year.
Sorenstam was working her way down the practice range, giving tips to girls at her junior clinic Sunday at Lake Nona Golf Club, when a bold 12-year-old challenged her to a long-drive contest during the annual event's lunch break.
While everybody else was eating, Lake Mary, Fla., sixth-grader Jessica Schall thumped a drive about 265 yards into the wind, then handed her driver to Sorenstam, who was clearly impressed -- not to mention outdriven. They each hit two balls and the contest rightfully was deemed a draw.
Sorenstam, who led the LPGA last year in driving distance at 269.7 yards a poke, then hustled over to inhale a hamburger before giving some more lessons. With the way kids are closing fast these days, she needs all the protein she can get.
Girl Power, indeed.
"This is neat because the girls are so excited," Sorenstam said. "This is the next generation, hopefully. When I think back to when I was a kid, I wish there was something like this back then. I know it's just once a year, but at least it's something."
It's quite a bit more than that. Sorenstam teamed with neighbor and fellow tour standout Emilee Klein, and the pair hosted 80 girls at their home club for the third consecutive year. Most of them were starstruck, slack-jawed and fidgety, though there always are exceptions.
Like Schall, for instance, who never batted an eye while booming a series of monster drives in Sorenstam's presence. The challenge caught the latter a little off guard, though she couldn't really decline.
Smirked Sorenstam: "They are not shy."
Shrugged Schall: "It was my dad's idea. Maybe one day I will play with her on tour. But she might be too old then."
Ouch. Let's not put her in the rocking chair just yet. Sorenstam, 33, has accomplished just about everything she has set her mind to over the past two seasons, yet has some bold objectives in mind for 2004.
After completing the career Grand Slam last year with two major championship victories, she'd like to post a SorenSlam this year, winning all four in a calendar season. In fact, she says that's about the last thing remaining on her career checklist.
"Pretty much," she said. "That's how I feel. Maybe next year if I don't do it, who knows how I will feel? But you have to listen to instinct, and my instinct is telling me that this is what I want to do. It's going to be hard. Obviously, nobody has done it, and there's a reason for that."
Tiger Woods held all four major titles at once over 2000-01, but no player has won the four pro titles in the same calendar year -- men or women. Consider that Sorenstam held at least a share of the lead on the back nine on Sunday at each of the four majors in 2003, and the goal doesn't seem so far-fetched.
"The last two years, I feel like I could have won seven of eight (majors)," she said. "You need breaks, but I do think it is possible and that's my goal. I'm very happy about last year and I'm very happy about the year before, but I want to do something different. I know I have the game to do it, especially winning two (majors) last year, so I know I am very close."
The Kraft Nabisco and McDonald's LPGA Championship always are staged at the same sites, so the bigger question likely is how she'll fare at the U.S. Women's Open and Women's British Open, in June and July, respectively, both at venues she hasn't played.
"Those things play a role, they really do," she said. "You have to find the right venue, and see who else is peaking at the same time. That's why it's so difficult. The more I put my mind to it, I think that helps. You have to believe you can do it."
Strong mind, stronger body? Hard as it is to believe, Sorenstam is working harder than ever to prepare for the season, which she will kick off at an international event in Australia in two weeks. She added a gym to her home at Lake Nona last year and looks more trim than ever, weighing in at a lean 135 pounds.
"I've been doing it religiously," she said.
She has worked out every single day since December and her improvement in both strength and stamina has made her trainer, Orlando's Kai Fusser, a hot commodity among other LPGA players, including U.S. Open champion Hilary Lunke.
Still, Sorenstam managed to mix in a brief trip home to collect another national sports award in Sweden, where she met the royal family and sat next to King Carl XIV at an honorary dinner. She has been to the royal palace so often, she could almost say, "Hey, Carl, pass the butter," and get away with it.
"I said `Your majesty' or something like that," she said, laughing.
Though some of her bolder pupils might now be so taken, given the way Sorenstam has been playing, the king might have used the same salutation.
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