Annika Sorenstam still driven
Annika Sorenstam considers it a career-defining moment, even though it will be recorded as a failure based strictly on birdies and bogeys.
After all, she missed the cut.
Sorenstam made fun of herself recently when asked about the 2003 Colonial, where she shot 71-74 while becoming the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour. When the British Open changed its policy last month to allow select women to enter, someone asked her what it takes to succeed against the men.
"Well, I was only there for two days," she said, "so it's tough for me to tell."
But where would she be without Colonial?
Sorenstam won 22 percent of her LPGA events before she teed it up at Colonial. In the 2 1/2 years since, her winning rate is a staggering 46 percent, and she has won five of the last 11 majors.
The 35-year-old Swede this year took another leap closer to a record many thought to be out of reach -- the 88 career victories by Kathy Whitworth. Sorenstam wasn't even halfway there when she played in the Colonial. Now, thanks to a 10-win season capped off by the ADT Championship, she is at 66 and closing fast.
Sorenstam has a difficult time ranking years, measuring memories.
But 2003 holds a special place.
"If you look at Colonial, I only played for two days, but the experience I got there is just for a lifetime," she said. "That's really what I think is helping me sit here today, all of the wins I've had since."
Sorenstam didn't win as much in 2003. It's the only time in the last five years she did not win at least eight times. And she was coming off what many regard to be her best season ever, when she won 13 times around the world (11 on the LPGA Tour) and set an earnings record with $2.8 million. The year before, she won eight times and became the first woman to shoot 59.
But that was never going to be good enough.
Her ultimate test was to compete against the men, and she began to train like never before. She identified her biggest weakness -- the short game -- and tried desperately to improve. Everything else got better. If she was hitting 70 percent of her fairways, she wanted to hit 75 percent.
"I prepared for 3 1/2 months for that, which was a lot of weight training, a lot of fine-tuning on my swing, a lot of hard word on my short game," Sorenstam said. "I wouldn't say it paid off that particular week, but it paid off down the road, for sure. I think being in the limelight, with the pressure I felt on the first tee, it was just enormous."
Fast forward to the 18th tee in a playoff at the LPGA Championship two weeks later, when she needed to find the fairway against Grace Park and handled it with ease. Or to the 18th hole at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where she split the fairway while tied with Se Ri Pak, and won the Women's British Open to complete the Grand Slam.
Or even the first tee Sunday at Trump International, one of the toughest tests on the LPGA Tour.
"You look at that fairway and the wind is blowing. You wonder, 'Where can this ball go?' I've got to hit it totally straight," Sorenstam said. "It felt like that all week. Every shot has to be perfect, and that's pressure. The most pressure there is in the world, it seems like I can handle.
"It just feels like I've been to the toughest place, and now it's more routine and trusting myself."
Sorenstam made more history this year, sweeping the major awards that are all based on performance -- player of the year, money title and Vare Trophy -- for an unprecedented fifth time.
There is no reason to suspect that will change anytime soon.
Her two biggest victories were the majors, that boosted her career total to nine. Two others that should not be overlooked are the Samsung World Championship and the ADT Championship, where Sorenstam sent subtle reminders -- as if anyone needed them -- that she rules women's golf.
Samsung is where 16-year-old Michelle Wie made her professional debut, and it attracted so much attention that Sorenstam was window dressing -- until she won by eight shots.
At Trump, Sorenstam was grilled by 19-year-old rookie Paula Creamer over where to take a drop on the 18th hole of the first round, and the LPGA sounded more like the WWF with the mud that was slung the next few days. Creamer was so adamant what she saw that she said of Sorenstam, "It's her conscience."
Sorenstam never trailed the rest of the way.
She now heads into the offseason, with a few short stops along the way, starting with the Skins Game this weekend against Tiger Woods, Fred Couples and Fred Funk.
She likely won't return until the MasterCard Classic in Mexico, the first of 10 title defenses.
"I am working as hard in the gym as ever, and I feel as strong as ever," Sorenstam said. "Knock on wood, I haven't had any injuries. I have learned so much the last few years."
The greatest lesson was Colonial, but not the two days of competition.
She spent 3 1/2 months getting ready, and carried that to 2 1/2 years of sheer dominance.
November 22, 2005
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