Annika Sorenstam Q & A
Annika Sorenstam is the gold standard for women’s golf; she has gracefully rewritten the record books and elevated the visibility of the sport. From winning multiple major championships to playing in a PGA Tour event, Annika is one of the most dominant female athletes in history.
The 37-year-old has come a long way since her early days of wanting to finish second to avoid giving a speech. Having achieved the one-name recognition only a handful of athletes enjoy, Annika’s popularity is a platform for her charity work. Boasting a foundation and a newly created eponymous academy, the Swedish icon is motivated to give back and help grow the game.
The Incline Village resident took time to answer questions and open up about her hall-of-fame career and life off the course.
You didn’t start playing golf until age 12; how did you excel so quickly?
Being active in various sports helped me excel. When I grew up I played tennis and soccer; I started when I was 5 and tried every sport. When I do something, I take it seriously and put all my effort into it. I find ways to get better and I’m not afraid to ask questions.
Do you think kids are specializing in one sport too early?
I wouldn’t say yes across the board, but I see that at times. I think most importantly that it should be fun. It’s a great way to grow up. You learn so much about life through sports. To me, it’s not about, “all right let’s make a career out of it.” That’s not why I started anyway. I think it’s healthy to get a chance to try different sports, I really do.
When did you first start thinking about creating the Annika Academy?
At least five years ago. I asked myself, how can I give back to the game of golf? How can I share my passion and work I did with my coaches? The concept of the Annika Academy came out of it. It’s about getting to know more about the game and learning how to tie fitness into instruction. If you can see the facilities, it’s all about the experience; we really try to pamper you.
Can you talk about simple instruction? (The goal of trying to translate the complexities of the golf swing into the simple instruction and the teaching philosophy of the academy.)
Henri Reis is the coach I’ve been working with for 16 years. He’s just very easy to understand; he makes it simple by taking out all the complicated information. This game is so tough anyway. It is more about having fun then going away with 20 concepts to work on. One of the things I’m pretty proud of is that you work with my coaches at the academy. It’s not an assistant of an assistant.
How important is it to give back to the game?
I’m at a time in my career where charity work is important. It comes from the heart. I’ve been so lucky to do something that I enjoy. I’m finding different ways through the academy and through the Annika Foundation to give back. It’s not always about funding.
Of all of your accomplishments in golf, what are you most proud of?
I’m lucky that there are a lot of things I’ve achieved in my career. I pinch myself. I would say my attempt to play with the guys at Colonial (PGA Tour stop in 2003); I’ll have memories forever. Of course, being on a victorious Solheim Cup team in my home country and the first victory at the U.S. Open – it couldn’t be any better than that.
What did you learn from the experience at the Colonial?
It wasn’t just that week; it was also the five months getting ready. The buildup was important because I had set goals and had a plan with each practice. During the week I could focus and just be Annika. When I joined the Tour and won my first tournament I was being compared to Nancy Lopez. It’s tough to fill Nancy’s shoes and that was never my goal. At the Colonial I was accepted and people saw me as a person who loves to compete and who isn’t afraid of a challenge.
Were you surprised by the level of national media coverage?
Oh yeah. I didn’t really expect that because the reason I played was to challenge myself. I wanted to see if my game at the time compared to the best men in the world. It was funny how everybody had some opinion about my game even though they had never seen me play.
Have you spoken with Vijay Singh since the Colonial and do you have any hard feelings?
I never really interacted with him before the Colonial or after. We are not in the same circles.
I read that you used to be very shy and steered clear of the media. How do you deal with being in the public spotlight now?
There are times I’m still shy. I’ve matured a little bit and gotten more comfortable. The Colonial helped me with that for sure. At times I do love my privacy and I love to be home. I’m not really a person that likes the spotlight or party scene but when it comes to my golf I think I’ve stepped up to my responsibilities by giving back not just to the game but to communities. You have to be a little bit more outspoken so that people know you care.
Can you talk about your feelings during the closing stretch of the round in 2001 when you shot 59?
I was nervous. In the beginning I didn’t think about the round. It was just another round and I was trying to play some good golf. When I made the turn at 8-under I thought, “Let’s just keep going.” It was one of those days when things are going your way and everything is fun. I didn’t really think about the consequences of each shot, meaning, “What happens if I hit this 7-iron too far or what happens if I hit this putt too soft?” That never came to my mind. It was more, “It’s a 7-iron, let’s hit it.” For me it was just a non-consequence day if that makes any sense.
What is the best playing tip for amateurs?
Play to your strengths. You see a lot of people hitting clubs they don’t like hitting. For example, a lot of people hit drivers off the tee because you’re supposed to. Hit the club you like and play the shot you know, especially if you don’t practice much.
How rigorous is your fitness regimen?
Now it’s not as much as it used to be. On the road three times a week and at home five times a week for about an hour and fifteen minutes. A lot of the workout is weights. I do about three sets with eight reps and normally when I get to the sixth or seventh it gets really tough so I try to push myself.
Ely Callaway was quoted that in his life he had never seen anyone hit the ball as solidly or consistently as you. What is the key to your consistency?
Practice. As a junior I practiced very, very hard. And I have a swing that I can repeat easily. People say it is a simple swing because I swing within myself. When you can repeat something it helps for many reasons, especially when you’re coming down the stretch of a tournament and nerves play a role. You just need to be able to repeat the swing.
Who comprises your dream foursome?
I would love to meet Madonna. I don’t know if she plays golf though. Brad Pitt because you’d have something to look at during the round and Andre Agassi because of what he does to give back.
How competitive is your relationship with Tiger Woods?
We’re quite competitive. Since I’ve been injured I haven’t had a chance to see him. I admire the guy a lot. I think he is a phenomenal athlete, not just golfer. It’s fun to see how he approaches practice and the way he looks at his career.
Can you walk us through a normal practice day?
Normally I work out in the morning for an hour and fifteen minutes, shower and maybe send a few e-mails. Then after lunch I practice – I hit some balls for an hour and then short game for another hour and a half. Then hopefully play nine holes. Tournaments are a lot different. Monday is travel day, Tuesday is practice to get to know the course and Wednesday is the pro-am. I warm up and practice afterward and then it’s time to compete. I try to work out three times during a tournament week.
What are your thoughts about Michelle Wie’s career so far?
She has a lot of potential, I can tell you that. But at the end of the day it’s the results that matter. We’ll see when she gets back on Tour.
With all that you have accomplished, how hungry do you still think you are?
I’m probably not as hungry because I feel like I’ve achieved so much more than I thought I ever could. I do enjoy the game. I have more respect for it today than I did when I started. You want to be part of it in so many different ways.
What is the outlook on women’s golf and how can more females get involved?
Women’s golf is getting better and better. We are growing and I think we’re getting more respect. The new generation is good for the game. We’re getting on TV more. People see us play and they say, “Oh wow, you can hit 250, 260 or 270 and maybe even farther.”
Do you still have first tee jitters?
That seems hard to believe. How do you deal with that?
I always tell myself that I’ve done this a 1,000 times. I tell myself that this is why I work so hard, this is the fun part. You want to perform; you want to show people around you that you can play. I want to prove to myself that I can have a good round.
How often do you put new clubs in your bag?
Not very often. If I find something new and better and longer and straighter I might give it a shot. But I’m one of these players, when I find something, I’ll stick to it. There are times I’ve gone three years with the same irons. It’s all about confidence. I need to know I can trust the clubs because when I come down the stretch I want to know that this club has been through what I’m going through. When you are in contention, the last thing you want to worry about is your equipment.
During a round, how often do you change your ball?
Average six to nine times.
You worked in a kitchen at a country club. How is your cooking?
I love to cook. I need to get better though. I love to eat so I thought maybe I can get a few pointers.