U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Hall of Famer, 3-time Women’s Open champion, conducts exhibition with 13-year-old qualifier Galdiano demonstrating shots July 5, 2011 By Ken Klavon, USGA

Three-time U.S. Women's Open champion Annika Sorenstam made a young fan happy after signing an autograph Wednesday at the Lexus Tent near the public entrance to The Broadmoor. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

Colorado Springs, Colo. – Prior to hitting a ball to commence the Annika Sorenstam Golf Exhibition Wednesday, 13-year-old Mariel Galdiano was asked how she felt.

I’m pretty nervous, said Galdiano, the youngest U.S. Women’s Open participant this week.

It’ll be nothing compared to tomorrow, quipped Sorenstam in front of a packed house on the driving range at The Broadmoor.

With the grandstands and a section of the range full of spectators, Sorenstam, honorary chairman of the championship, provided tips on how to hit certain shots as Galdiano demonstrated. Sorenstam, who didn’t hit any shots herself, talked about how old she was when she picked up the game (12), how she dreamed as a girl of sinking a 3-foot putt to win the Women’s Open, how she warmed up and what her diet consisted of, while also questioning Galdiano about her workout regimen.

Sorenstam, in a 16-year Hall-of-Fame career that produced 10 major championships among 89 total victories, said she couldn’t envision breaking 100 at 13 years of age, let alone playing in a Women’s Open. Galdiano, of Pearl City, is the third-youngest qualifier in the championship’s history and youngest to come out of Hawaii, a state that has produced USGA champions Michelle Wie, Kimberly Kim and Lori Castillo, along with 2010 USA Curtis Cup member Stephanie Kono.

I remember hitting balls and seeing Dottie Pepper, Patty Sheehan and Nancy Lopez on the range, said Sorenstam. I really looked up to these ladies and it was a highlight of my career.

Sorenstam made time for spectators to ask questions, and someone asked Galdiano how long she has been playing and how often she practices. Galdiano started at age 4 when her dad bought her a short set of clubs and she started whacking away. She added that she practices several hours a day, depending on whether there’s a tournament to play. If there is, she’ll scale back to about an hour and 15 minutes of warming up. Sorenstam added that practice routinely can be more about shot accuracy than power.

When Sorenstam played, it was appointment viewing for Kelly Kruse, 15, who is a USGA volunteer this week. Kruse would always make sure she watched the Hall of Famer so she could compare her swing to Sorenstam’s.

I definitely had to make sure I saw her when she played, said Kruse. I liked her personality. As a golfer she was unbelievable.

Someone asked Sorenstam to share a funny story from her playing days.

I was playing a Skins Game with Fred Funk and we had a bet that if I outdrove him on any hole, he’d have to wear a skirt, said Sorenstam. So I packed this flowery skirt in my bag, and I forgot what hole it happened, but I outdrove him. He had to put the skirt on. He looked good with everything else he was wearing.

Afterward, Galdiano seemed relieved that the exhibition was over.

That was mind-blowing, said Galdiano. I remember as a little girl standing outside the ropes waiting to get her autograph. Now I was standing next to a legend.

After the clinic Sorenstam made her way over to the Lexus Tent and Merchandise Pavilion to sign autographs, and a line of about 150 people snaked its way out of the tent. One of those in line had waited 16 years to get her autograph – sort of. Elise Pope, 16, was born while Sorenstam was busy winning her first major, the 1995 U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor. Pope’s father, who had tickets to the championship, never made it. He instead turned around in time to see Elise being born.

I look at her swing a lot during my lessons with my teacher, said Pope, a junior at Pine Tree High School in Longview, Texas. He’ll stop the tape to compare the two swings.

In any event, Pope was excited to get her autograph and Sorenstam was more than happy to oblige.

Ken Klavon is the USGA’s online editor. E-mail him at kklavon@usga.org. 

More from the USGA