During her 16-year career as a professional golfer, Annika Sorenstam marched down fairways around the world with a steely countenance that was the outward manifestation of her singular purpose, competitive spirit and unwavering focus.
Those who watched that Sorenstam – the one who won 90 professional tournaments, including three U.S. Women’s Open championships – would have been surprised by this Sorenstam, the one who accepted the 2012 Bob Jones Award during a dinner at the 2012 USGA Annual Meeting. Addressing more than 300 guests, she cracked jokes, shared warm memories of her parents and fought back tears while thanking her husband, Mike McGee, for his support.
“When you play professional golf, it’s easy to get caught up in only results,” said Sorenstam, who retired in 2008. “Standing before you tonight and receiving this award is honestly one of the highlights of my career.
“Because it goes beyond all the scores on the golf course. I see things very differently now. At the end of the day, no matter how many putts you make, the true legacy that you leave behind is the number of people you touch in your life. That is what I care about right now, and I think that is what this award and the USGA are all about.”
Sorenstam, 41, earned the Bob Jones Award, which recognizes distinguished sportsmanship in golf, both for the way she conducted herself on the course and for her efforts to promote the game and pass on the game’s values and benefits to subsequent generations.
As a USGA Ambassador, Sorenstam helps the USGA make the game more accessible to all golfers. She has helped the Association educate golfers through a series of “Play by the Rules” video vignettes and was the honorary chairman for the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In addition, Sorenstam is a global ambassador for the International Golf Federation and runs the ANNIKA Foundation, which uses golf to teach children the importance of fitness and nutrition as the pillars of a healthy lifestyle. The ANNIKA Foundation has partnered with the American Junior Golf Association, The First Tee and the Florida Hospital.
Among the lessons she tries to impart to youngsters are the standards of sportsmanship, honesty, integrity and respect that are at the core of what it means to be a golfer.
“We should all be proud of the values we teach,” said Sorenstam. “Whether it’s being credible in business or reliable as a partner or trusted as a spouse, we can all use what golf teaches us to be better people. That’s why I love this game so much.”
At the dinner, it was apparent that the admiration was mutual. Prior to her acceptance speech, Sorenstam and the audience watched a video that showed the numerous highlights of her life.
About halfway through, there was footage of the final shot of her USGA career. During the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn., Sorenstam holed a 6-iron from 199 yards to make an eagle on the 18th hole in the final round.
As the ball took a big bounce onto the green, then rolled toward the hole on the two large screens in the ballroom, the dinner attendees murmured in expectation. When the ball fell into the hole, they exploded into applause as if they had been sitting around Interlachen’s 18th green.
More than three years after Sorenstam last hit a shot in competition, the golf world continues to cheer her on. That is why Sorenstam is a deserving recipient of the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s most prestigious honor.