U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S OPEN
Like Any Great Performer, Annika Leaves Us Wanting More
August 1, 2021 | FAIRFIELD, CONN.
By Ron Sirak
As Annika Sorenstam entered the clubhouse at Brooklawn Country Club on Sunday prior to the final round of the third U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship, she surveyed the hourly weather forecast taped to the door.
“Let’s see which direction the wind is going to be blowing,” she said to her 10-year-old son, Will. “Help me plan our strategy.”
That moment said a lot about Sorenstam, the ever-prepared player, the ever-nurturing mother. What also said a lot about her was the eight-stroke victory over Liselotte Neumann that gave her a fourth USGA championship trophy. When Annika takes on a task – whether it be championship golf, running a business or mothering – she commits totally.
As early as Tuesday when Sorenstam was hitting balls on the practice range at Brooklawn, it was clear she had put a lot of work into getting ready to compete. Distance off the tee that was missing when she played an LPGA event in February was back. The distance control with her irons was shockingly good. And the competitive fire returned with the reliability of ospreys completing their annual migration.
For one week, at least, Sorenstam turned back time. Thirteen years after she last played in a USGA championship – or any full-time competitive golf – she conquered a demanding Brooklawn C.C. layout at 12-under-par 276, closing with a 68 and putting the championship away with three birdies in four holes beginning on No. 7. She was simply sensational.
Sorenstam did one of the hardest things there is to do in sports – she accomplished what everyone expected her to do. Lugging around the unfair but understandable burden of expectation, the 72-time winner on the LPGA whose 10 major titles include three U.S. Women’s Opens not only lived up to the hype, she exceeded it.
Annika was better than advertised – and that’s pretty rare in an era when overhyping is the name of the game.
What is also not overhyped is the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, which has proven to be a special event that is not only intensely competitive but wonderfully social with a distinct appreciation of history. Early in the week, it feels like a college reunion as old friends get together. Throughout, the championship is a celebration of the enormous talent in women’s golf. Then when the bell sounds on Thursday morning, everyone gets their game face on.
Unforgettable moments pop up with reliable regularity at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. There was JoAnne Carner shooting her age on Thursday – 82 – and then shattering it on Friday with a 79. Add in Dana Ebster, the teaching pro who got into the field as an alternate, then charmed everyone with her bubbly enthusiasm on her way to a T-10 finish that earned her an exemption into next year’s championship at NCR Country Club.
Two legends of the non-professional ranks – Ellen Port and Martha Leach – tied for low amateur, getting them an exemption for next year. Dame Laura Davies, who won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in 2018, finished third and thrilled the large and enthusiastic gallery by driving the par-4 12th green on Sunday.
Helen Alfredsson, who won this championship at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in 2019, was T-7. Catriona Matthew of Scotland, like Sorenstam playing in her first U.S. Senior Women’s Open, was T-4. Legends were everywhere and new memories were added to old.
The victory earns Sorenstam an exemption into the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, where she won that championship in 1996. It also raises questions as to whether the always-prepared Sorenstam will play more LPGA events next year to get ready for the U.S. Women’s Open. To prepare for Brooklawn, she played her first LPGA event in 13 years.
“I’m not really sure,” she said about whether she would accept the exemption. “I’m at a time in my life where my family comes first. We’ll see.”
The performance by Sorenstam at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open also prompts this interesting question. In 2019, Matthew raised eyebrows when she made Suzann Pettersen one of her captain’s picks for Europe in the Solheim Cup. All Pettersen did was make the winning putt – and then announce her retirement
This year, Matthew is captain again and because of the impact the pandemic had on the Ladies European Tour schedule, she gets six captain’s picks. Could Sorenstam be one of them? In eight Solheim Cups, she is 22-11-4. And at Brooklawn Country Club, her game was complete as she led the field in greens in regulation, hitting 62 of 72.
“I don’t think so,” Sorenstam said with a smile when asked about the Solheim Cup. “This is my distance now,” she said, referring to the length Brooklawn played for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open (about 6,000 yards).
Still, there was a time when it seemed as if Sorenstam would never compete again – but she did because it was good for golf and fun for her family. While the Solheim Cup is a stretch, next year’s U.S. Women’s Open is much less of one – as is the 2022 U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
Seeing Annika compete again did not disappoint. We have the U.S. Senior Women’s Open to thank for that. And, like any great performer, she left us wanting more. That’s what this championship is all about – not letting go of memories while creating new ones.
In this special week, Annika and her supporting cast created more unforgettable moments. Mission accomplished.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.