U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S OPEN
Legacy Long Secured, Sorenstam Returns to Seek 4th USGA Title
July 24, 2021
By Ron Sirak
The first two of the 10 major championships won by Annika Sorenstam were the 1995 and ’96 U.S. Women’s Opens. The last was the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open and the last shot she ever struck in the championship was a holed 6-iron from 199 yards for an eagle in 2008. On July 29, at the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open, Sorenstam returns to USGA competition for the first time since that dramatic departure 13 years ago.
That Sorenstam placed such dramatic bookends around her World Golf Hall of Fame career in the form of scintillating USGA performances says a lot about what those championships mean to her. She captured her first professional victory at The Broadmoor in 1995, rallying from five strokes behind with a closing 68, and won again the next year with a masterful six-stroke triumph at Pine Needles, where she hit 51 of 56 fairways.
That it was a decade until she won her third U.S. Women’s Open at Newport Country Club in 2006 made that victory all the more emotional. Along the way there were heartbreaking near-misses, including a stretch in which Annika was second to Juli Inkster’s closing 66 at Prairie Dunes in 2002, missed the three-way playoff by one stroke at Pumpkin Ridge in 2003 and then was second to Meg Mallon’s Sunday 65 at The Orchards in 2004.
In 2005, Sorenstam won the first two majors but was T-23 at Cherry Hills. Things lined up nicely for her at Newport the next year. A week earlier, the native of Sweden became a naturalized U.S. citizen and then a fog delay canceled play on Thursday, giving her an extra day to work out some kinks in her swing with her longtime coach Henri Reis. Ultimately, she won in an 18-hole Monday playoff over Pat Hurst.
Sorenstam’s farewell to USGA championships at Interlachen in 2008 put her in the club’s history with Bob Jones, who won the U.S. Open there in 1930, his Grand Slam season. Annika’s return to major-championship golf will be July 29-August 1 at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn., the site of four previous USGA championships. Sorenstam prepared for her return by making the cut earlier this year in her first LPGA start since 2008.
“I thought at that time, I've played my last USGA competition,” Sorenstam said about Interlachen. “It was certainly quite a way to finish because the way I started my USGA professional career was my win at the Broadmoor in 1995. The USGA has a special place in my heart. The USGA has certainly been a highlight of my career."
Sorenstam’s legacy litters the record book. More than 13 years after retiring, she still tops the LPGA career money list at more than $22 million; still has the only 59 in Tour history, a mark achieved 20 years ago, and in 2002 averaged 68.70, still the single-season record.
While those records may eventually be bettered, she has some achievements we may never see again. Sorenstam’s total of 72 career LPGA victories is third behind the 88 by Kathy Whitworth and the 82 by Mickey Wright.
But of those players whose career began after 1970, the closest to Sorenstam in career victories is Nancy Lopez with 48 – two dozen fewer than Sorenstam. The closest to Sorenstam in victories among those who played in her direct era is Karrie Webb with 41. It takes the combined careers of two Hall of Fame players – Webb and Juli Inkster (31 wins) – to match the 72 titles by Sorenstam.
The same is true for major championships. With 10, Sorenstam trails Patty Berg (15), Mickey Wright (13) and Louise Suggs (11). The closest in her era are Webb, Inkster and Inbee Park, who have seven each. Her three victories in the U.S. Women’s Open trail only the four by Wright and Betsy Rawls.
Sorenstam had multiple wins for 12 consecutive seasons and in 307 LPGA starts made the cut 298 times (97.1 percent), won 72 times (23 percent), had 142 top-three finishes (46%), was in the top 10 212 times (69%) and was 22-11-4 in eight Solheim Cup appearances. From 2001 through 2006, Sorenstam played 124 LPGA events and won 46 times, including eight majors in that six-year period, capped by the U.S. Women’s Open.
In 2003 alone, Sorenstam won the LPGA Championship and completed the career Grand Slam in the British Women’s Open while finishing one stroke off the winning score at the other two majors – the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open. She also led Europe to victory over the United States in the Solheim Cup in her native Sweden, became the first woman to play a PGA Tour event in more than 50 years and in October was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Since leaving competitive golf at the age of 38, Sorenstam has given birth to a daughter, Ava, and a son, Will. She has also emerged as a successful businesswoman under the Annika brand and is currently president of the International Golf Federation, having been a key figure in the successful effort to get golf back into the Olympic Games.
“It's been an interesting 13 years,” Sorenstam said. “I stepped away [in] 2008 and the highlight is being a mother of two. I’m lucky, I have a good life. I never thought I would come back and play anything. Obviously, golf is a big part of my life and always will be, but it was more about giving back to the Annika Foundation, to junior girls, just to say thank you really, because without golf I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Like many, Sorenstam was led back to golf during the pandemic by her children.
“It's almost thanks to COVID that I started to practice a little bit more,” she said. “What else can you do when you're not allowed to do much, right? Kids would do virtual school and after that we just had to get out, get some fresh air; swimming, biking, pickleball and golf were some of the things that we did living in Florida, and our son is really into it. Our daughter plays a little bit. We'd go out as a family and play.”
Will, who came into the world in 2011 nine weeks premature and was given his name because of his determined will to live, is especially passionate about golf and has begun competing on a junior level.
“My son would say, let’s go play, and I’d watch him, and I’d say, why not just bring my clubs, I might as well do something. So I started to hit a few shots and I started to hit the sweet spot again, and I was like, it’s a little more fun when the ball goes where you’re thinking or wishing it’s going,” Sorenstam said.
“Turning 50 was certainly a big day, and I realized that maybe I should support this tournament, the USGA,” she said. “I always thought they were really, really tough. I also like the history; when you look at the trophy you see all the different names, the legends, the Hall-of-Famers, so it’s inspiring. Growing up in Sweden, it just felt like it was just the biggest championship there is in our sport. It’s a dream come true.”
That dream now turns its attention to the newest jewel in the USGA championship crown – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. The USGA stage is where Sorenstam said “hello” and “goodbye” to championship golf. Now, the USGA and the game of golf say, “Welcome back.”
Annika Sorenstam returns to where she was one of the best ever. It’s a challenge for her, a treat for those who love the game and a testament to the timeless treasure known as the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.