Annika Sorenstam plays nine holes with her family of four at least once a week. The number of holes 11-year-old Ava actually plays varies. Sorenstam, Ava’s partner in these outings, doesn’t push. She might instead ask Ava how many cartwheels she can do down the fairway or how many bunnies and lizards she can spot.
Son Will, on the other hand, takes the game seriously, practicing every day and using part of his lunch break during virtual school to play the 16th hole at Lake Nona.
“I can watch him from my office window,” said Annika, as she turned to look in that direction during a recent Zoom call.
Will, 9, knows his mom ranks among the greatest female athletes in any sport because he’s read about her in books and peppers her with questions. Like his mother, he is obsessed with stats.
“Mom, what’s the longest drive you ever hit?”
“What’s the toughest bunker shot you ever hit?”
“Have you missed short putts?”
Sorenstam turns 50 on Oct. 9, and these precious, everyday moments are a big reason she walked away from full-time competitive golf nearly a dozen years ago. Listening to Sorenstam talk about the life she has built with husband Mike McGee, there’s a sense of gratitude and fullness and not one hint of regret.
“I don’t take things for granted anymore,” said Sorenstam. “Mike and I, we live in the moment.”
An unparalleled career
Sorenstam retired from the LPGA after the 2008 season with 72 LPGA titles and 10 major championships. The eight-time LPGA Player of the Year remains the only woman in history to shoot 59, and she took her fame to another level at Colonial when she became the first woman to compete on the PGA Tour since 1945.
Now that she’s 50, Sorenstam is eligible for next summer’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Connecticut. Laura Davies and Helen Alfredsson won the first two editions. While Sorenstam didn’t commit to competing in 2021, she did say that she has looked at next year’s schedule.
The woman who took fitness on the LPGA to a new level still keeps in good shape (run, bike, swim), but she’s not in competitive golf shape. Not six days in a row kind of ready. She’d need to play in some warm-up events, perhaps on the Legends Tour.
“You know how I am,” she said, “once I make a decision, I will put all the pieces together.”
When asked if she’d consider teeing it up in an LPGA event to get ready, Sorenstam noted that many of the players are half her age now – or even younger.
Anne van Dam, a rising talent in her second year on the LPGA, spent quite a bit of time around Sorenstam and her family during the LPGA’s break from competition. She’d gone over to the house to play volleyball on one occasion when it was driving rain.
“We waited for like five minutes as it poured and she goes, should we go out and play?” said van Dam. “Everyone looked at each other like (is she) serious? Of course, we all went out and it was really fun. That’s just her, very competitive.”
Team builds a brand
McGee has been with Sorenstam every step of the way as she has developed the ANNIKA brand. Not every endeavor has worked, but Sorenstam has learned not to second-guess herself. She’s always had a genuine brand, McGee says, but it’s moved beyond the functional side of world-class stats and resume to the emotional side – how she makes people feel.
As a wife, mom and businesswoman, Sorenstam has never been more relatable. As her husband says, she’s gone from the stoic Swede with glasses on who would step on throats to a loving mom and encouraging mentor.
Her efforts to grow the game through worldwide junior events that create opportunities for the next generation of players had her traveling more than 70,000 miles last year for the ANNIKA Foundation. If coaches, parents or players want to ask questions, Sorenstam is there with answers.
In 2019, more than 600 girls from 60-plus countries competed in seven events across five continents. There are 146 players competing on the Symetra Tour who have played in Sorenstam’s events and more than 60 players have status on the LPGA. In 2021, the eight-time Solheim Cup player and 2017 captain will lead Team Europe at the Junior Solheim Cup in Toledo, Ohio. Renee Powell will captain the Americans.
“I enjoy being able to give back a little piece,” said Sorenstam, “whether it’s the knowledge, the stories, the memories or just listening.”
Former No. 1 Stacy Lewis never played against Sorenstam but appreciates the way she has stayed in the game, annually handing out awards that bear her name to the best female in college golf as well as the ANNIKA Major Award on the LPGA. Maria Fassi, Danielle Kang, Virginia Elena Carta and Andrea Lee are among the players who call on Sorenstam for advice.
“It’s important that our legends, our great players, stay involved in what we’re doing,” said Lewis.
It was at the ANA Inspiration some years back, when Sorenstam was doing some TV work, that 2-year-old Ava got a really serious look on her face while having lunch in player dining. She leaned forward and asked, “Why is everybody staring at Mommy?”
“That’s when she realized it’s a little bit different,” said McGee, laughing.
Ava has expressed a desire to try out for cheerleading, much to everyone’s surprise. The family will support that, of course, but McGee hopes that their nine-hole outings will bring her back to golf someday. If not, that’s OK too.
Meanwhile, Will is busy memorizing the stats of Rory McIlroy and Maverick McNealy. He wants to meet Justin Thomas when fans are allowed back at PGA Tour events.
Time to enjoy
Sorenstam views autographs and a warm smile from professional athletes from a different perspective these days. As a player, she’d sign an autograph and move on, not giving it much thought.
“They put the signed hat next to their beds,” she said, thinking about her own son. “Wow, it’s real! Do you know what I mean? … You see it.”
So much has changed for Sorenstam since she left the LPGA with a list of accomplishments that might not ever be topped. Sorenstam keeps her trophies and memorabilia in a massive floor-to-ceiling glass case near her office in the family’s newly renovated home. With another USGA title now on the table, fans can’t help but hope that there’s room for more.
“I’m proud of stepping away and being able to have another chapter in my life,” said Sorenstam. “This is extremely rewarding and loving and satisfying, as a mother and wife.
“I’m lucky. I’m very, very lucky.”