Annika—everyone in the golf-playing world is aware of the woman behind that one given name. For that name resonates with achievements and awards, and although her flawless, simple swing no longer graces the LPGA Tour, Annika Sorenstam has remained as popular and well known today as she was during her 15 year career from 1993-2008.
To some, Annika is “Ms. 59” for her 2001 feat as the only woman to break 60 in tournament play at Moon Valley CC, Phoenix. To others, she is the winner of 89 worldwide professional titles—72 on the LPGA Tour—and 10 majors. To still others, Annika is a World Golf Hall of Famer (2003), an eight-time Player of the Year, and a six-time Vare Trophy recipient for lowest seasonal scoring average.
Annika was also the AP Female Athlete of the Year three years running (2003-05), and the first woman to pass the $20 million mark in earnings. When the Women’s World Golf Rankings began in 2006, Annika was number one for 15 months before Lorena Ochoa surpassed her.
Who can forget Annika’s teeing it up with the Big Boys on the PGA Tour at the Colonial in 2003 and just missing the cut? Or, who can forget her three appearances (2003-05) in the Skins Game, playing with Fred Couples all three times and Tiger Woods twice, winning five skins and $225,000 in that first year and offering Fred Funk a floral pink skirt after she outdrove him in the 2005 edition?
After her career, she has been honored with both the Francis Ouimet Award (2010) for “Lifelong contributions to golf” and the Bob Jones Award (2012) by the USGA for “Distinguished sportsmanship in golf.” In February of this year, Annika and six others were voted in as the first women members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland.
Annika left the LPGA Tour with the intent of raising a family and establishing the ANNIKA brand of businesses. In January of 2009, she married Mike McGee, the managing director for the ANNIKA brand and the son of former PGA Tour and Champions Tour player Jerry McGee. They have two children, Ava, 6, and Will, 4.
The ANNIKA brand is widespread. She has created the ANNIKA Foundation that teaches children the importance of living a healthy, active lifestyle through fitness and nutrition and offers aspiring junior golfers opportunities to pursue their dreams.
The ANNIKA Academy at the luxurious Reunion Golf and Spa Resort in Orlando is a boutique-style golf school that specializes in providing personalized instruction to individuals of all ages and skill levels.
In addition, Annika, who is a recognized gourmet cook, has developed her own line of clothing and wines. She has become a golf course designer and TV golf analyst and started the ANNIKA Financial Group to offer special pecuniary services to globe-trotting athletes.
To all who know about the native from Bro, Sweden, where her parents still live, she is not only a cultural icon for her era but also an inspiration for women athletes in general and for women golfers in particular.
“Share My Passion” is her mantra, and Annika has been unconditionally sharing her love for the game with us for years.
NEGM: How has life been treating you since you left the LPGA Tour?
AS: Life has been pretty good, and I would say a lot of things have changed for the better. Mike and I got married, and we have two children to raise. That’s certainly a lot different from life on the Tour! It’s been over six years now, and when I stepped away, I made the right choice at the right time. I just knew it in my heart. I was ready to experience a new chapter in my life, and I’m glad I did it.
NEGM: You started the ANNIKA Academy at Reunion Golf and Spa Resort in Orlando. Instruction is paramount, of course, but it is just one aspect of the curriculum. What else do you offer and why?
AS: We like to say we teach the “Winning Approach.” It’s the approach that I used in my career. Besides the instruction, we do fitness, nutrition, course management, mental training, and club fitting. I like to say it takes more than just a good golf swing to be a good golfer. All the little pieces have to fit together. It’s been a lot of fun, and I have a team of professionals around me who love what they’re doing.
Charlotta, my sister, is one of the instructors and one of the club fitters in the Callaway Performance Center. Technology has become such a large part of the game, and we want to make sure people are playing with equipment that fits their needs. A lot of women, especially, inherit their husband’s old clubs, so it’s been very interesting to provide these women with their own set based on their own specifications.
Also, we do offer different programs—the Soren-Slam Program is the most popular three-day school—where I conduct a clinic, have lunch with my students, and then play golf with them.
From beginning to end, the Academy is a very customized golf experience.
NEGM: What are some of your other undertakings that have been keeping you busy?
AS: The ANNIKA Foundation takes a lot of my time because we host four junior golf tournaments around the world: one in Orlando, one at China’s Mission Hills, and two in Sweden. What’s exciting to me is that we’re working on becoming even more global and offering juniors more opportunities to pursue their dreams. The Foundation also hosts the ANNIKA Intercollegiate Presented by 3M, which last year had the strongest field in all of college golf, with 12 top Division I teams.
Golf course design is another thing I really enjoy although it’s been a little slow for two years now. I do have two projects in the works, in Estonia and Vietnam.
I have the ANNIKA Collection, my line of clothing with Cutter & Buck, which is growing very nicely and gaining market share every year.
I also enjoy both the TV commentating work that I do at tournaments and my guest analyst spots on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive. I just have a wonderful time with that Morning Dive crew.
And the rest of my life is being a mom and a wife and being at home.
I don’t lack for things to do, that’s for sure, and they’re all fun.
NEGM: Do you get to play much golf?
AS: You know, I really don’t play that much. I do play at charity events and when we have golf events that are part of the junior clinics, where I talk to the juniors and share my experiences. I don’t go out practicing any more although I’ll hit a bucket of balls from time to time before a sponsor event to maintain a little edge. But playing golf is just not a part of my daily routine any more. I’ve given up any thoughts of being actively competitive again.
NEGM: How did you learn the game in the first place?
AS: From my parents, who still live very close to a golf course in Sweden. I would play with them and Charlotta as a child. Early on, I really didn’t think golf was fun. I thought it was too slow. I was very competitive in tennis and in soccer and in skiing. The more I played golf, however, the more I liked it. From the age of 14, I would spend every summer on the golf course. I competed a little bit on the regional level and then on the national level. Then I went to the University of Arizona to play golf there for two years, and then I turned professional in 1992. So, thanks to my parents, I became a golfer.
NEGM: Do you return to Sweden periodically?
AS: We go once a year to visit my parents and to see friends, and we combine the trip with the junior tournament I host. I just like to keep in touch with my Swedish upbringing. I’ve been in the United States since 1995 so my roots here are equally as strong as they are over there. I became an American citizen and now have dual citizenship, which I thought was the right thing to do. I’m very proud of where I’m from and like to share the culture, traditions, and history with the kids. They both speak Swedish so that they can feel comfortable and not feel like strangers when we visit relatives and friends in Sweden.
NEGM: What do you remember most about your LPGA experience?
AS: First of all, it was my career for 15 years, and I wouldn’t be who I am if not for the LPGA. They gave me the platform to do what I enjoyed doing the most—to compete at the highest professional level and to make a great living while traveling around the world. Playing professional golf became my dream, and I was lucky enough to turn the dream into reality.
I still keep in touch as I’m involved in the game with my TV commentating, and I work with some of the players. We created the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award, which goes to the LPGA player who performs the best in the year’s Major Championships, but she has to win one. Another aspect of the Foundation, besides hosting the events, is that I’m involved in the ANNIKA Award Presented by 3M, given annually to the best Division I collegiate female golfer.
The LPGA changed my life, and I lived my dream. Now one of the missions of my Foundation is to help other girls live their dreams.
NEGM: Who were your toughest competitors?
AS: At first, of course, I was a rookie and just trying to learn the ropes. They were all tough competitors at that point. Once I became more established and had started to win some events, it was Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak. I’ll never forget the three of us battling back and forth in the majors from 1997 on. It was really a healthy rivalry because they pushed me to get better. Then it was Lorena Ochoa, and we went back and forth between number one and two. Many other great players challenged me as well, but these three women always brought out the best in me.
NEGM: What were your three most important victories and why?
AS: The 1995 U.S. Open at the Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs was my first win on the LPGA Tour, and it was a big one! I was totally under the radar at the time, and it set the tone for my career and gave me the confidence I needed.
The 2006 U.S. Open at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, because I hadn’t won an Open since 1996, although I had been close many times.
For the third one, there is a little bit of distance. I did win 10 majors, and each one was special, but those two Opens were especially significant for me.
Number three, then, would be the British Open of 2003 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club. I had tried to win that event for many years, and that win sealed my career Grand Slam.
NEGM: What are your five favorite golf courses in the world?
AS: Pine Valley, Merion, Turnberry in Scotland, Pebble Beach, and Augusta National.
NEGM: Are you pleased with the global direction of the LPGA under Commissioner Mike Whan?
AS: Absolutely, yes! I think he’s done a tremendous job in all aspects—in securing tournaments, in building relationships, in marketing the competitions. He’s been a great asset to the LPGA Tour.
NEGM: Are you optimistic about the on-going efforts to encourage girls and women to join the game?
AS: I think all the organizations are trying hard, from the USGA to the PGA to the LPGA. I try to do some initiatives from my end. This is something we have to continue to work on just because it’s tough to make sure the girls stay in the game—to make the programs sustainable—once the girls have been introduced to it. They need to take the game past the junior level, past the college level, and continue to play as adults with their families and friends.
Get Golf Ready and First Tee and Girls Golf are all worthy programs. I am also involved with Wee Golf, which I think will make an impact. The LPGA players are role models, and it’s great what they do every week and how they work with the communities and the sponsors.
NEGM: Who would be in your Dream Foursome of today? Of any time period?
AS: If you had asked me that question 10 years ago, I would have had a different answer and would probably have chosen movie stars or other celebrities. Today, life has changed for me, and I’m about to turn 45. I would really love to play with my family—Ava, Will, and Mike—reminding me of the times when my family played with me when I was a child.
Playing with two LPGA Founders, Babe Zaharias and Mickey Wright, and with the LPGA’s career win leader, Kathy Whitworth, with all of us in our primes, would be fun.
NEGM: How would you like to be remembered by your peers, friends, and fans?
AS: As someone who enjoyed the game; as someone who was competitive; as someone who greatly respected her competition; as someone who loved sportsmanship and tried to show class in victory and defeat; as someone who was not afraid to step up to the challenge of trying to win or step out of her comfort zone; as someone who gave back to the game that she loved.
All pictures courtesy of the ANNIKA Foundation unless otherwise credited.