Annika Sorenstam is one of the greatest female golfer of our generation, and often regarded as the best of all-time. During her 15 year Hall-of-Fame career, she rewrote the LPGA and Ladies European Tour record books, won countless awards, and changed the way women’s golf was played, viewed and covered.
She amassed 89 worldwide victories, including 72 on the LPGA and 10 Major Championships. Annika holds a record number of Rolex Player of the Year awards (eight) and Vare Trophies for the lowest scoring average in a season (six). As the only female to break 60 in an official event, she has been nicknamed “Ms. 59.” Perhaps most notably, Annika received worldwide media attention when she became the first woman to play in a PGA TOUR event since 1945, joining the men at the 2003 Colonial Invitational in Fort Worth, Texas.
Annika was the first and only female to cross the $20 million mark for LPGA career earnings.
In an interview I had with Annika, she gives us a look into her life before joining the LPGA and her experience during it. She also talks about junior golfers, sexism and programs to help women and minorities begin to play the game of golf.
- When did you start golfing? Tell me about the process it took for you to make it into the LPGA
I started at age of 12 but it was more of just a hobby. Growing up in Sweden it wasn’t on my mind because we didn’t have the media coverage over there. My family played with me and it was just a weekend thing! I went to University of Arizona, but it seemed so out of reach. After a while I was like, “Hey i think I’m gonna check them out!” I was inspired by all of the early ’90s hall of famers. It was also really cool because some of them were hitting the clubs where I practiced! So one thing led to another and I was like, “Wow maybe this is something I can do!” I started to dream of the possibility and went through the process to get my Tour card and ended up getting it, but it was conditional at first.
I played tennis at first and I wanted to be a star, but I wasn’t good enough at that. However, it’s important to have dreams. It’s not an easy transition. It’s important to have that drive, everyone is going to have bumps along the way. However, it’s annoying when you don’t even get a chance to play a sport because of your gender. Its such a change with the booking, caddies, going to new cities every week, but it’s important to figure yourself out and what works with you.
- Recently, the LPGA has been enforcing a stricter dress code on women golfers including eliminating racerback tops, short skirts, leggings etc. How do you feel about that? Do you think it will hurt the progression of the sport for the LPGA? Do you think it’s acceptable for the LPGA to initiate a fine of $1000 if this dress code is broken?
That is a fine line. I don’t think it’s wrong to have a dress code, but we are feminine and we should be able to dress that way. We need to find a balance between tradition and culture. I think we can look good in appropriate clothing. I’m a little old fashioned and wouldn’t wear those workout tops that the young golfers now do. We represent the game, so I think we have some responsibility as a professional to know the rule within the organization.
- How about women minorities in golf? Do you think we need to reach out and encourage more women of color to play golf?
Unfortunately, there are only a very few of them. It’s a tricky issue. The First Tee does an excellent job to introducing the game to inner cities. There is more diversification towards the juniors, which is important. Nancy Lopez, who runs the First Tee, is a huge role model to them. Hopefully things will progress soon.
- Have you ever felt disadvantaged or discriminated against because of your gender in this sport?
Sweden is less gender divided than it is here in terms of golf. We don’t have “Mens days or Women’s days. It’s more “just play golf!” When you come to other countries, it’s more obvious. Especially when you’re invited to play at a course, but not invited to play on a certain day because our gender is really disheartening. I don’t think it’s right.
- How do you think we can encourage junior girls to pick up the game at a younger age? Do you believe there are enough organizations for women golfers?
There are different initiatives to get women in the game. We all know it’s the biggest potential for growth in the game of golf. We need more leagues and the pace of play is too slow today! Women can’t juggle everything. Courses need to speed up play, have fun activities and instructional lessons. Clubs are not spending enough time and money on ladies golfers. Golf is about family. There is no way you can justify going on the course after working all week and having to spend 4-5 hours on the course. There needs to be other options such as club functions, dinners. The togetherness is more important than even golf.
- Do you have any advice for aspiring women golfers?
If you look at the benefits of the game it outweighs it more than anything. When you’re not welcome it’s very short sighted. They are the ones who are losing out on the opportunity when they don’t include people. The game of golf has some old classic mindsets and it might discourage some young aspiring golfers to not even want to be part of that. However, there are ways to get past the negativity. Hang around people with similar mindsets. You always going to run into people who discriminate, but just move on from it.
First published on Women’s Golf Content