Thursday, January 20, 2011

Annika Sörenstam

Annika Sörenstam (born 9 October 1970) is a Swedish professional golfer whose achievements rank her as one of the most successful golfers in history. Before stepping away from competitive golf at the end of the 2008 season, she won 90 international tournaments as a professional, making her the female golfer with the most wins to her name. She has won 72 official LPGA tournaments including ten majors and 18 other tournaments internationally, and she tops the LPGA's career money list with earnings of over $22 million—over $8 million ahead of her nearest rival. Since 2006, Sörenstam has held dual American and Swedish citizenship. The winner of a record eight Player of the Year awards, and six Vare Trophies given to the LPGA player with the lowest seasonal scoring average, she is the only female golfer to have shot a 59 in competition. She holds various all-time scoring records including the lowest season scoring average: 68.6969 in 2004. Representing Europe in the Solheim Cup on eight occasions between 1994–2007, Sörenstam is the event's all-time leading points earner. Sörenstam made history at the Bank of America Colonial tournament in 2003 as the first woman to play in a men's PGA Tour event since 1945. Often known simply as "Annika," she achieved the fame of male golfers known in the same way: Arnie (Arnold Palmer), Jack (Nicklaus) and Tiger (Woods). Her growing off-course interests include the ANNIKA golf academy, golf course design, ANNIKA-branded products, and a charitable foundation.

Sörenstam was born in Bro near Stockholm, Sweden. Her father Tom is a retired IBM executive, her mother Gunilla worked in a bank and her younger sister Charlotta is a professional golfer who coaches at her sister's academy. Annika and Charlotta Sörenstam are the only two sisters to have both won $1 million on the LPGA. As a child, Sörenstam was a talented all-round sportsgirl. She was a nationally ranked junior tennis player, played football (soccer) in her hometown team Bro IK and was such a good skier that the coach of the Swedish national ski team suggested the family move to Northern Sweden to improve her skiing year round. At the age of 12, she switched to golf, sharing her first set of golf clubs with her sister—Annika got the odd numbered clubs and Charlotta the even—and earned her first handicap of 54. She was so shy as a junior she used to deliberately three putt at the end of a tournament to avoid giving the victory speech. The coaches noticed and at the next tournament both the winner and the runner-up had to give a speech. Sörenstam decided that if she were going to have to face the crowd anyway she might as well win and the deliberate misses stopped. Her successful amateur career included a win in the St. Rule Trophy played at St. Andrews and a runner-up finish in the Swedish national mother/daughter golf tournament. As a member of the Swedish National Team from 1987 to 1992, she played in the 1990 and 1992 Espirito Santo Trophy World Amateur Golf Team Championships, becoming World Amateur champion in 1992. Whilst waiting to start college in Sweden, Sörenstam worked as a personal assistant at the Swedish PGA and played on the Swedish Ladies Telia Tour, winning three tournaments during 1990/1991. After a coach spotted Sörenstam playing in a collegiate event in Tokyo, she moved to the United States to attend college at the University of Arizona. She won seven collegiate titles and in 1991, became the first non-American and first freshman to win the individual NCAA National Championship. She was 1991 NCAA Co-Player of the Year with Kelly Robbins, runner-up in the 1992 NCAA National Championship, 1992 Pac-10 champion and a 1991-92 NCAA All-American. At the 1992 United States Women's Amateur Golf Championship, she was the runner-up to Vicki Goetze and thus received an invitation to play in the 1992 U.S. Women's Open, where she finished tied for 63rd. Having turned professional in 1992 and missing her LPGA Tour card at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament by one shot, she began her professional career on the Ladies European Tour or LET, formerly known as the WPGET.

Video from Annika Sörenstam

Sörenstam was invited to play in three 1993 LPGA tournaments where she finished T38th, 4th, and T9th earning more than $47,000. She finished second four times on the Ladies European Tour and was 1993 Ladies European Tour Rookie of the Year. By tying for 28th at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament she earned non-exempt status for the 1994 season. Sörenstam's first professional win came at the 1994 Holden Australian Open Championship on the ALPG Tour. In the United States, Sörenstam was LPGA Rookie of the Year, had three top-10 finishes including a tie for second at the Women's British Open and made her Solheim Cup debut. 1995 was her breakout year when she won her first LPGA Tour title at the U.S. Women's Open. She finished at the top of the Money List and was the first non-American winner of the Vare Trophy. She became the second player ever to be Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winner the year after being Rookie of the Year. A win at the 1995 Australian Ladies Masters and two other wins on the Ladies European Tour put her top of the LET Order of Merit and made her the first player to top both the European and LPGA Tour money lists in the same season. Her success worldwide resulted in her winning the Jerringpriset award in Sweden, the country’s most prestigious award in sports as well as being awarded the Svenska Dagbladet Gold Medal. 1996 saw Sörenstam win her home LET tournament, the Trygg Hansa Ladies' Open in Sweden and three LPGA tournaments including the U.S. Women's Open. In defending her title, she became the first non-American to win back to back U.S. Women's Open titles, passed the $1 million mark in LPGA career earnings, and won her second consecutive Vare Trophy. She won six 1997 LPGA titles regaining the Money List and Player of the Year titles. Internationally, she won on the JLPGA and defended her home LET title at the renamed Compaq Open. She became the first player in LPGA history to finish a season with a sub-70 scoring average of 69.99 en route to retaining the 1998 Player of the Year and Money List titles as well as winning the LET Swedish tour stop for the third time running. September 1999 saw Sörenstam change her on-course team replacing her caddie of six years, Colin Cann, with Terry McNamara.

At the end of that season Karrie Webb said she "would eat her hat" if Sörenstam repeated her eight wins in 2002. Sörenstam accomplished that feat, joining Mickey Wright as the only players to win 11 LPGA tournaments in one season, earning her fifth Player of the Year title and fifth Vare Trophy. She successfully defended the Kraft Nabisco Championship, her fourth major victory, and also won the ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia and Compaq Open in Sweden on the Ladies European Tour giving her 13 wins in 25 starts worldwide in 2002. Amid notable controversy, Sörenstam was invited to play in the Bank of America Colonial golf tournament in Fort Worth, Texas in May 2003, making her the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event since Babe Zaharias, who qualified for the 1945 Los Angeles Open. PGA Tour player Vijay Singh was particularly critical of her presence; he was quoted saying she had no business playing and he hoped she missed the cut, although he later apologized. Cheered through each hole, she shot five over par, tying for 96th out of the 111 who finished the first two rounds, missing the cut. After shooting 1-over-par 71 in the first round, finishing in 73rd and on pace to challenge for a weekend spot, Sörenstam said she was nervous all day but pleased by her performance. Through the first round she led the field in driving accuracy, was in the top 20 in greens in regulation, and was 84th out of 111 in driving distance. Unfortunately, poor putting (last in the field, averaging over a two-putt) cost her a spot on the first page of the first round leaderboard and ultimately caused her to miss the cut. Later in the 2003 season, she won the LPGA Championship and the Women's British Open, becoming only the sixth player to complete the LPGA Career Grand Slam. She had five other victories worldwide, set or tied a total of 22 LPGA records and earned her sixth Player of the Year award. She competed against Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara in the 2003 Skins Game, finishing second with five skins worth $225,000; Sörenstam holed a 39-yard (36 m) bunker shot on the ninth hole—the eighth eagle in The Skins Game history. In September, she was part of the winning European Solheim Cup team in her native Sweden. She was awarded her second Jerringpriset award in Sweden[54] plus the 2003 Golf Writers’ Trophy by the Association of Golf Writers.

These events resulted in her receiving numerous awards. The Golf Writers Association of America named Sörenstam Female Player of the Year for the eighth time (1995,1997, 2000–2005), Associated Press voted her Female Athlete of the Year for the third consecutive year and she became the first woman to win the Golf Writers’ Trophy twice in the 55-year history of European golf’s most prestigious award. Having previously won six Best Female Golfer ESPY Awards (1996, 1998–99, 2002–04), Sörenstam also received the 2005 ESPY Award as Best Female Athlete. When the first-ever official Women's World Golf Rankings were unveiled in February 2006, Sörenstam was confirmed as the number-one player in women's golf, a position she relinquished to Lorena Ochoa on 22 April 2007. In partnership with Liselotte Neumann in team Sweden, she won the Women's World Cup of Golf, opened her LPGA season with a defence of her title in the MasterCard Classic. She then went winless in eight starts, causing some to talk of a slump. Her winning drought ended at the U.S. Women's Open, where she won an 18-hole playoff over Pat Hurst for her 10th major championship title, tying her for third on the list of players with most major championship titles. She totalled 3 wins on the LPGA and two on the Ladies European Tour, the inaugural Dubai Ladies Masters and the Swedish tournament she hosts, which she defended in her home town at the course where she learned to play. Her International team lost the second Lexus Cup competition to Team Asia. Sörenstam started 2007 by losing a playoff while defending of her MasterCard Classic title. At the Kraft Nabisco Championship she shot her highest 72-hole score in a major in nine years, a result explained by her subsequent diagnosis with ruptured and bulging discs in her neck, the first major injury in Sörenstam's 13-year LPGA career. After a two month injury rehabilitation break, Sörenstam returned as the Ginn Tribute tournament hostess where she admitted to being at only 85% fitness and finished tied for 36th place. She was still not fully fit in her next two tournaments, the LPGA Championship where she finished tied for 15th place, and the US Women's Open, where, as defending champion, she finished tied for 32nd. After an early round defeat at the World Matchplay Championship, Sörenstam finished sixth at the Evian Masters, 16th at the Women's British Open and ninth in the Swedish tournament she hosts on the Ladies European Tour. On her return to the US, Sörenstam had three top ten finishes but missed the weekend at the season closing ADT Playoffs for the second year running. However, Sörenstam did win a worldwide title at the Dubai Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour in November 2007.

Declaring herself recovered from injury and ready to return to a complete season of competitive golf in 2008, Sörenstam opened the year at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay where she captured her 70th LPGA Tour victory and first since September 2006. She won next at the Stanford International Pro-Am in April then following a week off, won again at the Michelob ULTRA Open at Kingsmill in a tournament record score, giving her three wins and over $1 million in earnings by mid-May. It was her 72nd and final ever win on the LPGA Tour.In 2008, Sörenstam was highly critical of other female golfers who tried to play in the PGA tour - Her comments to Michelle Wie for playing on the mens tour: "I really don't know why Michelle continues to do this. We have a major this week and, if you can't qualify for a major, I don't see any reason why you should play with the men. On 13 May 2008, Sörenstam announced at a press conference at the Sybase Classic that she would "step away" from competitive golf at the conclusion of the 2008 season. That night, she threw out the first pitch of the Washington Nationals/New York Mets baseball game at Shea Stadium in New York and the following day read the Top Ten on the Late Show with David Letterman. Her last tournament victory came in a playoff at the Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open, an event co sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour and the Ladies Asian Golf tour. Her last scheduled tournament on the LPGA Tour was the season-ending ADT Championship in November, where she failed to make the weekend play in the event's unique playoff structure. Her final sanctioned LPGA appearance was as the winning captain of Team International at the 2008 Lexus Cup in Singapore. Her last professional tournament was the Dubai Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour in December 2008, where she finished tied for 7th.

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