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Sorenstam's golf academy opens in Florida

REUNION, Fla. (AP) — Without swinging a club, Annika Sorenstam found Monday to be among the most fulfilling days of her career.

Sorenstam opened her first "Annika Academy,'' a 5,400-square-foot teaching facility at Ginn Reunion Resort modeled after the golf and fitness programs that have led her to 10 majors and more than 80 victories worldwide.

"Our goal is to inspire our guests,'' Sorenstam said. "I will get a chance to share my passion for golf and for fitness with all golfers, of all ages, of all skill levels, all around the world.''

Sorenstam gave a tour and some instruction to Darius Rucker, lead singer of "Hootie and the Blowfish.''

Her own golf is on hold. Sorenstam learned last week that she has a ruptured disk and herniated disk in her back and will miss at least a month, perhaps more from the LPGA Tour.

Mark Steinberg, her agent at IMG, said doctors told Sorenstam she likely will not need surgery, and rehabilitation over 10 to 14 days would give them a better idea when she might be able to return.

"I thought it was something muscular and I was going to be OK,'' said Sorenstam, who wore a neck brace during a brief interview. "My doctor was telling me about my injury and I said, 'But I'm playing tomorrow. What am I going to do?' And he looked at me and said, 'You're not playing.' That's when it hit me.

"Nothing stops me, and that's the problem,'' she said. "I'm just go, go, go. I need somebody to tell me to stop. And here I am.''

Lately, Sorenstam has divided her time between competition and business, and she has found herself more excited by the business prospects of creating the "Annika'' brand, which starts with the academy.

The academy includes a modern fitness room with free weights and state-of-the-art cardio machines, and two large hitting booths equipped with video analysis and Callaway Golf club fitting. It also has a driving range, putting green and short-game area.

Sorenstam said she will be at the academy at least a dozen times a year, including five times as part of the "Soren-Slam Package'' that includes a round of golf with her. The cost for that three-day program is $12,000 and already is sold out for this year.

When she is not at the academy, she will be sharing her coaches - Henri Reis (swing) and Kai Fusser (fitness), along with her sister, Charlotta, who will be one of instructors.

Sorenstam gave a clinic to kids from the Make-A-Wish Foundation and to Rucker, handling the microphone with ease as she offered instruction and answered questions. It was quite a transformation for the shy, Swedish girl whose only goal was to make it to the LPGA Tour, and who purposely lost tournaments as an amateur because she was afraid of making a speech.

"It's impossible to think 12 years ago she could be doing this,'' Steinberg said. "Her mind wouldn't have gone here. She has completely come into her own. Nobody told her how to do this.''

Sorenstam said she thought of an academy about five years, about the time she began to establish herself as the dominant player of her generation. She took fitness to a new level for women's golf as she prepared to play in the Colonial on the PGA Tour in 2003. Since then, she has piled up enough majors for the career Grand Slam and enough victories to challenge Kathy Whitworth's record of 88 on the LPGA Tour. Sorenstam is at 69, although getting 20 more depends on her back.

The academy is the first step in building her "Annika'' brand, which she hopes will represent traits of her as a player.

"You come here, and you get a sense it's me,'' she said. "Obviously, the competition took me here, and that's the foundation, which I would say is quite solid. I like to stand for those attributes - consistency, inspiration, class. All those should reflect in everything I do.''

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