Four years after retiring, Annika Sorenstam is gunning to become a super-brand

Annika Sorenstam, Ava
Courtesy of Annika Sorenstam
Sorenstam, with Ava, doesn't miss the Tour grind. "I'm very happy where I am," she says.

You toyed with a belly putter late in your career. Where do you come down on the anchoring ban?
I’m okay with it, but as I’ve said all along, I think we have bigger issues to deal with. This game needs to grow and somebody anchoring a putter is not a big deal. Pace of play to me is the biggest issue; professionals should not be making the turn in three hours. Then you have cost and access and difficulty. If we’re going to speed up the game then people need to make putts, and if they need to anchor to make putts, then let them anchor. If you speed up play, you have more fun. That’s what it’s all about.

So the USGA picked the wrong fight?
I was so surprised with the USGA from the beginning. If you’re going to implement [the ban], implement it. You’ve got a 90-day comment period, and then four years until it becomes effective. This whole thing is funny. Either you approve or you don’t approve.

Let’s say you’re LPGA commissioner for a day. What’s first on your agenda?
Probably nothing that Mike Whan isn’t already doing. I think we need to be on TV more. You need to be seen, to be heard and to be recognized. That’s what I would push for—more exposure. The players have a lot of wonderful stories. They can play; it’s just not out there to see. It’s on either early in the morning or late at night.

It’s a catch-22. You can’t interest viewers without TV time, but you can’t get TV time without interest.
And it’s a cost issue, too. When the PGA Tour signed a big deal with the networks, they didn’t pay for it, they got paid. We pay for everything. It’s $500,000 to $1 million per event. That could go to the women, or back to charity, but it goes back to the networks. It’s tough. Look at the Golf Channel—I’ve told them many times before, “Talk more women.” But even when I go in there I talk more men.

That imbalance must have been frustrating to you, especially when you were making history in your prime.
That’s easy for me to say now. Before if you asked me, I’d have been whining for myself; now I’m whining for today’s players. Yeah, there’s no doubt. Take the rivalries today—Rory and Tiger? Tiger deserves [the attention], but Rory’s just starting. There’s no rivalry yet. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and Arnold Palmer—that was a rivalry. Karrie Webb and myself and Se Ri Pak—that was a rivalry. That was years of competition. My point is the PGA Tour is what everybody talks about. When their season starts in January, the women are starting overseas. We don’t even know where they are or when they’re playing.

You and Tiger were friends and frequent practice partners at ?Isleworth before his sex scandal broke. Is it true you haven’t seen or spoken to him since?
I saw him at one event since, but yes, we’ve lost touch.

Were the revelations of his personal life a surprise to you?
Yeah, I had no idea.

You’re friendly with his ex-wife, Elin Nordegren. How’s she doing?
She’s doing pretty well. It’s just an awkward situation for everybody when you’re friends with both of them. But, you know, it was at a time in my career when I was moving away [from the game], so I wasn’t practicing as much [with Woods] anyway.

One of the keys to your success was your relentless devotion to working out. What motivated you?
I’d always been an athlete, but I wasn’t strong everywhere. I wanted to get strong and I wanted to build muscle and be able to create some clubhead speed so I could get some power and some distance. We’d get to a point where we overloaded the muscles. I’d get to the sixth rep, it was hard; seven was really hard; and eight, it might take a little push [from her trainer].

It worked. You picked up 20 yards in driving distance in the early 2000s.
Yeah, I had a clubhead speed of 105 [mph]. The first few times at the Callaway [test] center, I was at 92.

As you bulked up, there were whispers that you were taking performance-enhancing drugs. Did you ever feel the need to respond to those rumors?
I heard about them, but nobody ever confronted me. I knew what [my secret] was—it was hard work. I said, “You work out with me five times a week and see how you go, see if you can last.” That was also in a time when fitness wasn’t as big in the women’s game. I was one of the first, and therefore I was able to take advantage of it. Even today, a lot of the women work out but they don’t necessarily lift weights.

So the suspicions didn’t offend you?
No, I wasn’t offended. I would say it’s a compliment, because [my regimen] was working.

Have you ever seen evidence of PEDs in the women’s game?
No, never. I was actually on the tour’s drug committee. I was one of the player representatives. I’m all for [testing]. Especially when you work hard, you don’t want anyone else to have an advantage that they don’t deserve. However, it’s very complicated. I still don’t understand half of it.

Half of what?
Well, what’s out there—what you should take and not take. All I know is, you’d have a cold and you’d call the LPGA doctor to see if you could take whatever, and they’d say yes or no.

That must have been unsettling.
I was extremely worried, yes. I was very, very picky about what I took. I wasn’t going to have thousands of hours in the gym be jeopardized. But as far as our policy goes, nobody’s been caught doing anything.

You were drug tested after your last LPGA round, at the 2008 ADT Championship. That was an awkward way to go out.
Yeah, I admit I was not happy about that, because it ruined the moment. Fans were cheering and saying goodbye and I wanted to be out there to soak it up. But instead I had to go into the trailer. By the time I came back 45 minutes later, it’s like someone had put a needle in the balloon. And I had been tested a few weeks before that. And I’m done [with my career], so what’s the point?

Michael Jordan recently told ESPN The Magazine, “I’d give up everything to go back and play the game of basketball.” When asked how he replaces it, he said, “You don’t. You learn to live with it.” You don’t feel that way about golf?
Well, I’m lucky to be in a sport where if I felt that way, I could come back. I don’t have to go back to tour school. I’ve got my criteria, and could still do that if I wanted. But I don’t have the desire. On the contrary, I’m very happy where I am.

So you could never see yourself returning to play?
No.

If you played an LPGA event tomorrow, do you think you could win it?
If you gave me clubs right now and I flew to Thailand tomorrow and played, no, I don’t think I could win. But I played in the Pebble Beach Callaway Invitational [an unofficial event] in December and I was the lowest female. Juli Inkster was there and some others. I was pretty proud. I finished under par.

What if you had a few months to practice? Could you win again?

I don’t know. They’re so good. The reason I don’t play so well now is because I don’t practice. I’m about results. I’m a perfectionist. I know what it’s like to play at the top, and to do that you have to work very, very hard, every day. But if I had the motivation? I don’t know. I’m 42 now, and they’re winning at the age of 15. [Laughs] And it’s not like I look back and say, “I wish I would have won that tournament,” or “I wish I would have won another major.” I’m very, very content.
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