KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Annika Sorenstam’s storied career is quickly coming to a close and the 72-time LPGA Tour winner has no second thoughts about her decision to retire at the end of the season.
“Once I make a decision I stick to it,” Sorenstam said Wednesday as she prepared for the inaugural Kapalua LPGA Classic, the season’s final full-field event in the United States. “This is a decision I made a long time ago. It’s the right one and I’m excited about my next chapter, and golf will always be part of my life.”
Sorenstam, however, still has a lot of game left and acknowledges she feels “healthy and strong.” She has three wins this year and is third on the money list with $1,605,186. She’s coming off a 15th-place finish in the Samsung World Championship.
The Swede opened the season with a victory in Hawaii at Turtle Bay and finished fourth the following week at Ko Olina.
“Looking back at the year, of course I’m happy with the three wins, and playing some good golf,” she said. “It would be nice to finish a little better than the way I played the last few months.”
Sorenstam is greeted with warm words from players and fans everywhere she goes. It’s not that unusual for a player who has dominated for so long. But this time, Sorenstam is soaking in every moment and smile.
“I’ve been to so many places and just really enjoying the farewell tour and trying to say goodbye,” she said. “This tournament is the last, or one of the last for a lot of players.”
Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa will play together in Thursday’s opening round, along with Morgan Pressel, Kapalua’s touring pro.
“Every time I play with Annika, it’s very special,” said Ochoa, who is having another stellar year with seven victories. “I think you can always learn fro her. And now that these are her last few tournaments, I think me and all of the people are trying to just enjoy her as much as we can.”
The top-ranked Ochoa said her goal this year was to improve on her win total from 2007.
“I won eight last year. So far, I have seven this year, so I need to get going,” she said.
Ochoa has quickly been adding to her trophy collection, but has yet to win one in Hawaii. She’s come close, losing in a playoff at Turtle Bay two years ago.
This is the second time Ochoa has played Kapalua. She last played when she was 12 when she represented her native Mexico in the America’s Cup.
Ochoa doesn’t remember a thing about that event, other than Mexico didn’t win.
But Ochoa acknowledges her golf game is a “little different now.”
Pressel, who is seeking her first victory of the year, didn’t seem phased by playing with the top two players in the world.
“I love watching great players because that’s what I want to be,” said Pressel, who last year became the youngest major winner in LPGA Tour history by claiming the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
The field of 132 also includes Yani Tseng, who tied for third last week and hoping to extend her lead in the rookie of the year race.
Not entered this week are Fields Open champion Paula Creamer and South Korea’s In-Kyung Kim, who won last week at Danville, Calif. for her first tour victory. She closed with a 1-over 73 in gusty conditions for a three-stroke victory over Angela Stanford.
Kapalua is the only resort to host the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour. The Mercedes-Benz Championship is played on the Plantation Course.
The Bay Course, designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane, isn’t as long, hilly and difficult as the Plantation. However, winds could make it challenging for players this week.
The scenic layout features fast, undulating greens, unforgiving rough and 60 bunkers.
“The fairways are not necessarily extremely tight but you don’t want to miss them, otherwise, you’ll be in a lot of trouble,” Pressel said.
Sorenstam said the key will be the play around the greens. After Kapalua, Sorenstam will play in a few tournaments abroad before ending the season at the 32-player ADT Championship.
“I’m going to need a break after this,” she said.
Retirement won’t be any less hectic. She’ll be busy with her wedding, golf course design work and her academy.
“With so many other priorities and exciting things … it will be different but fun in a different way,” Sorenstam said. “So you know, I would love to finish on a high and then just kind of sail through to the next thing.”