WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Annika Sorenstam typically asks for no more than 10 tournament passes in a normal week, enough to accommodate close friends and family.
This is not a normal week.
Barring a change of heart, the ADT Championship this weekend will be Sorenstam’s farewell to the LPGA Tour.
So with more than 50 friends and family in tow, some of whom flew in from Sweden and around the globe, Sorenstam is set to tee it up Thursday for the final LPGA tournament before she “steps away.”
She refuses to call it retirement – “the r-word,” as she puts it – and many around the tour figure she’ll be back.
Just not in 2009. The 38-year-old plans to get married, start a family and tend to her array of business interests, including designing golf courses.
“Normally, I’m this cold Swede just going down the fairways,” Sorenstam said. “It’s been very different. But I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a great year in so many ways. I’ve had a chance to summarize my career and had a chance to share my memories with a lot of fans.”
After 72 LPGA wins, 10 major championships, a Hall of Fame enshrinement, more than $22 million in prize money, her own academy, a round of 59 and one memorable matchup against the men of the PGA Tour, Sorenstam has decided the time is right for a new chapter.
She made the announcement in May, and the last six months have been a whirlwind goodbye tour.
“I think everybody has tried to talk Annika out of retiring,” LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens said. “At the same time, you’re pulled by the fact she’s a young woman who knows very much what she wants, and she has priorities. I think you’ve got to admire her and respect her for that. We’ll miss her very much.”
Her first tournament on the LPGA Tour was the U.S. Women’s Open in 1992, when she played as an amateur. Back then, few knew who she was. Some of the papers covering that tournament referred to her as “Sorenstan,” while others said “Anika.”
But along the way, Annika became a one-name brand, just like Tiger and Jack and Arnie.
“Maybe she won’t get the itch to play again,” said Morgan Pressel, the 20-year-old who grew up emulating Sorenstam’s game a bit. “But I would think that somebody as competitive as she is would.”
Sorenstam’s first LPGA round started in a downpour, which seemed fitting. She took the game by storm.
That was July 23, 1992, when torrential downpours flooded the fairways at Oakmont. First-round play was delayed for much of the day, and a young Swede waited hours to take her first swing in an LPGA event.
“Honestly, at that point, there was nothing special about her,” said Kelly Skalicky, one of Sorenstam’s playing partners that humid afternoon. “So she obviously did something right.”
Over the next 16 years, Sorenstam did almost everything right.
An eight-time LPGA player of the year, Sorenstam dominated the game like almost none other. She’s the only woman to shoot 59 in a competitive round, is one of six to achieve the women’s career Grand Slam, and became the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour when she played the Colonial in 2003 – missing the cut, but that hardly mattered.
“Personally, I think she’ll be back in a couple of years,” 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr said. “But that’s just me and my hopes that we don’t lose one of the best things that’s ever happened to women’s golf.”
Sorenstam’s presence in the Oakmont field was so unremarkable that Michelle Murphy – now the women’s golf coach at Portland – had no idea she was even in the tournament.
Which is strange, since Murphy was in Sorenstam’s first- and second-round threesome that week.
That’s right: She had an inside-the-ropes view at the start of golf history, and it slipped her mind.
“It was 1992, a long time ago, and I just remember she was a friend of my sister’s,” Murphy said. “I don’t remember playing with her that week at all. It was a long time ago. For golf, I don’t think this is a sad week. Annika is not going to disappear. I’m excited to see what she’s going to do with the next part of her life.”
Skalicky, now a lawyer in Manhattan who hasn’t played golf in 15 years, is equally curious.
“Because she was so young, I never would have thought she would dominate the way she did,” Skalicky said. “She’ll do nothing but promote the game from here and hopefully another player comes along to build the tour further up. There were a lot of forerunners before her also, and she carried the torch.”
Now, it’s time to pass that torch.
Sorenstam says she can step away knowing the LPGA will survive without her.
Lorena Ochoa has taken over as the world’s No. 1 player, there’s a growing group of international players quickly ascending the game’s ladder, and Sorenstam is convinced the women’s game is stronger than when she arrived.
All that remains, she hopes, is four more rounds – capped by a $1 million first-prize payday Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a special week in many ways,” Sorenstam said. “I must admit, I have some mixed emotions. I’m sad that it’s coming to an end, but it’s my decision, and when I decide to do something I stick with it. And I’m very excited about the future as well.”