“I’m going to cherish this moment,” Annika Sorenstam told the poised-pen brigade on Sunday. There was no reason to doubt her, but you had to wonder how she keeps track of her cherished moments. File folders? Flash drives? A 4,000-square-foot trophy room? Sorenstam’s sudden-death victory over Paula Creamer at the Stanford International Pro-Am in Aventura, Fla., was the 71st win of Sorenstam’s LPGA career. Throw in her amateur triumphs, her
Solheim Cup highlights, her eight Rolex Player of the Year Awards, her tilt at the PGA Tour windmill at the 2003 Colonial and her 59 at the 2001 Standard Register Ping, and Sorenstam has more cherishable moments than she can possibly cherish.
Personally, I’d have gotten a kick out of it if she’d said, “I’m going to forget about this win by the time the valet brings my car around.”
But Annika wouldn’t say that. And when you think about it, her second win of 2008 probably was more cherishable than, say, her 11th win in 2002 or her 10th win of 2005. A neck injury limited Sorenstam to 13 starts and no LPGA victories last year, and as she watered plants at home while wearing a cervical collar, a 25-year-old Mexican scoring bean named Lorena Ochoa replaced her at the top of the world ranking.
Ochoa was not in the field at Aventura, which was just fine with the field. Of the six tournaments she has entered this year, Ochoa has won five by an average of 7.4 strokes — including her second straight major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship — and four of those wins came in consecutive weeks, tying an LPGA record. By taking a week off, the two-time player of the year gave shell-shocked stars like Sorenstam and Creamer a chance to take home a trophy that they could, yes, cherish forever.
But first they had to survive three rounds with their equally shell-shocked amateur partners. The inaugural Stanford Pro-Am was played on two expensively renovated courses at the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, north of Miami. Hall of Fame golfer Raymond Floyd was in charge of the makeover, and he thought it would be a good idea to plow up the generous fairways and big greens of the Robert Trent Jones Sr. design and replace them with acres of water hazards, waterfalls and tiny, humpy greens. Floyd, in other words, drew a line through the word resort.
“Silly tough” was how Sorenstam described conditions on Friday and Saturday, when a combination of gusty winds, rock-hard greens and tucked pins had as many as five groups waiting on a single tee. Christina Kim was four-under and a hole away from the first-round lead when she made a triple-bogey 8 on the island-green 18th. Asked about it after her round, Kim said, “Sucked.” Asked to elaborate, Kim said, “Really sucked.”
So when the last putt dropped on Friday, the cut line was at seven over, the LPGA’s highest in 2008. The wind was still whipping on Saturday, but Creamer — who began the week on crutches with a sore hip — shot 67 to finish a stroke behind Sorenstam, who led at seven under. That set up a final-round showdown between the world’s second- and fourth-ranked players and had the geeks in the satellite trucks uploading video of the 2005 ADT Championship, where a then 19-year-old Creamer boldly challenged Sorenstam over the Hall of Famer’s interpretation of the rules pertaining to penalty drops.
Alas, the ladies wouldn’t be baited. “Annika? We’re fine,” burbled Creamer, a five-time winner.
“You know, that’s a very long time ago,” echoed Sorenstam.
Having played tandem defense on the bad-blood issue, the rivals returned on Sunday to duke it out in the final group, accompanied by Japanese rookie Momoko Ueda. Creamer promptly birdied the 2nd and 3rd holes to pass Sorenstam, but the two were tied at eight under when they made the turn. The leaders exchanged early birdies on the back nine, but Annika blinked first, missing a short par putt at 13. The self-styled Pink Panther returned the favor by barely clearing the water on the par-3 17th and then stubbing her chip. They were tied, then, when they went to 18, and they were still tied when they played 18 again, a short while later. Sorenstam, as she had in regulation, saw her birdie putt roll over the edge of the cup without toppling. Creamer, however, jabbed her putt from the back fringe a good six feet long and then, to her consternation, failed to coax her par putt up to the hole. “My hands were shaking so much,” a teary Creamer confessed. “I probably should have gripped it a little harder so I would’ve actually followed through.”
Sorenstam, told of Creamer’s remarks, wouldn’t admit to ever having suffered from shaking hands. “I mean, you get a little extra adrenaline and maybe a few extra butterflies,” she said, then smiled. “That’s what I love. I mean, that’s why I do this.”
Sorenstam’s bluntness is something I’ll always cherish.