Annika Sorenstam needs little introduction. Considered by many the greatest female golfer of all time, the Swede amassed 89 worldwide victories, including 10 major titles, during a remarkable fifteen-year career.
A stalwart of the European Solheim Cup team for many years, Annika will be taking to the helm this August in a bid to redeem European pride following the team’s infamous collapse in Germany two years ago.
We met up with Annika as she scouted for players at the inaugural Estrella Damm Mediterranean Ladies Open, a tournament hosted by European Vice-Captain Marta Figuirus-Dotti, and which had drawn many of the top European LPGA players back across the pond in a bid to win favour with the team captain.
‘’She is an even better person, than she is golfer,’’ her husband and manager Mike McGee confided.
As the former World No. 1 spoke avidly about how enjoyment for the game far outweighed golfing accolades, and the innovative work she is doing with the Annika Foundation, it was hard not to concur.
Known for being meticulous as a player, Team Europe will be hoping her scrupulous planning transcends into a winning performance at the trans-Atlantic event, which takes place from 14-20 August at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club, in Iowa.
‘’You mark the success of your career by winning majors but because it’s so different and only comes around every two years, the Solheim Cup is certainly very special. Some of the best moments in my career came at the event,’’ she told us.
One player who will be hoping to make her mark on the tournament is rising English star Georgia Hall. The twenty-one-year-old is yet to secure her maiden victory on the Ladies European Tour, but currently sits top of the Solheim Cup points list following a series of top ten finishes last year. The Swede was full of praise for the youngster from Dorset, who was among a select group of players to be invited to a gathering hosted by Annika during the tournament, which also included Georgia’s compatriots Melissa Reid, and the eventual tournament winner Florentyna Parker.
‘’That’s a player we’re certainly excited about, I’ll be keeping a close eye on her progress over the coming months.’’
A player with which Annika is far better acquainted is Georgia’s fellow countrywoman Charley Hull, who bar injury or a serious loss of form is almost certain to make the squad via the world ranking system.
‘’Charley’s maturing all the time and it was great to see her breakthrough at the CME Globe,’’ Annika told us. ‘’It’s hard to believe that this will already be her third appearance at the Solheim Cup. I admire the way she plays, she just goes out there and hits it without worrying. It’s refreshing to see.’’
Solheim Cup success will be extra sweet if Europe can pull off an away victory, after an unforgettable comeback from Team USA in 2015. The American fight-back, which was initiated after what some deemed an unsportsmanlike move by Suzann Pettersen to call a penalty upon American rookie Alison Lee after she picked up her ball before it was given, may have seemed like karma, but for Europe it remained a bitter pill to swallow.
Was this tournament going to be about exacting revenge?
‘’The word revenge is not something we’ve ever used. This is a new tournament and we’re just going to focus on making sure we’re prepared this time around.’’
‘’Of course, there’s going to be rivalry there, whether that’s between me and Juli Inkster, or the two teams. That’s what makes the event so exciting to watch.’’
Europe continues to produce some of the world’s best golfers but while many of this year’s Solheim Cup players will ply their trade on the LPGA, the ability of the Ladies European Tour to produce the next generation of stars is currently under question. Following the Estrella Damm Mediterranean Ladies Open there is an eight-week hiatus before the girls tee it up again. Not ideal for what should be the height of the season. A player who remained committed to supporting the LET throughout her career, Annika expressed her concerns about the Tour’s sparse scheduling.
‘’I really feel for the girls who are trying to make a living from the game. There are doubts about the staging of some events and big gaps between tournaments.’’
‘’It’s really unsettling for the players. Each National Golf Federation has an obligation to step up and host a tournament. That’s important if we are going to continue growing the game.’’
For someone who did so much to expand the profile of the game as a player, Annika’s drive to harness the next generation of stars shows little sign of dwindling. The Swede spoke at length about the pioneering work of the Annika Foundation, which seeks to teach children life values and healthy living through the game rather than focusing on golfing achievement.
It’s a mantra which transcends into her family life. Annika, who was the first woman in the modern era to tee it up in a PGA Tour event, moved many with an open letter she sent to her seven-year-old daughter Ava last year, which urged her to pursue her passions, whether that be on the golf course or off it.
Ava and younger brother Will, 6, have shown little appetite for the game as of yet, although the family enjoy nothing more than a few holes on the local course at their residence in Lake Nona.
'‘Ava loves to scream eagle however many strokes she’s played,’ Annika joked. ‘They haven’t quite grasped scoring yet, they’re just happy when they’re pretending to drive the golf cart.’'
The Swede was keen to stress that there was no pressure on the youngsters to follow in her footsteps, although a recent image posted on social media of young Ava’s follow through, which looked eerily similar to that of her mother’s, suggests that the next generation of budding golfers may have to deal with another Sorenstam among their ranks.
'’Golf is a game for life. If they play seriously that would be great, but there’s no rush in getting them started. We just like to be out together on the golf course having fun.’'
She may be desperate to ensure that she never falls into the trap of pushy parent, but when it comes to her squad of European golfers, it’s a different matter altogether.
At the dinner for potential players held at last week’s tournament, a row of balloons adorned the table, spelling out the sound bite which drove Sorenstam’s unrelenting training regime as a teenager growing up in Sweden, ‘there are no shortcuts to success.’
Team Europe know there’s never been a truer phrase if they are to pull off victory against the Americans in three months’ time.
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