She is one of golf’s greats and a living legend.
A pioneer who took the reigns from the likes of Patty Sheenhan, Nancy Lopez and others, Annika Sorenstam put women’s golf and the LPGA into the American forefront.
Over the course of her career, Sorenstam collected trophies at a staggering rate and became the first women’s golfer to eclipse the $20 million mark in career earnings.
On Wednesday, Sorenstam along with John Elway, Notah Begay III and Cpl. Chad Pfeifer engaged in a conference call with the media.
Now, she returns to competitive action as the frontrunner for next week’s American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course from Tuesday through July 20. Sorenstam is an even favorite.
Defending champ Billy Joe Tolliver is listed at 9-2 to win followed by eight-time champ Rick Rhoden at 5-1.
The event is televised on July 18 on NBC Sports Network from 1-4 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday on NBC at noon. The course will be expected to play at about 6,700 yards, although the official yardage will not be confirmed until next week.
“It’s a fun format, but in no means a sign for my return to competitive golf,” Sorenstam said. “It’s a fun event for the players playing and the spectators.”
Playing in her own backyard doesn’t hurt either, as Sorenstam and her family have a second home in the Lake Tahoe area.
“The course is in really good shape,” she said. “Tee to green it’s in really good shape. Everything is setting up like a big championship. It’s nice to get in this mode again.”
The pairings, meanwhile, have yet to be announced and Sorenstam laughed at the rumor she would be paired with Charles Barkley and Larry the Cable Guy as her handicap.
Despite the humor, Sorentsam said the course sets up to post good scores.
“These guys can hit it a long ways,” she said. “There are some really fun holes, drivable par-4s and par-5s you can reach in two. There are a lot of birdies to make and some eagles.”
Elway, meanwhile, was asked about the similarities between professional and celebrity players at the ACC.
“Any time you talk about celebrity golfers to pro golfers, there is no comparison,” Elway said. “You look at Annika and the career she had, there was no comparison for how we played and how she played. They know how to play the game, which is the big difference between us amateurs.”
Sorenstam, who owns 89 international tournament victories and 10 LPGA major championships, is back competing with the men. In 2003, Sorenstam ventured onto the men’s PGA Tour and went toe-to-toe with the best players in the world at the Bank of America Colonial golf tournament.
She missed the cut after shooting a two-day total of 145 and was the first woman to play a PGA Tour event since Babe Zaharias in 1945.
Despite her historic run, Sorenstam’s life now consists of running her own golf academy and foundation. Nevertheless, she’s excited to be back on the course in a competitive environment.
Begay, though, said despite her retirement, Sorenstam will be a tough challenge.
“Annika has been great,” Begay said. “She’s going to be hard to beat. I followed John (Elway) and some of the others last year and they will be able to put up a fight. More importantly, you got to avoid the double bogey. That’s where I think Annika will have a big advantage.”
Originally from Stockholm, Sweden, Sorenstam attended the University of Arizona. She was the first foreign and freshman player to win an individual NCAA title in 1990, and turned pro in 1994 earning Rookie of the Year honors.
In 1996, she won the U.S. Women’s Open and in 1997 added six more wins. In 1998, Sorenstam became the first women’s player to finish a season with a sub-70 scoring average (69.99).
2001, however, was a banner season for the Swede. She won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and shot a 59 in the second round of the Standard Register Ping tournament.
She also recorded six wins on the European Tour for a total of 13 victories in 25 starts for the year.
Sorenstam completed the career grand slam in 2003 with major wins at the LPGA Championship and the Weetabix Women’s Open. In 2005, she won the LPGA Championship for the third time in a row, a first in women’s golf.
In 2006, she won her 10th and final major and ended her career with 72 LPGA wins, 89 total and earned more than $22 million for her career. Sorenstam was also named the Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year three times and was the LPGA’s Player of the Year a record eight times.