HOWARD WARD: Bombshell: Sorenstam Walking Away From Game
Say it ain't so, Annika.
Just when it appeared that the LPGA Tour was going to get what it so desperately needs -- a bona fide duel in the sun for dominance between two great players -- Annika Sorenstam has dropped a bombshell.
At the age of 37 and with several more LPGA records within her grasp, the Swedish superstar who won the 1996 U.S. Women's Open at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, is going to walk away from the game after this season.
Sorenstam, the methodical perfectionist who is only five major championships short of the record of 15 held by the legendary Patty Berg, says she's ready to embark on another phase of her life.
"I have other priorities in my life," she said at a press conference from Clifton, N.J., where she was preparing to play in the Sybase Classic this weekend. She went on to list them.
There's her booming golf academy, a foundation that she started, several golf course design projects that she's involved in, clothing lines, corporate relationships and hosting golf tournaments.
Oh, yeah, and then there's Mike McGee.
Annika and Mike, the son of professional golfer Jerry McGee, have been an item for more than a year now. And they want to start a marriage and have children while they're still young enough to enjoy them.
"I enjoy playing golf at the top level," Annika said. "I made this decision far back. I know what it's like to be at the top."
Knowing this is her final year as a full-time competitor, Sorenstam is determined to go out on top. She lost her No. 1 world ranking last year to younger and fresher Lorena Ochoa, and despite two wins this season may not be able to regain that status. But she's going to give it the old college try.
"I'm a huge competitor," she said at the press conference, "and right now I'm second on the money list. People that know me know I don't settle for second. I know what to do and I look forward to it."
Suffering from a back injury in 2007, Sorenstam played in only 13 tournaments and was unable to win one. Ochoa made the most of her opportunity, dominating the Tour and unseating Sorenstam as the game's best player.
Despite Sorenstam's three wins this year, Ochoa holds the money lead with $1,538,616 to her $1,244,281. But Sorenstam posted a 19-under-par score in the Michelob Ultra Open last week to win by five strokes. Ochoa was 12 shots back.
Ochoa is the defending champion this week, and officials are hoping the two superstars duke it out through Sunday. Sorenstam would not have it otherwise.
"I have another seven months left," she said, "and my goal is to win tournaments -- many tournaments. There's still plenty of golf to be played."
Sorenstam still loves the game, but likened her decision to the one made by Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre a few months ago.
"He said he loved the competition," she said, "but he was just tired of the daily grind. I feel the same way.
"I'm not used to the 'r' word, but I'm stepping away from competition. When you achieve so many great things, I'm just very happy with life and you start thinking what else is important in life and what else do I want to achieve on the golf course."
The LPGA Tour is enjoying a huge surge in popularity over the past few years due to the emergence of such stars as Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Natalie Gulbis and Suzann Petterson. But the expected duel between the top two players in the game will now be short-lived.
"I'm very, very proud of what I've achieved," Sorenstam said. "Golf has been great to me. I think I have achieved more than I ever thought I could. I have given it all and it's been fun. I'm leaving the game on my terms. I made the decision totally on my own. This is something that came from the heart.
"I'm very proud of women's golf and the state it's in today. I'm just very, very happy to have been part of it and to have had a chance to follow my dream. I love the game very much."
The game will survive without Annika, but it won't be quite the same. She has won 72 LPGA tournaments, including three of the eight she has played this year. She is third on the career-win list behind Kathy Whitworth (88), and Mickey Wright (82). She has been LPGA Player of the Year eight times, won eight money titles and six Vare Trophies for lowest scoring average.
She epitomizes what the sport is about: Dedication, talent, sportsmanship and a never-say-die attitude.
It's almost certain that she will play in some events over the next few years, but like the great Nancy Lopez before her, she will find it difficult to be competitive in a part-time role.
Golf and its fans will miss her.
Contact Howard Ward at 867-6493 or 690-221 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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