After retirement, Annika Sorenstam driven to help young golfers

After retirement, Annika Sorenstam driven to help young golfers

When the time came for Annika Sorenstam to stop swinging a driver, the greatest golfer of her generation decided to become a driver.

Just the other day, the mother of two shuttled 6-year-old Ava to piano lessons and 4-year-old William to karate.

Sorenstam schedules meetings from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to handle matters with her foundation, golf academy, clothing line or course architecture business, while the children are at school. The 45-year-old then morphs into a chauffeur and a chef before sitting down each night to dinner with her two children and husband, Mike McGee.

Hitting 1,000 golf balls a day, like Sorenstam did for years, might at times sound easy by comparison.

"There's a lot of driving, but it's fun," Sorenstam said. "That's what I love to do."

Dealing with the tangled roads of Orlando can be stressful.

It is nothing compared with lining up a putt to win a U.S. Women's Open — Sorenstam won three — or being the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event during golf's modern era, at the 2003 Colonial.

Sorenstam is third with 72 LPGA Tour wins, including 10 major championships, and is the only female golfer to shoot a 59 in competition. With more seemingly more to accomplish, the eight-time Player of the Year abruptly hung up her spikes in 2008.

Retirement never was an option for tireless Sorenstam. A native of Sweden who resides in Orlando, Sorenstam merely shifted her laser focus.

Family is now top priority. Yet, Sorenstam has not left golf behind.

"It's fun to be in a game I care about, whether it is design, inspiring juniors, clothing," she said.

Earlier this week, Sorenstam said she hopes to become the captain of the European Solheim Cup team in 2017. This weekend, Sorenstam will stage the eighth annual ANNIKA Invitational, 54-hole event at Reunion Resort's Watson Course featuring 72 of the top U.S. and international junior girls.

Sorenstam combines the competition with educational sessions, a golf clinic and a dinner.

"It's a chance to interact with the girls, share my experiences and share my passion for the game," Sorenstam said. "I enjoy being out there with them and inspiring them."

The Invitational is one of many events staged by the ANNIKA Foundation.

In 2007, Sorenstam started the ANNIKA Cup, a match play competition for 12 of the top female amateurs in Sweden. The event expanded to include the ANNIKA Invitational Europe.

The Annika Invitational China is played at Mission Hills, a course designed by Sorenstam. Her firm currently is building courses in Estonia and Vietnam.

Sorenstam's foundation will expand to Latin America in the fall.

"It's a different busy," Sorenstam said of her hectic life.

Sorenstam made some time to chat during the recent PGA Merchandise Show. She had just finished a bunker clinic to highlight Capillary Concrete — a product to improve golf course maintenance Sorenstam invested in last year.

Sorenstam's playing schedule is limited mostly to charity events, but her game remains solid. And even though she is retired, Sorenstam plays to win.

"It's not a 59, probably 70 to 74 is what I shoot on a regular basis," she said before smiling. "I can ask for strokes."

Head of the class

At age 22, Jordan Spieth has a green jacket, the world's No. 1 ranking and the top spot among golf's biggest earners. Turns out Spieth also is the king of the bobbleheads.

AT&T, one of Spieth's sponsors, plans to give out 8,000 of them Saturday at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Expect a lot of early arrivals. Spieth bobbleheads are a hot item.

The craze began at the 2014 John Deere Classic — site of Spieth's first professional win at age 19. The tournament gave away 200 7-inch tall Spieth rendition. Of course, some migrated to eBay, with an asking price of as much as $799.99.

Fab Four on hold

With his second win in three weeks seemingly in hand, Rickie Fowler arrived at the 17th hole of the Phoenix Open with a two-shot lead. During the ensuing 90 minutes, Fowler found the water on the drivable par-4 twice to lose to Hideki Matuysama in a playoff.

Fowler, 27, held back tears and vowed he would win again soon. Until he does, Fowler will remain on the fringe of golf's new Big Three — Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.

Fowler's talent is undeniable. But with just three PGA Tour wins and no majors on his resume, the world No. 4 lags a good distance behind his fellow 20-somethings at the very top of the game.

South Korea's LPGA dominance

Ha Na Jang's win last week in Ocala was her first on the LPGA Tour. For South Korea, it was just another week at the office.

There are barely enough wins to go around, given the country's depth of talent. Eight of the world's top 11 players are from South Korea. This includes world No. 1 Lydia Ko, who was born in there but moved to New Zealand at age 6.

South Koreans won the first two LPGA events in 2016 and produced the defending champion in seven of the next nine events on the schedule.

Few nations have exhibited this level dominance in a single sport. Like Kenyan distance runners, South Korean women golfers are going to be tough to catch.

egthompson@orlandosentinel.com

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