Annika Sorenstam followed the legacies of LPGA legends Mickey Wright and Nancy Lopez in being proclaimed by some as the greatest female player in the history of golf. Now Sorenstam is following Wright and Lopez in another way - early retirement.
Sorenstam, 37, announced yesterday that her Hall of Fame career will end after this season. The stunning news came two days after Sorenstam got her 72nd tour victory, winning by seven strokes.
Saying that she was going to be "stepping away" from competitive golf, Sorenstam has decided to pursue her outside interests while making her private life a priority. She will be getting remarried in January and said she wants to start a family.
"I have a lot of dreams that I want to follow," Sorenstam said at a news conference in Clifton, N.J., where she will be playing in this week's Sybase Classic. "I am very, very proud of what I've achieved. Golf has been great to me."
Sorenstam is third all time in LPGA victories behind Kathy Whitworth (88) and Wright (82). Sorenstam finished No. 1 on the tour money list eight times starting in 1995, including five straight years from 2001 through 2005.
In becoming the most dominant female player in the modern era, Sorenstam was the first LPGA player to shoot a 59 in competition and was the first woman in nearly 60 years to play in a PGA Tour event when she missed the cut at Colonial in 2003.
"That was a life-changing moment, so I guess we have another one," Sorenstam said yesterday.
Her first significant injury and her worst year competitively led to her decision to retire. A year ago, Sorenstam played in only 13 events because of back and neck injuries, failed to win a LPGA tournament for the first time since 1994 and finished 25th on the money list.
Sorenstam, who has three victories this season and is second on the money list to Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, said last week that being sidelined in 2007 forced her to find other pursuits.
"I think that things happen for a reason," Sorenstam said in Williamsburg, Va., where she dominated a Michelob Ultra Open field that included Ochoa, the No. 1 female player in the world. "The injury gave me motivation back, but I also spent time on all these other things. It's fun to see that part of golf and not always grind and grind."
Along with her impending marriage to Mike McGee, the son of a former PGA Tour pro, Sorenstam has started developing business interests that include a golf academy in Florida, golf course design projects and her own foundation. She is also in the process of starting her own clothing and equipment line.
The timing of the announcement is interesting, coming on the heels on one of her most impressive victories. Not only did she win on a course where she had struggled before, breaking the tournament record in the process, but she also did it after playing the first three rounds with Ochoa.
"I enjoy playing golf at the top level, and you know, the win the other day was just a bonus, really," Sorenstam said yesterday. "I had made this decision awhile back. Again, I almost felt at peace winning on Sunday knowing what was going to happen here today."
Said Hall of Famer Judy Rankin, a golf television analyst: "This would be very much like Annika to get on top and then quit."
Others have done the same. Wright stopped playing a full schedule at 34, and earned the last of her 82 career victories at 37. Lopez gradually began cutting down her schedule in her mid-30s to concentrate on raising her three daughters with former Oriole Ray Knight.
Sorenstam plans to play a regular schedule through the end of the year, finishing in Dubai, where she won last year. Among her appearances will be the LPGA Championship next month at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace, where she won when the tournament moved there from Wilmington, Del., in 2005.
"I'm going to miss the tournaments, the people," she said. "But it's a decision I've made, and you know, I hope to enjoy it but absorb a little more than I have in the past where I'm just so competitive and so focused inside the ropes. I will leave with some great memories from every place, and that will carry me on to the next phase in my life."