World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam was at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Connecticut in late June to promote the U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship that she will be playing in when the event is held July 29 through August 1.
Sorenstam, whose 72 LPGA Tour titles include 10 major championships, is in the field as a fully exempt player. The Open is for players 50 and older. Sorenstam, who turned 50 on October 9, last competed in a United States Golf Association event at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minnesota, where she holed out her second shot for an eagle on the final hole she played.
“When I finished that round at Interlachen, I’m not sure I would have expected to compete for another USGA title in the future, but to have this opportunity now, at this stage of life, is incredible,” Sorenstam said. “USGA championships set themselves apart with world-class venues and world-class fields, and I know the same type of challenge I used to relish at a U.S. Women’s Open awaits at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. I am looking forward to the opportunity to compete, and to do it with my family by my side.”
Sorenstam made her first LPGA start in 13 years in February at her home course, Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando, Fla., in the Gainbridge Classic. She made her 299 cut in 308 LPGA career starts with her husband, Mike, caddying for her and her two children, Ava and Will, in her gallery. The cuts made include three U.S. Women’s Open titles, including a playoff victory over Pat Hurst at Newport (R.I.) Country Club in 2006, two seconds and seven top-10 finishes in 15 appearances.
She talked about her return to action during her visit to Brooklawn.
I never thought I would come back and play anything. Obviously golf is a big part of my life and always will be, but it was more about giving back to the Annika Foundation, to junior girls, just to say thank you really, because without golf I wouldn’t be where I am today. I don’t know where 13 years have gone, but I look at my kids, they’re growing up, and time flies. I’m having a good time. “
She continued, “It’s almost thanks to COVID that I started to practice a little bit more. What else can you do when you’re not allowed to do much, right? So living in Florida, we were trying to be active. My son would say, let’s go play, and I’d watch him, and I’d say, why not just bring my clubs, I might as well do something, so I started to hit a few shots and I started to hit the sweet spot again, and I was like, it’s a little more fun when the ball goes where you’re thinking or wishing it’s going.
“The last 10 months or so I’ve been playing a little bit, and the last six–actually maybe eight months really focusing, and turning 50 was certainly a big day, and I realized that maybe I should support this tournament.”
Patty Tavatanakit, a leading LPGA Tour player who won Sorenstam’s college event in Minnesota, said it felt like “a Tiger (Woods) feeling a little bit” having Annika back in February, while Gaby Lopez called it “a dream come true” to be in the same field.
“Just being with her gave me this kind of peaceful environment and just reminded me of how blessed and how thankful I am to have this opportunity to be able to compete with her, just because I remember the seven-year-old Gaby chasing her down the golf course to get a signed golf ball,” Lopez said. “Her role in this game, at this time of her career, I guess, is just to keep inspiring girls. I played with her at Diamond Resorts, and I can tell you that she’s still as competitive as probably when she was 20 years ago.
“You can see that her short game, putting is still on. That’s something that she has in her veins and is going to shine forever. She said she’s probably not hitting it as far or straight as she was before, but at the end of the day, I’m going to say it again: she’s my superhero. Her and (fellow Mexican) Lorena (Ochoa) are probably why I’m out here. Being able to share this with them, with her specifically, is just unbelievable.”
Sorenstam’s competition could include former longtime Connecticut resident and PGA of America president Suzy Whaley, who inspired the Swede to accept a sponsors’ exemption to play in the PGA Tour’s Bank of America Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2003. Whaley had earned an exemption to the Buick Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell when she captured the 2002 Connecticut PGA Championship. That made her the first female to win a PGA of America Member Invitational Championship in PGA Section or national championships and first to qualify for a PGA Tour event in 57 years.
In 2014, Whaley became the first female and first member of the Connecticut Section PGA to be elected an officer in the PGA of America (secretary), and it came on the first ballot, a rarity. Her two-year reign as president ended in October, but she and the Section weren’t able to host the organization’s annual meeting in Hartford due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whaley, 55, is going to try to qualify for the 120-player U.S. Women’s Senior Open Championship field and have a reunion with Sorenstam. Whaley is a leading golf teacher at the Country Club of Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Earning a spot in the Buick Championship ended up inspiring Sorenstam to play in the Colonial. Sorenstam said she had thought about competing in a PGA Tour event because she knew so many of the players, including close friend Tiger Woods, but quickly reconsidered.
“I’d think about for about 10 seconds and then go back to watching television,” Sorenstam said during a teleconference call before her Colonial start. “But after Suzy qualified, it changed my mind.”
Sorenstam won a record eight LPGA Player of the Year awards and six Vare Trophies given to the player with the lowest seasonal scoring average. She is the only female golfer to a 59 in competition and holds various all-time scoring records, including the lowest season scoring average, 68.6969 in 2004.
In 2012, Sorenstam received the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s highest honor, which recognizes an individual who demonstrates spirit, personal character and respect for the game. Her time in recent years has been spent raising her two children with her husband, the son of 1979 Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open champion Jerry McGee, and participating in numerous ventures to grow the game through her Annika Foundation.
Sorenstam represented Europe in the Solheim Cup eight times between 1994 and 2007 and was the event’s all-time leading points earner until it was surprised by England’s Laura Davies during the 2011 competition against the United States. She also was captain of the 2017 European Solheim Cup team.
Last December, Sorenstam was appointed president of the International Golf Federation starting January 1 of this year, which was six days before she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump. Because the women’s golf competition in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo was the week after the U.S. Women’s Senior Open Championship, Sorenstam hesitated about playing at Brooklawn. But after being encouraged by Olympic officials, she decided she would go to Connecticut.
Davies, another Hall of Fame member, won the inaugural Senior Women’s Open by a stunning 10 strokes at Chicago Golf Club in 2018. Swede Helen Alfredsson triumphed in the second edition in 2019 at Pine Needles Golf Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina, but last year’s championship scheduled for Brooklawn CC was canceled due to the pandemic.
This will be the fifth USGA event to be played at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, and past champions have been David Nevatt (1974 U.S. Junior Amateur), Jerilyn Britz (1979 U.S. Women’s Open), Gary Player (U.S. Senior Open) and Sukjin-Lee Wuesthoff (U.S. Girls’ Junior).
Tickets are available at https://www.usga.org/content/usga/home-page/championships/2021/u-s–senior-women-s-open/tickets.html