It is a game that most retire to, not from. Perhaps that is the surprise in Annika Sorenstam's announcement Tuesday. She set a firm finish line, a time and date at which she will walk outside the ropes, never to return.
For the greatest of golfers -- of which Sorenstam always will be mentioned -- this has never been easy to do.
Arnold Palmer played in 50 straight Masters. Jack Nicklaus, who said he would never be a "ceremonial golfer," played in all four major championships at age 60 and gave a hearty goodbye at St. Andrews at age 65. Just two weeks ago, Juli Inkster, 47 and the mother of two teenage daughters, nearly became the oldest to win on the LPGA Tour, but she lost in a playoff.
Sorenstam apparently wants no part of a farewell tour, although that likely is what the rest of 2008 will become as she tries to add to her 72 LPGA Tour victories and 10 major championships.
"I care too much about this game and care too much about playing well," Sorenstam said at a news conference at the Sybase Classic in Clifton, N.J. "If I can't give 100 percent, I don't want to give any. I know what it's like to play at the top and I don't want to do anything else."
That means Sorenstam will not pursue Kathy Whitworth's all-time record of 88 LPGA victories.
Nor will she be able to catch Patty Berg's record 15 major championships.
"I am surprised," Whitworth, 68, said from her home in Flower Mound, Texas. "Usually we just fade off into the sunset. It seems all of a sudden to announce your retirement. You can play golf forever. She obviously has higher priorities, and I respect that. But it couldn't have been an easy decision for her."
Imagine Tiger Woods calling it quits five short of the Golden Bear's major record?
Actually, that is where Woods stands right now, with 13 Grand Slam titles to Nicklaus' 18.
But Woods is 32 and does not face the biological clock that undoubtedly is a big part of Sorenstam's decision. She has plans to marry her fiance, Mike McGee, in January and has many other endeavors.
"The reason for this decision is I have other priorities in my life," she said. "I have a lot of dreams I want to follow and want to live. I'm getting married in January. Mike and I want to start a family. I want to continue to build the Annika brand of businesses. This includes my academy, my foundation, my golf course design projects, hosting golf tournaments, etc."
Mickey Wright understands. One of the LPGA's all-time greats, Wright, 73, helped carry the tour in the 1960s.
"There comes a time when enough is enough," the Hall of Famer, who won 82 times, including 13 majors, told the Palm Beach Post. "I can understand why Annika is ready to move on. For me, the pressure to continue to win just finally wore me down. You finish second or third in a tournament, and the press wants to know what's wrong with you.
"This is probably the perfect time to say goodbye, because you sure don't want to go out on a downer. She's got a new man in her life. If she wants to start a family, she better get going."
As she approached 70 victories on the LPGA Tour, Sorenstam was often asked whether Whitworth's total of 88 was within reach. While she often said it was a lofty goal, she nonetheless seemed up to the challenge.
"If she wanted to do it, it would be just a matter of time," Whitworth said.
But last year's neck and disk injury that kept her off the tour for two months and resulted in no LPGA victories for the first time since 1994 was a serious setback in the pursuit of records. And while she has won three times already this year, she still is 16 wins short of Whitworth, 10 shy of Wright.
"To beat 88 wins [would] obviously be a great achievement," Sorenstam said. "I've achieved so much more than I ever thought I could. To beat her record does not motivate me. I'm very happy with my life. I'm very content with what I've achieved. It just feels right. I'm at peace with what I'm doing. I still have energy to finish the year on a strong note. I'm very content with it."
What about the majors record? If Sorenstam were to win the LPGA Championship, U.S. Women's Open and Women's British Open, she would increase her total to 13, matching Wright for second on the all-time list behind Berg. (Louise Suggs won 11 majors.)
Major championship totals, however, have not been as big of a deal in the women's game. Nicklaus' 18 majors were won in the four championships that are still revered today -- the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.
The LPGA has had a slew of different majors over the years. Among Berg's 15 majors were seven Western Opens and seven Titleholders Championships -- tournaments that no longer exist. Wright won three Westerns and two Titleholders. Sorenstam has won four majors -- one Women's British and three Kraft Nabiscos -- that were not around for many of her predecessors.
But Sorenstam does not need the major record, nor the victory mark, to validate her place among the game's greats. It is no stretch to say she will retire as the greatest woman golfer of all time. It can easily be argued that she played in an era of keener competition. And her eight LPGA player of the year honors are further proof of her dominance.
So her name won't be on the top of the victory lists, but she will be viewed as the one on top nonetheless.
"I am leaving the game on my terms," she said.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.