Drug test overshadows Annika's last LPGA round
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Certainly, this was not the way the day lived in Annika Sorenstam's imagination. The last LPGA event of her remarkable career was not supposed to end with a missed cut, and it was certainly not supposed to end with a trip to the drug-testing trailer. To say this was a bizarre goodbye to one of the best ever to play the women's game would be an understatement of significant magnitude.
Fighting a reluctant putter -- as she has all year -- Sorenstam fashioned a 75 at Trump International on Friday during the second round of the ADT Championship. That was not good enough to be one of the 16 qualifiers to make it to the weekend and have a chance at the $1 million first prize. In Sorenstam's entire LPGA career, which began in 1994, it was only her 10th missed cut. It was, however, the second time in a month she had been randomly selected for drug testing.
"I would have been fine if they had done it yesterday, not tell me when I was walking off the 18th green of my last tournament and trying to enjoy the moment with my family," an angry Sorenstam said about the drug testing as she prepared to drive home to Orlando. She had been tested at the Kapalua LPGA Classic Oct. 16-19.
The LPGA said it was merely a matter of numbers. "The numbers come up, and you test the players whose numbers come up," said LPGA general counsel Jill Pilgrim, who oversees the drug-testing program. "I think if I were a player, the notion that someone would be exempt for some special reason -- everyone in the field was subject to drug testing."
Still, it's hard to imagine any LPGA player would have complained if Sorenstam had been allowed to slide in her last event. What were they going to do if she failed? Suspend her retirement?
The full Team Sorenstam was on hand to witness Annika's last round, including her parents, Tom and Gunilla; sister Charlotta; fiancé Mike McGee; coach Henri Reis; trainer Kai Fusser; and, of course, caddie Terry McNamara.
What they witnessed was an emotional end of a lengthy march toward retirement that began in May when she announced she would step away from competition at the end of this season. While there was a sense of sadness to the day, there was also an air of relief that the long transition from competitive golf to the even more competitive world of business was nearly over.
"She'll get an extra two days at home with her cats before going overseas," McGee said. "She's in a good place." They leave Sunday night for Singapore and the Lexus Cup followed by the last tournament, an LET event in Dubai in December. "IMG already has the turkey dinner planned," McGee said about spending Thanksgiving in Singapore.
Hope for a patented Sorenstam birdie barrage that would get her to the weekend faded when she missed short birdie putts on No. 14 and 15. As he stood near the 17th tee, a resigned McGee reached into his pocket, took out his cell phone and said: "My phone has been buzzing off the hook. I'm going to ignore it all and enjoy the last couple of holes."
When Sorenstam rolled in her par putt on the final hole, she plucked the ball from the cup, kissed it, raised both arms in the air then tossed the ball to the gallery. Tears and champagne -- courtesy of Charlotta -- mixed behind the 18th green, McNamara hunched over Annika's bag, heaved in sobs. "I saw nine years of amazing golf," he said.
Tom Sorenstam, Gunilla at his side, spoke with the pride of a parent: "We had 15 wonderful years of Annika and Charlotta, and now it is over. I think what surprised me the most with Annika was that it was one step more all the time," indicating with his hands that she was constantly raising the bar in her own standard for success.
The final numbers: 72 LPGA victories and 17 more on other tours. The total of 89 is one more than the record 88 PGA events won by Kathy Whitworth. Among those victories, Sorenstam won 10 major championships and, in a breathtaking five-year run, won 43 of 104 LPGA events from 2001 through 2005.
As Sorenstam watched reporters file into the interview room for her last session with the media at an LPGA event -- for now, at least -- her eyes took in the scene as if photographing it in her mind. This used to be the part of the job she hated most, and in her interview she spoke of the irony that she was giving a commencement address at the University of Arizona in December, remarking what a big step that was for a once-shy Swede.
"There is a part of me that wants to stay here and enjoy it a little bit more," she said. "I wish I could say goodbye to the people that made plans to come tomorrow. But I hope to see them again another time."
Then it was over -- all except for the drug test. It was hard to tell which annoyed Sorenstam more, the test or missing the weekend by two strokes. But truthfully, not winning will always be what annoys Annika most. She played to win, and she was way more successful than just about anyone else.Ron Sirak is the executive editor of GolfWorld magazine and author of the best-selling book "Every Shot Must Have a Purpose: How GOLF54 Can Make you a Better Player" and recently released "The Game Before the Game: The Perfect 30-Minute Practice."
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