- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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Annika Sorenstam has a new job.
Sure, she's still a top-level golfer, but the 10-time major championship winner is also dabbling in course-design work, a role that eluded many of her elite LPGA predecessors.
Sorenstam has already completed a course at the massive Mission Hills development in China and has two others in the works -- Patriot's Point (a redesign in South Carolina) and Euphoria Gold (in South Africa).
Consider those just the tip of the iceberg.
The Golf Club at Red Mountain in Rossland, British Columbia, will be Annika's first North American design from scratch; she and fellow architect Thomas McBroom plan to break ground in 2009.
The Hot Seat caught up with Sorenstam during a recent walk-through at the site.
Q: Other than a few former players, most notably Jan Stephenson and Amy Alcott, women haven't made a major impact as course designers. Why is that?
A: Well, I think that women's golf is still in a young stage. It's an old sport, but for women, it's still very young. It's not until the last 20 years or maybe even 10 years that professional golfers are getting more recognition and more respect. And I think that's really where it starts. If they consider women as good golfers, then you have credible names and credible knowledge leads to credible opportunities. Like you said, Jan and Amy are the first few to really get the opportunity, and now I'm getting one, and it's really a lot of fun. It's an area women have not really touched, so the opportunities are there.
I get this question a lot: People say, 'Are you designing a course for women?' And, you know, I don't think anyone would ask Tom Fazio if he's designing a course for men [laughs]. So I really don't know the difference. There's a little bit of an expectation or assumption, so my goal is obviously to break those assumptions. Hey, I enjoy the game, I want to learn about designing, I want to share the knowledge and experience that I have in designing a course that's good for golfers, whatever skill level, men or women.
Q: Does that serve as motivation for you to be successful in this position?
A: Not really motivation, but I'm a person who's a perfectionist in many areas. If I put my name on something, I want it to be right. I want to do a good job here, just because I have a chance to do it and I wouldn't want to ruin an opportunity where other women might not get a chance to do it, so yeah, I think it's important that I do a good job. That would create other opportunities for other women.
Q: Your buddy Tiger Woods is starting his career as a course designer. Have you compared notes with him?
A: No, I have not. We're both just in the beginning stages, but I'm sure we will down the road.
Q: When you do, what's something that you'll tell him? After all, you have a little bit more experience than him so far.
A: Well, I think we have a philosophy on how a golf course should look and how it should play. I mean, obviously we have a different skill level, but still we're both elite golfers, so we know what greens should be receptive to certain shots and the way a hole should look from a tee and how it should play. That's what I feel is my strength. When I'm designing courses, I come from a player's perspective of what works. That's very important. A lot of times you get designers who just go for the look or the terrain, but they might not know how it plays.
Q: What are some of your favorite courses around the world?
A: I love links courses, so I would say Scotland and Ireland, however I would say the best golf course is probably Pine Valley. I had a chance to play there two years ago and I loved it. But I love old, traditional courses, you know, with a bit more narrow fairways and smaller greens where you have to work the ball a little bit. It's not always about distance, even though it's becoming a power game. I do think if you have power, then you need to be straight. Course management is probably one of my strengths and that's something that I think is very important.
Q: Will you try to infuse some of those characteristics into your own designs?
A: Absolutely, yes.
Q: To clarify for your fans out there, just because you're taking further steps into the course design business, that doesn't mean your playing career is over, right?
A: No, no, no, no, no! Absolutely not. I'm going hard-core in 2008, just so you know.
Q: Do you have a definitive timetable for how much longer you'd like to maintain a full schedule?
A: I do not. I'm starting to say that I'm on the back nine of my playing career, if you know what I mean. But I don't know if I'm on the 11th hole or on 17. I think really the key is, where's my motivation? Do I enjoy the hard schedule that it takes? Can I push my body any harder? I think those are factors that play a big role.
Q: With more demands on your time as a course designer and with other business ventures, are you able to work on your game as much as in the past?
A: No, I am working less, no doubt, but I also think I'm more efficient today than I was 10 years ago. I'm trying to focus more on quality than quantity when it comes to practice and now I have a better understanding of that. I've done this for a while now so I know my limits, I know what I need to do, and I think today I can accomplish a lot more in 20 minutes than I used to.
Q: How disappointing was it to end this season without a win for the first time since 1994?
A: Well, it was just a very different season because of the injury. I mean, I was pretty much gone from competition for 4-5 months. Even though I started playing in June, I wasn't competitive and I knew I wasn't going to be competitive for three months. If I would have been 100 percent and not had a win, I would have been extremely disappointed. But like I said, I was not competitive; I was just kind of participating.
If you think about it, I played in 12 events and I was probably only competing in four. So to not get a win out of four, that's not such a bad thing. I had several top-two, top-three, top-five finishes, so I have to be optimistic. It was just a different year and I have to put things in the right perspective.
Q: On your list of priorities, how important is it for you to regain the top spot in the Rolex Rankings?
A: I'm a competitor, there's no doubt. I love to compete. I love to face challenges. I'm ready to go back and focus on next year. I know I can be the best player out there. I just need a full season and the winter to practice when I'm healthy. That's what I look forward to next year, to compete on my full capacity. I just haven't done that all year and that's really what my goal is, to challenge them all when I'm 100 percent again.
Q: Lorena Ochoa surpassed you as the No. 1 player earlier this year, of course, and then proceeded to break a few of your single-season records. Do you see any of yourself in her?
A: Yeah, I do. She's had a fantastic season. She's a player who really focuses on the game, she knows what it takes and she has the right mind-set. Those are things that I think are very important to get to where she is.
Q: As well as she played this year, is there actually room for improvement in her game?
A: I think we all can improve in different ways. She's still quite young. She has evolved a lot the last few years, but I think in her case it's consistency. She's consistent, but I'm talking down the stretch, just take her Sunday scoring. We can all do it. I haven't looked at her stats specifically, but she's tweaking a little bit every year. My story is that I used to be able to hit 18 greens and one-putt every green. I don't think she does that, so we can all improve.
Q: In general, is the depth of competition on the LPGA better than it was 10 years ago?
A: Yeah, I would say so. The LPGA has boomed. We have so many international players and when you have more players coming into the game, it makes it a lot more competitive and therefore the performance level is higher.
Q: Let's switch gears and talk about some fun stuff a little bit. It seems like every athlete has their own Web site these days, but yours features a blog in which you regularly post comments and answer questions from readers. What's it like to be able to interact with fans on a daily basis?
A: It's fun. Have you been on my blog?
Q: I was just on there. I couldn't believe that you were actually responding to people.
A: Oh yeah. I sit in front of the computer a lot and I thought this is a great way for me to communicate in a different way. I just think it's fun to get a little more personal. People have so many questions and this gives me a chance to get the right information out there. There are so many, I suppose, rumors out there. But here, if they have a question -- What's your favorite club? -- they can ask that right there. It is me writing it, so I can answer right there on the spot and it will be true, rather than speculation about certain things. It's just a great way for me to give back. I think the fans are interested and they want to know more and interact a little bit. The idea is to share some more videos. We're just in the beginning stages. ... There are things I want to share, because all they see is me inside the ropes where I'm wearing sunglasses and they can't get to know me. But I want to be able to share so much more than just playing competitively.
Q: I have to ask you, since there's been so much made of your text messages with Tiger after major championship victories over the years, did you get a text that said "13" after the PGA Championship this year?
A: Oh, absolutely! It didn't take very long.
Q: What goes through your mind when you see that?
A: It's just funny. I mean, I admire the guy a lot. He's fantastic. So I encourage all that, but then again, I'm competitive and he gives me a little boost, a little motivation, so it's kind of fun.
Q: You're getting married in the spring of 2009. How exciting is that for you?
A: Oh, it's very exciting. I think I'm at peace with my life, a lot of pieces are coming together. Family and social life are very important to me. I feel the balance is there. I met an incredible guy [Mike McGee] and I'm very lucky. Golf is important, but in the big scheme of things, it really isn't. So I'm glad that he has come into my life. I always tell him, 'You're my biggest trophy.'
Q: There was speculation that Tiger's game wouldn't be as strong after he married Elin a few years ago, but it can be argued that he's only gotten better. Do you think a player's marital status -- or anything else in their personal life -- can greatly affect on-course performance?
A: Absolutely. I think golf is a game that needs balance. If you're happy off the course, you're going to play better golf. It's just such a mental game.
Q: Last question: Does your impending marriage mean your golf balls will then be imprinted with "Mrs. 59" instead of "Ms. 59"?
A: [Laughs] I don't think so. That's the first time someone asked that question! I'm more concerned with getting it down to 58.
Q: Well, if you shoot a 58, maybe they'll give you "Mrs. 58" golf balls instead.
Q: Annika Sorenstam, you're off the ESPN.com Hot Seat.
A: Thanks for having me.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
Annika Sorenstam isn't just breaking ground on golf courses around the world as an up-and-coming designer, she's breaking ground figuratively, too, becoming one of very few women to break into the field. The Hot Seat caught up with the 10-time major champion to discuss her new role and what it means to her playing career.