Sorenstam wins award by wide margin

12/29/2003 - Annika Sorenstam

Annika Sorenstam started the year just like any other, focusing
on the major championships.

That turned out to be only one part of a grandiose year.

"If someone had told me I would win two, I would have been very
happy," Sorenstam said. "Little did I know about everything else."

Two majors, the LPGA Championship and the Women's British Open,
gave her the career Grand Slam.

Two rounds at the Colonial, where Sorenstam became the first
woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour, made her one of the most
famous athletes in the world.

Along the way, she led Europe to victory at the Solheim Cup
played for the first time in her native Sweden, and was the 100th
person inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Sorenstam capped her year Monday when she was voted Associated
Press Female Athlete of the Year by more than double the margin
over Connecticut basketball star Diana Taurasi.

"She probably was deserving in other years, like in 2002 when
she won 13 times," LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw said. "The amazing
thing about Annika is she found ways to improve herself, maybe not
in number of wins or amount of money, but in things that mattered
to her -- stretching herself to the PGA Tour level of competition."

Sorenstam received 47 first-place votes and 249 points in voting
by AP member newspapers and broadcast outlets. Taurasi, the player
of the year who led UConn to the national title, got six
first-place votes and 102 points.

Justin Henin-Hardenne, who won the French Open and U.S. Open and
finished the year at No. 1, finished third with 44 points. She was
followed by soccer star Mia Hamm (31 points) and Julie Krone (11
points), the first female jockey to win a Breeders' Cup race.

Sorenstam became the first golfer to win the award since Se Ri
Pak, who won two majors as a rookie in 1998.

"It's quite an honor and very exciting," Sorenstam said.

Sorenstam set the stage for a remarkable year before she played
in her first official event. She met with reporters in Orlando,
Fla., when one of them asked if she would ever try to qualify for a
PGA Tour event.

"I haven't thought about qualifying, but if I got an invite, I
would say yes in a heartbeat," she said in January.

The invitations poured in, and Sorenstam settled on the
Colonial. She became the first woman since Babe Zaharias in the
1945 Los Angeles Open to tee it up against the men.

The pressure was enormous. There were more than 1,500 print
articles in the three months leading up to the Colonial, and
Sorenstam appeared on everything from the "Today" show to the
"Tonight Show."

Tiger Woods was worried she could bring down the LPGA Tour if
she played poorly. Vijay Singh was among the harshest critics,
saying, "I hope she misses the cut," because she didn't belong on
the PGA Tour.

The 33-year-old Swede had no idea what awaited her until the
Monday she arrived at the airport and wanted to go straight to
Colonial Country Club to practice.

"My caddie, Terry (McNamara), called and said, 'You can't come
here. There's 200 reporters at the front,"' she said. "I laid
down in the back of a minivan and drove to the back of the range so
nobody could see me. Those are things you think of at Hollywood."

No other golfer ever faced more scrutiny over a single shot.

The 10th fairway was packed with fans on both sides, and people
crowded onto the balcony of the clubhouse. The cheer was deafening
when her name was announced, and even louder when her 4-wood landed
in the fairway.

"How I got the club back, I have no idea," Sorenstam.

She transformed the pressure into energy, smiling and waving to
the crowd at every turn. Sorenstam putted for birdie on every hole
and finished with a 71. The next day, she shot 74 and missed the
cut by five shots.

"I wish I could have made the cut," Sorenstam said. "But I
got out of it what I wanted."

She wanted to test herself in the most severe conditions, with
hopes of becoming a stronger player in the LPGA major

Two weeks later, Sorenstam won the LPGA Championship in a
playoff over Grace Park, then completed the Grand Slam at Royal
Lytham & St. Annes in July with a perfect tee shot on the final
hole. She finished second and fourth in the other two majors.

Sorenstam finished the year with six victories and more than $2

She said she would never play another PGA Tour event, although she
competed twice more against the men in Skins games, and showed that
Colonial was no fluke.

Sorenstam shot 63 and finished second behind Retief Goosen at
the Tiger Skins in Singapore, than won $225,000 and finished second
behind Fred Couples -- and ahead of Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara
-- in the Skins Game in California over Thanksgiving weekend.

What next?

"Every athlete should strive to do better than they ever did
before," Votaw said. "A lot of people were asking in '02 how she
could top this year, and she did it. Next year, she wants to win
all four majors. If she does that, will there be anyone who really
doubted her?"