Sorenstam wins award by wide margin

Updated: December 29, 2003, 1:30 PM ET
Associated Press

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

Annika Sorenstam
Sorenstam

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 championships.

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 million.

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?"


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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