Sorenstam isn't using 'R' word; already thinking of return

Updated: October 23, 2008, 11:20 PM ET
Associated Press

HAIKOU, China -- Annika Sorenstam announced in June that she is "stepping away" from golf at the end of this season, a phrase the 10-time major winner has repeatedly used rather than say she's retiring.

Now, with a half-dozen events left before she plays the Dec. 11-14 Dubai Ladies Masters -- a Ladies European Tour event -- Sorenstam is hedging a bit more.

"We'll see if I will come back in a few years to play," Sorenstam said Thursday, on the eve of the 54-hole Grand China Air tournament, the first LPGA event in China.

"As of now, I'm leaving the door open. ... That's why I'm not using the 'R' word."

The 38-year-old Swede is getting married in January, and she expects family and business interests to keep her occupied. She designs golf courses, has a clothing line, a charitable foundation and runs a golf academy.

Sorenstam said she won't miss the "daily grind" of professional golf -- the practice, gym sessions and pressure to perform.

"I have done that for so long and I have enjoyed it very much," she said. "I've pushed myself. I've enjoyed the journey, but I've come to a point now where I'm very happy, I'm very satisfied with what I have achieved."

Still, Sorenstam clearly has reservations and is choosing her words carefully.

"If I get the urge to come back, I have a chance," Sorenstam said. "That's why I have never said this is the end. But we'll see.

"There are new challenges ahead," she added. "Getting married and starting a family. Who knows? I might come out on tour sooner than later. It might be tougher than I think it is."

Sorenstam has won three times this season and heads a 63-player field in China -- two-thirds of whom are Asians. And that's not because the field is stacked because of the location.

Fifty-one players come off the top of the LPGA's money list. Eight more are Chinese, invited by the Chinese Golf Association. And four others are sponsors' invitations, three of whom are Chinese. The other sponsors' invitation is England's Laura Davies.

Yani Tseng of Taiwan will be among the crowd favorites at the West Coast Golf Club, located on the mainland Chinese island of Hainan -- situated between the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin.

In June at the LPGA Championship, Tseng became the first rookie to win a major since South Korean Se Ri Pak in 1998. At 19, she was also the second-youngest woman to win a major. Morgan Pressel -- who is also in the China Air field -- was 18 when she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year.

Another favorite will be 19-year-old Shanshan Feng, an LPGA rookie this season. She is also the only Chinese player on the LPGA tour.

"Chinese golf is getting bigger and bigger. It is getting more and more popular," Feng said. "China can become another Korea for golf. I believe so. Maybe not now but in the future."

In the LPGA's rookie of the year standings, five of the top six are Asians. Tseng is No. 1, followed by South Koreans Na-yeon Choi and Hee-young Park. Japanese Momoko Ueda is No. 4 and Feng is No. 6.

Sorenstam credited Pak with popularizing women's golf in South Korea, just as Sorenstam benefited from breakthroughs by fellow Swedes Liselotte Neumann and Helen Alfredsson.

"If I would guess what will happen in the next five to 10 years, we're going to continue to see growth from this part of the world," Sorenstam said. "I'm sure we're going to see a lot more Chinese players joining the LPGA."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press