This job brings with it a ton of blessings. The great company, the people I get to work with, the experiences with our staff, the amazing products, and on and on and on. It’s a unicorn gig. But if there was one specific thing that far trumped the rest, it’s the privilege of walking with players during practice rounds. It’s simply amazing.
This week at the U.S Women’s Open, I took that experience to a new level. I walked nine holes with 10X Major Champion and arguably the greatest female golfer to ever walk the planet, Annika Sorenstam.
I couldnt have picked a better week or venue to do it either, the U.S Woman’s Open at Pine Needles. The site of U.S Open victory #2 for Annika.
I greeted her and husband/caddy Mike McGee at around 7:30 AM on the range. It’s fun to see the heads turn from every player as she strolls down the practice tee to find an open spot. She makes a point to say hi to everyone during this walk, signing autographs when asked and genuinely engaging with her peers. I Imagine in the past this walk had a different energy to it, more ice than warmth but on Annika they both fit nicely.
Although she was about to play in a National Championship, it appeared to me that she was really trying to take a moment and relish in this experience with her family. The grind days are over; this one feels like she’s doing it for us, the fans. I think that’s simply incredible.
Beyond the obvious, this walk with Annika had an elevated feel. Sorenstam is now 51, and although she is the reigning U.S Senior Woman’s Champion, first and foremost, she’s a Mother, a wife, and a businesswoman. In simple terms, Golf is one part of her life, not the thing that defines it. Her evolution is complete and its beautiful to watch.
Even still, she showed up on the 1st tee Tuesday morning with a look in her eye that I Imagine scared the living daylights out of her competition for 10+ years. It was almost like a switch turned on, and she couldn’t help but get into the zone. The way she stares down the fairway, shades over her eyes, the chatter gets quiet and I suspect she goes somewhere else mentally. That place all the greats go to. I’ve seen it on TV a hundred times, seeing it live gave me chills.
One funny moment that happened right away was her playing partners fighting over who would tee off first. The reason? Because it was Annika, and they were all too nervous, LOL. I can’t blame them. I’d have a hard time not melting down.
Once that got settled, thanks to Annika putting them all at ease, it was her time to tee it up and, in pure Annika style, she striped driver dead nuts down the middle of the fairway. The swing is the same, the strike is the same, and the quick pick up of the tee and stride down the tee is….well…the same. It’s iconic.
At this point in her life, Annika’s game is pretty much a mirror image as it was when she was at her peak; she RARELY hits it offline, the strike is right out of the middle of the face, and the short game is unmatched.
Sure the time she spends perfecting her craft is 1/100th of what it was before but strong foundations never leave and she is still very much the Annika we know.
My biggest takeaway on the state of her game? If Annika were 10 yards longer across the bag, she would still be in the Top 10 in the world. It’s literally her only limitation.
Of the seven drivers she hit, she missed one fairway by about 6 feet, which was off a bad bounce from the fairway. Iron shots same thing, no pulls, no pushes, all right at the fat part of the green or straight at the flag. This golf course stretches her out, making her hit hybrids and mid irons, which are almost impossible to stop on these green complexes. The fire power isn’t there but honestly who cares? If this golf course was 6300 and not 6600 its a different conversation.
Every time she was apples to apples with her playing partners distance wise the advantage swings her way.
These days that is the reality; if she was hitting 8-irons to LW all day, she’s Top-10, no problem. For a player to still maintain those chops considering her life now speaks to just how much talent this woman walks around with everyday.
But Top 10 in the world isn’t her life anymore. It’s fairly obvious when you see her with her family. Watching her interact with her son Will and strolling the fairways with her husband Mike, I could see plain as day that I was in the presence of someone totally at peace. With as much ferocity and dedication as she gave to the game, what’s given to her family is even more. The woman carries herself with so much grace that it’s almost hard not to want to be a better person just hanging out with her. I’m not trying to sound dramatic it’s just how it is.
For someone who has lived at the top of the mountain for a long time, it’s fascinating that her feet and heart are planted firmly on the ground. It’s a contagious energy, and as I watched her younger playing partners dip and dart around the front nine at Pine Needles to catch a personal moment with Annika, I was obviously witnessing exactly what this game is all about. It’s a sport that asks the best of us, and those that are blessed enough to do it at the highest level have the unique honor of setting an example for the young ones coming up. Annika does this better than anyone I have ever seen. Any question asked, any conversation started got her full attention.
Yes, she missed the cut which im sure bugs her as a competitor but I don’t think Annika was here to just play golf this week, I think she was here to grow the game.
To say it was an honor/blessing to walk nine holes with Annika is an understatement. As a father and a person that is always trying to be better, it was like a shot of life adrenaline.
Annika is everything you would expect her to be. An Icon. A legend. A beautiful person.