Sorenstam Inspires At Players' Dinner
By David Shefter, USGA
Far Hills, N.J. – As Annika Sorenstam made her way to the podium Sunday evening, she turned toward Donald Trump and offered a quick quip.
“I think they skipped you Mr. Trump,” said Sorenstam, just outside the front doors of the USGA Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History. “I don’t know why. It’s kind of ironic this is the first time I’m in front of you.”
The 500 or so people in attendance, which included many of the 312 contestants at the 2009 U.S. Junior Championships at Trump National Golf Club, Rules officials, invited guests and parents, all chuckled at the remark.
Then the 38-year-old Sorenstam, a three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion with 72 career LPGA Tour victories, got much more serious. The featured speaker for this year’s players’ dinner spent the next 10 minutes extolling the virtues of her career and explaining it wasn’t just talent that landed her a spot among the game’s greatest golfers.
Sorenstam, who retired from competitive golf last fall and has since become a USGA Ambassador among her many endeavors, highlighted three important core values for the game’s future stars.
Preparation, handling nerves and setting goals were the three intangibles she eloquently pontificated to the attentive group of juniors. She spoke of how she first came to the game through her parents and how she thought it was too slow, an activity that was for “old people” to play in their spare time.
But slowly she began to love the game and turned it into a passion that later became a Hall-of-Fame career that included 10 major-championship victories and the career Grand Slam.
“When I was 16 years old, I really got hit by the golf bug,” said Sorenstam. “Once I did get hooked, I couldn’t stop playing.”
Even in her native Sweden, where the golf season is only six months long, Sorenstam would spend winters honing and perfecting her swing indoors. Her game progressed enough to land a scholarship to the University of Arizona, where she won the 1991 NCAA Division I individual title, the first non-American to claim that championship. While she did lose the 1992 U.S. Women’s Amateur final to Vicki Goetze, Sorenstam turned pro later that year. Three years later at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, she won her first U.S. Women’s Open.
Much of that success had to do with preparation, overcome nerves and establishing long-term goals.
She recalled a time at a major championship where she was so nervous going into Sunday’s final round that she wrote the words “Face The Fear” on her visor.
“I didn’t know if I could take the club back,” she said. “But every time I looked up, I could see “Face The Fear” and that reminded me that it was OK. Go out there and embrace the situation. Because if you are going to win, you have to beat it. And that helped me.”
Sorenstam also was meticulous when it came to preparation. Practice rounds weren’t a time to catch up on gossip with friends. She carefully charted every aspect of a course, from looking at possible hole locations to knowing where she could be aggressive and where she might have to play more conservatively.
Then she would go back and visualize the golf course, envisioning shooting a 54 or making birdie on every hole. While Sorenstam never achieved that number, she is the only player in LPGA Tour history to card a 59, doing so at Moon Valley C.C. in Phoenix.
“My caddie (Terry McNamara) always told me you’ve got to shoot for the stars because you never know what you can get,” said Sorenstam.
Throughout her career, whether it was in the early development stages or on the professional tour, Sorenstam always set goals. Early on, it might have been to break 100 or 90, but those were short-term. As she progressed in the junior ranks, Sorenstam placed more stringent heights to reach.
“I want to play on a college team. I want to turn professional one day. How about winning the U.S. Women’s Open,” she said. “These might seem like really tough goals to you, but for me it was very important to have tough goals because I wanted something to push me, something that I can work toward.
“I compare it to a ladder. If you can visualize the ladder, take one step at a time and slowly climb to the top. If you want to succeed and reach greatness, it takes time. My dad always told me there are no shortcuts to success. He’s so right and I think you all know.”
As the soon-to-be first-time mom – Sorenstam is seven months pregnant – prepared to exit the stage, she left the competitors with one final thought. She told them to pick out three things that they did well this week and either mark it down or keep a mental note in their head. It could be any aspect of their game.
“I want you to put that in your memory bank because the next time you are in a situation, you are going to need that,” she said. “You are going to need that positive memory. The way I look at it, it could be your 15th club.”
David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.