By Kevin Adams
Usually the caddie is the one to offer a pat on the back, an inspirational word, whatever it takes to calm down his or her player when times get tough.
During the final stretch of a long day at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship June 13, the roles were reversed for Annika Sorenstam and Terry McNamara.
With Sorenstam’s one-time lead of seven strokes cut to two, and his player in the midst of a double bogey-bogey-bogey stretch that included several poorly struck wedge shots into the green, McNamara was beginning to fidget, especially when Sorenstam hit another heavy wedge at No. 12, leaving herself a 40-foot putt for birdie.
“Things were starting to fall apart,” Sorenstam said. “Believe it or not, I felt really cool and calm.”
“He didn’t look so cool and calm,” she said. “I told him it was going to be OK. . . . I felt really good.”
Then Sorenstam stepped up and knocked in the long putt to stem the tide and regain control, going on to earn her second consecutive McDonald’s victory, her seventh career major and her 52nd LPGA title.
“It was kind of funny,” said Sorenstam, who after watching the ball fall into the hole, raised both arms, let out a huge sigh and patted her heart. “Terry said, ‘I guess you are calm.’ ”
Sorenstam went on to birdie three of the next five holes – a stretch that included an approach to 3 feet from an adjacent fairway on the par-5 16th, a shot that probably only the world’s No. 1 player would try. A meaningless bogey at 18 left her with a 1-over 72 and a 13-under-par 271 total, three shots ahead of South Korean teen-ager Shi Hyun Ahn and five clear of Grace Park. It was Sorenstam’s fourth victory in eight events this season, and the $240,000 first prize pushed her over the $14
million mark in career earnings.
“Even though it didn’t look all right for a time, I came back and just wanted to win so badly,” said Sorenstam, who matched Mickey Wright as the only player to repeat as a champion in three majors. “I just hung in there and tried and tried. Majors mean so much to me, and I feel so good playing here. I didn’t want to let this go.”
After a frighteningly flawless 7-under 64 earlier in the day gave Sorenstam a six-shot lead through 54 holes, her grip on the title seemed more than secure. It mattered little that the field had to play 36 holes Sunday after yet another bout of wet weather washed out Round 2 – the fourth consecutive year this tournament has been affected by rain.
Indeed, with Sorenstam seemingly in command of her game – even her often-wayward putting – the final 18 holes appeared to be a mere formality, at least as far as first place was concerned.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Sorenstam’s coronation. After a birdie on the
opening hole took her to 15 under, she suddenly lost it. As sharp as she had been in the morning, she was just as sloppy in the afternoon.
After only one bogey in Rounds 2 and 3 combined, Sorenstam three-putted for bogeys on Nos. 2 and 5, then suffered double bogey on No. 9 when she sailed a sand wedge long and took two chips to get out of the rough. Two more bogeys followed on 10 and 11. By that time, that seven-shot lead was evaporating, with Sorenstam being pushed primarily by the 19-year-old Ahn, who turned in a closing bogey-free 66 to continue her strong rookie season.
Then came Sorenstam’s long birdie at 12, and just as quickly, the Swede had rediscovered her touch. She sank a 25-footer for a birdie at No. 14, then all but iced things with her spectacular birdie at 16. After pulling her drive way left into the trees, Sorenstam pitched out into the adjacent 11th fairway. With a 94-yard, mostly blind shot left to the green, she lofted her 54-degree wedge over the trees and a bunker exactly 95 yards, leaving an easy 3-footer for birdie.
“How difficult? Extremely,” Sorenstam laughed afterward, calling it one of her career best shots.
“It took some guts to hit it over there. I wanted to win this, and I said, ‘Let’s just play it this way.’ That shot I’m going to remember for a long time.”
Playing in only her second LPGA major (she missed the cut at the Kraft Nabisco Championship), Ahn showed no fear at DuPont.
It was her first time playing 36 holes in one day, and Ahn said she was concerned about how she would fare.
“I was worried it was going to be hard and boring and tiring,” Ahn said.
She needn’t have fretted. She got stronger as the day went on, twice drawing within two of Sorenstam, the last time with a birdie at the par-5 16th that she punctuated with a huge grin and high five with her caddie.
Ahn, who won last year’s CJ Nine Bridges Classic in her home country as a nonmember of the tour, now has four top 5s in 10 events this year and ranks ninth on the LPGA money list.
As Ahn drew closer to the lead Sunday, she said she kept telling herself, “I’m going to catch up with Annika.”
These days, however, it seems nobody can.