Havre de Grace, Md.
When an athlete dominates, it often is as easy to discredit those being dominated as to praise the dominator.
When Annika Sorenstam won the Kraft Nabisco Championship by eight shots in March, there were whispers about the LPGA’s lack of depth and the negative effect this had on the tour. When Sorenstam captured the McDonald’s LPGA Championship last week by an easier-than-it-sounds three-shot margin, the golf world again wondered whether any LPGA player is capable of challenging the reigning queen.
Perhaps those notions should be forgotten, and Sorenstam should be appreciated for what she is: one of the greatest players in the history of golf. Extraordinary players achieve extraordinary things.
“At the moment, she’s just too good,” said Englishwoman Laura Davies. “It doesn’t mean we’re not good, it just means she’s exceptional.
It’s almost like she’s toying with us, like a mouse and a cat.”
The cat-and-mouse game ended June 12 at Bulle Rock Golf Course with Sorenstam holding the McDonald’s LPGA Championship trophy for the third consecutive year. She shot 68-67-69-73 for an 11-under-par 277 and continues her quest to capture all four major championships in a season. The victory was the 62nd in Sorenstam’s career and her ninth major. Sorenstam has won 19 of her past 38 LPGA events since her historic appearance at the PGA Tour’s Colonial in 2003.
“I do have to pinch myself sometimes when I look at my results,” Sorenstam said. “I feel like I’m just a little girl from Sweden that came over here to follow my dreams and hoped to win a few golf tournaments. When I look at my bio I get overwhelmed.”
Imagine how the rest of the field must have felt knowing Sorenstam already had won five times and was looking for the second leg of the Grand Slam. She eased into the week with an opening 68 and took control of the championship after a second-round 67. Sorenstam led by five after Round 3 and built an eight-shot advantage through 63 holes.
She coasted to victory despite closing with consecutive bogeys.
It would make Sorenstam’s run more impressive if she had a consistent rival, although you’ll have a difficult time getting her to admit it. She’s perfectly content with the way things have panned out over the past five years. However, Se Ri Pak is no longer contending, Karrie Webb isn’t quite comfortable with her swing changes and Grace Park has a chronic back injury that caused her to withdraw during the second round. Lorena Ochoa and Cristie Kerr are likely candidates, but neither has been able to stare down Sorenstam.
At the McDonald’s, two teenagers provided the stiffest competition for Sorenstam, although neither had a legitimate chance at victory. Michelle Wie, 15, the first amateur to play in the McDonald’s in the tournament’s 51-year history, was the only player to shoot four sub-par rounds (69-71-71-69) and finished second at 280. Rookie Paula Creamer, 18, received a Saturday evening phone call from U.S. Solheim Cup captain Nancy Lopez, then shot a final-round 67 to vault into a third-place tie with Davies at 282.
“I definitely felt like I had a chance,” said Wie, who has five top-10 finishes in LPGA events.
“I knew it was kind of far to reach but I was thinking about first place. I just feel like I can cope with the last day pressure a lot better now.”
Sorenstam felt little pressure Sunday as she turned her final 18 holes into a victory lap. When her name was announced on the first tee, the applause sounded like cheers of coronation. Still, Sorenstam remained focused for the first 14 holes until she hit a few wayward shots on the final four. By that time, the tournament had been decided.
When the final putt dropped, Sorenstam celebrated with her younger sister, Charlotta, and caddie Terry McNamara. Moments later she was asked about the next leg of the Grand Slam, the U.S. Women’s Open next week at Cherry Hills outside Denver.
“My goal was to win here and I’ve done that,” Sorenstam said. “I worked hard for this and I want to enjoy it. I know it’s going to be a lot of pressure. That’s the goal I set, and if I want to achieve my goal, that’s what I will have to accept. Right now I want to absorb this.”
There is at least one person who wouldn’t be surprised if Sorenstam has all four major championship trophies in her possession by the end of the summer. Cherry Hills sets up well for Sorenstam’s game, as does Royal Birkdale, site of the Weetabix Women’s British Open in late July.
“I’m not amazed anymore because I’m with her so much,” McNamara said. “I see how hard she works and I see the passion she has. This is not normal. What this woman does is simply not normal.
“God made Annika to play golf.”