ANNIKA Foundation gives back to golf on global scale, and it's far from finished

Taylor Britton/ANNIKA Foundation

ANNIKA Foundation gives back to golf on global scale, and it's far from finished

Golf

ANNIKA Foundation gives back to golf on global scale, and it's far from finished

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LAKE ELMO, Minn. – It’s been 11 years since Annika Sorenstam stepped away from competitive golf.

With how much she’s still involved with the game, you’d assume one of the best to ever swing a club would miss playing professionally. Believe it or not, Sorenstam doesn’t miss it. Not one bit.

But you can bet Sorenstam’s just as competitive as she was when she won 72 times on the LPGA, including 10 majors.

“Just because you decide not to play doesn’t mean you’re not a competitor anymore,” Sorenstam said earlier this week at the sixth playing of her foundation’s ANNIKA Intercollegiate presented by 3M. “I still want to be successful in what we do.”

Calling the ANNIKA Foundation “successful” is both accurate and an understatement in the context of what it provides to the women’s game. According to the foundation’s 2018 annual report, 550 girls from 60-plus countries participated in one of the foundation’s events last season. More than 600 ANNIKA competitors have played golf at the collegiate level, with 45 earning LPGA Tour cards.

At last week’s ANNIKA Intercollegiate at Royal Golf Club, where Wake Forest dominated on both the team and individual leaderboard, 40 of the 60 competitors had previously played in an ANNIKA event.

“I want to provide this tournament. I want it to be the best. I want the girls to talk about it,” Sorenstam said of her Intercollegiate, which features the strongest field in women’s Div. I golf. “I want them to go home with great memories, new friends. We want it to have an impact.”

After the first round, players and coaches attended the Minnesota Twins game with foundation members to watch Sorenstam present the ANNIKA Award – given annually to the top women’s college golfer – to former Arkansas star Maria Fassi, who won for the second consecutive year.

Annika Sorenstam presents Maria Fassi with the ANNIKA Award for the most outstanding female collegiate golfer before the baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins. (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports

Given how competitive the field is at the Intercollegiate, chances are one of the women who watched from the stands will have the same honor next year. Talk about a memory.

Sorenstam takes pride in all of six of her events that span from Minnesota to New Zealand. She doesn’t just make appearances, either. She loves the interaction with the next generation.

“I’m here the whole tournament. It’s not like I just show up and give an award,” she said. “I like to interact with the girls as much as possible without getting in their way.”

Every corner of the world

Sorenstam started the foundation in 2007 with “the goal of developing women’s golf around the world and encouraging children to lead healthy, active lifestyles.” Now 12 years later, it’s difficult for Sorenstam to compare her on-course accomplishments to what her foundation has achieved.

“It’s tough to compare because we don’t measure in wins (at events),” explained Sorenstam. “We might feel like it’s first place, but I’m very proud with what we’ve done with the foundation. There’s no other foundation that’s doing what we’re doing, so I’d say we’re taking first place.

“I don’t know how to put it in words other than it makes us want to do more,” Sorenstam said of her off-course success. “I know with time we’ll get more players, more countries, but our goal all along was to be in every corner of the world.”

Four of the six events are outside the United States: The ANNIKA Invitational Latin America is in Argentina, the European event is in her native Sweden, the Asian tournament is at Mission Hills in Dongguan, China, and the ANNIKA Invitational Australasia is in New Zealand.

“In our first 10 years we got off to a good start. Now we’re looking to the next 10 years,” she added. “Like anything, you plant the seed, you don’t get the fruit the same week. It takes years. We’re starting to see it blossom. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

“It’s a game for life”

Sorenstam and her husband Mike McGee, managing director for the ANNIKA brand as well as the foundation’s interim president, both have a strong family golf background. Naturally, you’d expect their two children, William and Ava, to pick up the game from their parents.

Not so much.

“We introduced it early, and they had no interest,” said Sorenstam. “We took them to Drive, Chip and Putt in Georgia and all of a sudden it sparked something for them.”

Sorenstam never wanted to force the game on her children, but did want golf to be a part of their lives “at whatever level they choose.”

“But when you play golf for a living and then try to inspire young girls, you want your own girl to play,” she said with a laugh.

Annika 59

Playing a round of golf in less than 60 strokes is an achievement even the best professionals won’t come close to earning. Only nine players have shot a sub-60 round on the PGA Tour.

Sorenstam became the first LPGA player to shoot a 59 in 2001 during the second round of the Standard Register PING in Phoenix. A lot has changed in the golf world in 18 years, but her record round is still untouched in the women’s game.

Annika Sorenstam poses with a golf ball marked “59” after she became the first women in LPGA history to shoot a 59. She did so on March 16, 2001 at the Moon Valley Country Club during the Standard Register PING in Phoenix. Photo: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Network

The Hall of Famer said she thinks about that day “here and there,” but not on a consistent basis. She’s also a little surprised nobody else has matched her mark.

“I never had a timeline where I thought it would happen, but I’ve always felt like when somebody breaks a barrier of some kind it gives people hope or the sense that it’s possible,” Sorenstam said. “It’s 18 years ago now, I would’ve thought by now we would’ve seen a few.”

The number 59 did pop up again recently in regards to Sorenstam, at Augusta National of all places.

“We did the first tee shot at Augusta and it was incredible,” Sorenstam said. “I was so proud to be able to have a competitive round of women’s golf at Augusta National and see how well these women played. We actually had 59 of our ANNIKA alumni play there (in a field of 72), it was an ironic number.”

The next generation

Since 2014, the ANNIKA Award has been presented to the most outstanding female collegiate golfer. It’s just another one of the ways Sorenstam’s foundation, along with the Haskins Commission, is helping grow the women’s game.

“It’s important to celebrate these women,” Sorenstam said. “I love being part of the growth. The goal was for this award to highlight what they’ve done. It’s not necessarily a performance award, it’s what kind of teammate you are and how you contribute. It’s all about bringing the women up, they deserve it.”

Fassi became the award’s first back-to-back winner. Over the last two years, Sorenstam and Fassi have struck up a friendship. Sorenstam’s daughter, Ava, taught Fassi how to floss (as in the dance, not dental hygiene).

“She’s a tremendous ambassador for the game and a dream for the LPGA,” Sorenstam said of Fassi.

While the two don’t have many similarities with their games, Sorenstam does see a correlation with their impact on the game as a whole.

“She’s following in (Lorena Ochoa)’s footsteps, which are big shoes to fill,” explained Sorenstam. “(Liselotte Neumann) had won the U.S. Open, so it was hard to fill her footsteps, but as the new generation you hope to bring something that represents your country. It’s the same thing for Maria.

“We’re both global players that appreciate college golf, and having the LPGA as your office just screams living your dream and opens possibilities for others where you might not think golf is the number one sport. If I was a young girl from another country, I’d start dreaming and thinking, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”

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