Annika Sorenstam slightly bent her knees and prepared a practice swing underneath dreary skies and light winds Monday morning.
She gathered her swing and chipped a neon green ball, sending it 50 yards away, where it bounced off the wet grass and rolled into the nearby hole she targeted to the excitement of the audience of about 100 people watching behind her.
The World Golf Hall of Famer and 72-time LPGA tournament champion held an hourlong clinic with young golfers at Hillendale Country Club in Phoenix as part of a fundraiser for the country club and the Maryland State Golf Association Junior Programs.
“I love when we have some young participants,” said Sorenstam, who spoke about the fundamentals of swinging the golf club and fielded questions from the crowd. “The energy, they’re like little sponges. They want to learn and listen so it’s fun to have that. … I like sharing my stories and my expertise to the next generation.”
It was a welcomed opportunity for Sorenstam, a Sweden native, who retired in 2008 and has expanded the ANNIKA Foundation, an organization she founded to promote advocacy of the game, particularly among female participants at the junior, college and professional levels. Sorenstam said since the foundation’s inception in 2007, it has given back $7 million to grow the girls’ game and holds seven global tournaments. The organization also gives out the ANNIKA Award to honor the top female college golfer every year.
The coronavirus pandemic, though, has slowed down some of the efforts, Sorenstam said, forcing a pivot to virtual clinics and mentorship.
“It’s not the same as being in person. We’re hoping to do a little bit more this year,” she said. “Golf has been lucky, in the sense. People have been playing golf, you can be outside.”
According to the National Golf Foundation, 34% of junior golfers are female, a number that Sorenstam said will continue to grow as the sport continues to market itself to the demographic. “I think that women’s golf is in good hands. I still feel like there’s a lot of room for growth,” she said.
While Sorenstam, 50, has spent much of her time caring for her family and her broadening her philanthropy efforts, she recently signed up to make her debut in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, scheduled for July 29 to Aug. 1 at Brooklawn Country Cub in Fairfield, Connecticut. A 10-time major winner, including U.S. Women’s Open titles in 1995, 1996 and 2006, Sorenstam last played at a USGA event in 2008. She returned to the LPGA Tour in February, making the 36-hole cut at the Gainbridge Classic at her home course in Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Florida.
Though she said watching Phil Mickelson, who’s just three months older than her, become the oldest golfer to win a major Sunday at the PGA Championship was “inspiring” and “good for golf,” she laughed off any thought that his success would change the expectations for her upcoming event.
“I’m in a different place in my life,” she said. “It’s not like I removed things to do it. I’m just adding more to my plate. I try to practice a few hours a day, hit some balls, go play a little bit. But once it’s time to pick [the kids] up, then I’m the mother again and driving around. …
“My perspective and my expectations are very, very different. … Now, it’s more just about being out there, the journey toward something different.”