Sunglasses on and cap brim pulled down, Annika Sorenstam could have been anyone standing in the sun overlooking Royal Golf Club’s 18th green in Lake Elmo, anyone other than a 10-time major champion and 72-time LPGA Tour winner.
Yet there she was during Monday’s first round of the three-day ANNIKA Intercollegiate that brought USC, Texas, Duke and other top women’s college teams to Minnesota again for the third consecutive fall.
Her association with 3M, friendship with former LPGA peer/current Gophers coach Michele Redman and architectural re-design she did alongside Arnold Palmer on the former Tartan Park course has made Minnesota home to one of seven events her ANNIKA Foundation presents for top junior and college golfers on five continents.
Sorenstam on Monday talked about her career, her family, her foundation, Minnesota connections and why she retired in 2008 at age 38 in a conversation edited.
Q I Googled you and the top search for you asked this: What happened to Annika Sorenstam?
A Yeah, what happened? I’ve been busy. I got married [to Mike McGee] and kids and business. Nonstop with the foundation, designing courses, a ton of stuff. Some things seem so long ago, some no. We have a 10-year-old, so it’s like where did this time go?
Q What did you envision in 2007 when you started a foundation that has become as much about fitness/wellness for young players as golf itself?
A I wanted to give back, and what’s close to my heart is golf, being a young girl and opportunity. It’s more than hitting 7 irons and making putts.
Q Do college kids know who you are?
A I don’t know, you should ask them. They see my photo on a poster, maybe that’s why.
Q Do you remember your last tour shot in Minnesota?
A I do. It was OK: 199 yards, U.S. Open [Interlachen 2008], for eagle. It was quite the shot. I hit a 6 iron. I didn’t really see it, but it got louder and louder and louder.
Q You retired at 38. Did you miss golf?
A No, believe it or not. Once I make a decision, I just go. I was happy. It was a good time to do it. If I didn’t have anything else, I probably wouldn’t have stepped away. I had a daughter nine months later. Being a mom for the first time, it’s not that easy. I’m still learning.
Q Is it true you ride a golf cart these days mostly to get to your two children’s school in Orlando?
A Pretty much. I do clinics; I did one this morning for 3M. I’m flying to Korea Wednesday to play an exhibition. I do things here and there, but they’re spread out.
Q How did playing in the PGA Tour event at Colonial in 2003 change your life?
A One of the top three highlights for sure, in a lot of ways. I learned a lot: How to push myself and test myself. It made me tougher. It pushed me to a different level I didn’t know I had.
Q. Did it change women’s golf?
A. To some extent, yeah. Little things here and there that inch it up a little bit. I think so.
Q. Surprised no other woman has shot a 59 in competition since you did?
A. I am. It wasn’t easy. That was 18 years ago, March 16th. The game has elevated. Women's golf, they hit the ball farther. They’ve lengthened the courses a little bit. You think in other sports when someone breaks a barrier, now it's almost like we're starting over with that barrier because now they know someone can do it. And I'm sure someone can do it, but it has been so long.
Q. You did a triathlon last year. Have you done any more?
A. I've done two. I'm going to do one next year. It takes a little training.
Q. Golf courses endure. What does it mean to have your name next to Arnold Palmer's here, with the King and the Queen nines on a public course you designed to be family friendly?
A. What an honor, the most recognized man in golf, in sports in general. He was very much liked. I respected him. To be able to do that, it’s cool.
Q. Did you encounter him much out on the site when you two were designing your separate nines?
A. A little bit. Living in Orlando, we met a few times there. I worked with his team. Nowadays you can do so much by email and sending ideas and thoughts. Just to be part of what he thought at that time of his life and what he thought was important: Grow the game, open, friendly. It was cool.
Q. Now that it has been open a couple years, how has your front nine stood up?
A. I’m very proud of what we have here. It was a nice, beautiful, nature place. I didn’t know where was a lake out there. We opened it up. Like any golf course, it settles. You see what works. If something’s not right, you make a change.
Q. Anybody else here or at home call you the Queen?
A. (Laughs) Not so much.