Her colleagues have noticed the change. Ever since playing with
the boys at the Colonial in May, and for some months before that,
Annika Sorenstam has seemed joyless on the course. A respectful
and courteous playing partner? Always. She's equally
well-mannered on the practice tee (the only other place they see
her). But where is the pleasure that golf is supposed to bring?
They don't see it. There was the briefest of celebrations after
winning the LPGA Championship on a soggy Sunday in May, but
then--poof!--back to the golf factory. Game face on all the
time. Much like the guy who has taken to calling her so
regularly, Tiger Woods.
But this is what they don't realize: Time is racing by Sorenstam,
faster than she can keep track of on the Rolex she slips over her
wrist before every awards ceremony. As Woods has always known and
Sorenstam now understands, victories in majors are how golf
careers are measured. In women's golf that has never been more
true, with four major championships defining the schedule. The
newest of the four, the British Open, was played last week on a
venerable course, Royal Lytham and St. Annes. The LPGA title was
Sorenstam's fifth major. She came to England in search of number
Sorenstam is a human abacus, with numbers forever rattling around
her brain. Before hitting her opening tee shot last week,
Sorenstam said winning 10 career majors was a goal and that there
weren't that many more majors left in her. Nine was the locker
room guess last week, and with the Open over, subtract one: four
in '04, four in '05, baby in '06. She turns 33 in October. Time,
time, time is not on her side. Ergo, the grim face. It's going
around. Maybe you noticed it on Tiger at Royal St. George's a few
It's a lot of work, winning majors. Early on Sunday afternoon
there were four considerable talents--all of them Florida
residents--on Lytham's rectangle of a practice green: Sorenstam,
of Sweden, who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame
in October; Karrie Webb of Australia, winless since taking her
sixth major, last year's British Open, but still regarded as the
best ball striker in the touring sorority; Se Ri Pak of South
Korea, already the winner of four majors at age 25; and Patricia
Meunier-Lebouc of France, 12 weeks pregnant and the 54-hole
leader, and already in possession of one major this year, the
Kraft Nabisco. There was a United Nations of golfers in position
to win, including an American, Wendy Ward. Dougie, the
neighborhood bookmaker at the William Hill betting shop off the
town square in Lytham, was calculating Open odds for his
customers even though the main office in London wasn't providing
August 10, 2003
Sunday's play was riveting, especially in the group that produced
the winner. Meunier-Lebouc and Ward, in the final twosome, got
lost early in Lytham's lethal bunkers but kept trying to scratch
back. Webb, in the third-to-last pairing with Grace Park,
couldn't get the ball close enough to the tucked pins to make a
sustained move, but that didn't stop her from trying to hole
approach shots. And the penultimate duo, Pak and Sorenstam, what
a show they staged, matching each other all through the quick
afternoon, grim shot for grim shot. It was win or lose. Second
would do nothing for either.
On the tee of the 455-yard, par-5 15th they were both at nine
under par and leading the tournament. Both tried to reach the
green in two. Sorenstam left herself with a long chip. Pak got a
linksland bounce and wound up with a dreadful lie in a greenside
bunker. She did well to make par. Sorenstam made a five-footer
for birdie to go ahead. "That's the best putt I've ever made in
my life," Sorenstam, not prone to hyperbole, told her caddie,
Terry McNamara, as they came off the green.
McNamara has been on her bag for four years. He could think of
some spectacular putts she had holed. But not when she was trying
to win the British Open for the first time to complete the career
Grand Slam. And not when she was trying to win two majors in a
single year for the first time. And not when the clock was
clicking so loudly. His simple nod said, Yeah, I could see that.
Pak, who carries herself these days like a big-time jock, more so
than any other woman golfer, made birdie to Sorenstam's par on
16. They were tied again, now at 10 under. Both made par on 17.
On 18, Pak hit a poor drive, pitched out, pitched on and had 10
feet for par. Sorenstam drilled a drive, nipped her approach shot
gorgeously and had two feet less for birdie. "She's going to make
her putt and then you're going to make yours on top of it,"
McNamara told the world's best female golfer. Sorenstam actually
smiled. She looked relieved. Only a deft caddie can defuse such a
It's been a long year for Sorenstam, with the Solheim Cup yet to
come, next month in Sweden; a playoff was not what she wanted.
Colin Cann, Sorenstam's former bagman and now Pak's looper, got
his chin practically on the grass in an effort to read the
discreet breaks of the final green.
But Pak missed by three dimples. Sorenstam lagged up, tapped in
and gave quick hugs to her caddie; her husband, David Esch; and
her sister, Charlotta. She put on her watch, thanked the course
superintendent at the awards ceremony (well-mannered as always)
and kissed the trophy for a throng of photographers. She shot 68,
72, 68 and 70, and now she, Webb and Juli Inkster--and, you could
say, Woods and Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player--are the only active
players to have won the career Grand Slam. Pak, one expects, will
get there soon enough. She was both gracious and defiant in
defeat. "I have many more majors," she said truthfully.
Sorenstam has now won the 1995 and '96 U.S. Opens--the oldest and
most grueling of the majors, but not one that tests
creativity--the '01 and '02 Kraft Nabisco Championships, and this
year's McDonald's LPGA and British Open. She finished a shot out
of a playoff at both the Nabisco and the U.S. Open this year.
She's relentless. She already has a goal for next year: all four
majors. That would get her to 10.
There was even a hint of eccentricity from Sorenstam last week. A
stranger sent her two necklaces in the mail. One, the
accompanying letter said, represented "grounding," the other
"performance." She put on performance and won with it. Her
husband got grounding because "he needs to calm down," Sorenstam
Both looked pretty calm in Sunday's lovely twilight, he with
Birkenstocks on his feet and a Cuban cigar in his mouth, she with
the crystal trophy in her hands, both wearing their mood
necklaces. But if you were looking for a party, the
Esch-Sorenstam rental house near the Lytham links was not the
place to go, unless watching Saving Private Ryan is your idea of
a victory bash. Even in victory Sorenstam had her game face on.
The passage of time is relentless for her, and the competition is
breathing down her neck.
Pak and Sorenstam, what a show they staged, matching each other
all through the afternoon, grim shot for grim shot.