Don’t call it a comeback when 10-time major champion and World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam tees it up in the 77th U.S. Women’s Open next month.
“This is not really my bread and butter anymore,” the 51-year-old mother of two told media earlier this month at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Resort, which will host the USGA championship June 2-5 for a record fourth time and is site of Sorenstam’s second USWO title in 2006.
“It’s more just going out and having a good time, so I don’t feel any pressure. Memories come back. When you get a little older, you think about the journey more than the destination.”
That journey is the subject of a new documentary, “Becoming Annika,” which premieres Tuesday, May 10, on Golf Channel. Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank narrates the film, which offers a look back at Sorenstam’s beginnings as a junior golfer in Sweden to her collegiate campaign at Arizona and her prolific, 72-win LPGA career. The documentary was produced by NBC Sports in conjunction with the United States Golf Association (USGA).
Among highlights in the film – and her career – is Sorenstam’s record-setting performance at the 2001 Standard Register Ping, where she became the first (and remains the only) woman to shoot a 59 in competition. She finished the 2001 season with eight wins, kicking off a five-year stretch where she won 46 of the 124 LPGA events that she competed in through 2006.
Two seasons later, Sorenstam became the first to woman in nearly 60 years to play against the men in a sanctioned PGA Tour event, teeing it up at the Colonial in 2003. Her presence drew criticism from players, including Tiger Woods, who said, “If she goes out there and puts up two high scores, then I think it’s going to be more detrimental than it’s going to be any good.”
“It is a men’s tour,” said three-time major winner Vijay Singh, who withdrew prior to the start of event. “If I miss the cut, I hope she does, too, because I don’t want to go back and find out a woman beat me.”
While Sorenstam did miss the cut (by four shots), she did not embarrass herself, besting 11 men in the field. Her popularity soared as well, and the typically shy Sorenstam began to come out of her shell, bolstered by personal words of encouragement from Arnold Palmer and welcomed for appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno and “Today,” among others.
“I still hear new stories surfacing from people who drove from everywhere to be a part of it, who say they were inspired by it,” Sorenstam told Golf Channel upon the 10-year anniversary of her Colonial appearance. “I hear from parents with daughters who say it really showed them that if they have a dream, they need to follow it. I think people connected with it because they could see themselves, that if they wanted to achieve something, they have to face their fears and take the opportunities that are there for them.”
— GOLFTV (@GOLFTV) June 9, 2020
Sorenstam’s documentary also gives a look into her foundation work, providing women’s golf opportunities to girls at every level, and reveals a more personal side as well, addressing her eight-year marriage to golf industry professional David Esch and how she found love again with husband Mike McGee, whom she married in 2009.
Sorenstam and McGee share 12-year-old daughter Ava and 11-year-old son Will, and Sorenstam points to her children as the reason she decided to come out of her 13-year retirement last summer to play the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. With McGee on her bag and her kids by her side as she marched up the 18th hole on Sunday at Brooklawn Country Club, Sorenstam won by eight strokes after leading wire-to-wire.
“I’d only ever seen these highlights of her playing really good, and I wanted to see that in person,” said Will that day in Fairfield, Conn.
It was in Connecticut that the “Becoming Annika” crew began production, using an all-female crew led by executive producer Staci Green and Emmy Award-winning director Adrienne Gallagher.
“When we committed to an all-female production crew, we promised to deliver a film that you couldn’t tell was made by women,” said Gallagher in a release. “But ultimately I think you can, and that’s a good thing.”
Last year’s victory earned Sorenstam an exemption into this year’s Open, the same stage where she won her first two major titles, in 2005 and 2006. Her third USWO title came 10 years later, in 2006, and her last appearance at the event came in 2008, where Sorenstam recorded the ultimate walk-off by holing out for eagle on her 72nd hole.
As for whether this year’s championship will lead to more competitive appearances, that remains to be seen.
“This is not necessarily about me trying to do a comeback,” said Sorenstam. “It was more about the family. They wanted me to play, so it’s very special.”
“Becoming Annika” will premiere Tuesday, May 10, at 9 p.m. ET on Golf Channel and will also air on NBC June 5, ahead of final-round coverage of the 77th U.S. Women’s Open.