On a sunny weekend morning, 32 kids are sitting on the Hole 1 tee box at Tahoe City Golf Course patiently waiting to get a free lesson from Annika Sorenstam, one of the world’s best golfers. This is a special occasion on Aug. 18 as part of the 100th anniversary celebration of the Tahoe City Golf Course. The course was designed by a woman – May “Queenie” Dunn – in 1917 and on this day Tahoe resident and golf icon Sorenstam has come to offer tips to the next generation of golfers.
More than 100 adults are sitting behind the kids watching the demonstration in a staging area, eager to pick up some of Sorenstam’s juju, as well.
Before giving a demo and hitting a few balls off of the first tee box into the baseball mitt of her husband, Mike McGee (who hit a hole-in-one at the Incline Village Mountain Course a few days prior), Sorenstam sits down with Tahoe Weekly for an exclusive interview first reported at TheTahoeWeekly.com to talk about family, her tips for success, traits for being a top golfer and maintaining balance between her career and personal life while living in the Tahoe Sierra.
Born in Sweden, Sorenstam started playing golf when she was 12 years old and has played hundreds of golf courses around the world throughout her 17-year career. As a professional golfer, she has won more than 90 international tournaments and 72 LPGA tournaments. One of her most memorable personal moments – and one that made history – was when she shot a 59 at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2001. She is still the only female golfer to shoot a score that low in competition (she gave away autographed Callaway “59” golf balls to the kids at Tahoe City Golf Course).
After retiring from the LPGA in 2008, Sorenstam transitioned into becoming the face for the ANNIKA Foundation, an organization committed to help provide opportunities in women’s golf while also instilling lifelong values for a younger generation by sharing what she’s learned over the years.
“I enjoy working with young kids. Now I’m more about being a role model and teaching them lessons that they can use down the road. Golf has many synergies with life, but it’s just a tool to help give confidence, strength, approach a broader view,” she says.
While not designing golf courses or hosting events with the ANNIKA Foundation, Sorenstam has been coming home to Tahoe to spend time with her family and enjoy other activities such as hiking, biking and skiing.
“This is my resting place, where I recharge,” Sorenstam says. Sorenstam has been coming to North Lake Tahoe on and off since 1995, but her family recently moved here permanently.
“Every summer we come here, but now we’re here year-round; the kids start school on Monday,” she says.
As far as where she likes to play in the Tahoe Sierra, Sorenstam says she enjoys the layout of Old Greenwood and adds, “I’ve been fortunate enough to play Martis Camp, Lahontan and Montreux. I love the variety, and looking up at the tree line, it’s like where I grew up playing,” she says. “I like a course that’s put in a place where it’s natural,” Sorenstam offers about what draws her to the Tahoe area.
When asked if she notices major differences in golfing in the Tahoe Sierra compared to other places (for instance, rumors that you can drive the ball farther at higher altitudes and that the ball tends to break toward the lake), Sorenstam nods her head.
“Being at any new place, you have to understand where you are. Up here, you are going to hit a minimum 10 percent farther. You have to know distance control; if it’s 100, remove 10,” she says.
“I just love being outside, every course is different and every day is different with the weather and where the pins are placed. When I was younger and played tennis, the court was always the same,” Sorenstam adds.
No matter where she is, much of her pre-shot routine is picking a target and aiming toward it. She tells the kids in Tahoe City that her pre-shot routine is 24 seconds long, which involves her making a decision and committing to it.
“(My thought process) is a lot of technique. Once you take a lesson it becomes robotic, a lot of it is about maintaining a rhythm and tempo. Trust yourself, stay relaxed and execute; just do it. Don’t worry about the result before you hit it,” she says. “A lot of practice causes it to be second nature. What I think about (playing golf) is that I see this beautiful shot and then I’m relaxed when I do it.”
Although Sorenstam’s demeanor is calm, cool and collected, she admits that she’s competitive, disciplined and driven to succeed.
“I know what I want and I go after it. I came from Sweden and couldn’t golf there as often as I wanted to, so I moved to Arizona to play golf year-round,” she says of one of the sacrifices she had to make to become one of the best golfers of her time.
As far as her number one tip to aspiring golfers, Sorenstam says, “You have to ask yourself, ‘where is your passion?’ and then follow it. I’ve learned more from my mistakes than my successes. I’m shy, and I gave a commencement speech to 10,000 people. I forced myself to get better at public speaking,” she says. Working through her career as a top female golfer, Sorenstam says that it’s more than just hitting a 7 iron.
“It takes patience, the Great Wall of China wasn’t built overnight,” she says with a smile. “To be successful, it takes time, commitment and sacrifice. Your life’s path is not a straight line.”
So with her foundation, clothing line and Annika-designed courses around the world, how does she maintain her balance?
“I’ve got a good hubby, we work well together. Plus, it doesn’t feel like work when you do what you like. Balance is a key word in life,” she says. | annikafoundation.org