She was so embarrassingly shy when we sat down in Palm Springs for an interview in late 1995. Her eyelids fluttered when she spoke, her squeaky voice flecked with uncertainty, and when Annika Sorenstam confessed that she purposely competed as a junior to avoid the trophy ceremony – addressing a crowd of any size was much harder than controlling a golf ball – one might have guessed that the young lady was not prepared for the rigors of a public competition.
As it turned out, the shy blonde from Sweden naturally became a winning machine. Sorenstam’s eighth win at the US Senior Women’s Open last Sunday was a powerful reminder of how great a player she was and still is. If you’ll forgive the mixed-gender reference, she mistreated a Brooklawn CC course set up to normal USGA standards, only missing 10 greens, and only doing six bogeys on a layout that turned out to be nine rounds all week in the ’60s .
Sorenstam had three of them. “It was somehow different,” said the old opponent Laura Davies to Golfweek, “but it’s still the same Annika. She beat us up. “
Thirteen years after leaving the LPGA to start a family and a new life, Sorenstam’s accomplishment added another credibility to the notion that she was the most dominant female golfer of all time, male or female. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are obviously under discussion. A strong argument could be for the late Mickey Wright, who collected 13 major titles from 1958 to 1966 and won a total of 82 tournaments.
Before we dive into the numbers, let’s first acknowledge the eerie similarities between Wright and Sorenstam. Both felt uncomfortable with the tremendous attention they received and the limelight in general – neither added an Ickey shuffle to their routine to show off their brilliance. And like Ickey Woods himself, nobody stayed here long. Wright’s days as a full-time player ended when she was only 34 years old, largely due to foot problems and an aversion to flying.
Ben Hogan said she had the best golf swing he has ever seen (see below). Imagine Sinatra asks you for singing lessons.
Wright’s career lasted 15 seasons; Sorenstam’s LPGA tenure was of an identical length. After winning Rookie of the Year on the Ladies European Tour in 1993, Sorenstam started a business in the United States (she’d spent two years at the University of Arizona) where it didn’t take long to keep her busy. She was the US Women’s Open Champion in a row at the age of 25 and won the tournament for the third time in 2006. Wright was 24 years old when she successfully defended her national championship in 1959 at Churchill Valley CC in Pittsburgh. It would collect a total of four Women’s Open titles.
Any self-respecting male chauvinist will tell you that comparing Wright and / or Sorenstam to Nicklaus and / or Woods is pure blasphemy, but facts are facts, ladies and gentlemen:
Sörenstam: 72 LPGA wins in 307 career starts (23.5 percent).
Forest: 82 PGA Tour wins from 368 starts (22.3 percent).
Wright: 82 LPGA wins from 372 starts (22 percent).
Nicklaus: 73 PGA Tour wins from 586 starts (12.5 percent).
As for the main subjects:
Wright: 13 wins in 50 starts (26 percent).
Sörenstam: 10 wins in 57 starts (17.5 percent).
Forest: 15 wins from 87 starts (17.2 percent).
Nicklaus: 18 wins out of 161 starts (11.2 percent).
It’s certainly worth noting that Nicklaus’ numbers are watered down by his amazing longevity, which in itself is a triumph. He played in more majors than Sorenstam and Woods together. He took part in almost twice as many events as Annika, which underscores the difference between size and dominance. Greatness smiles at those who remain relevant decade after decade – the powerful few who become ceremonial golfers long after their prime.
Dominance could be defined as an extended period of unprecedented superiority, however, and both Woods and Nicklaus have had some fallow in their careers. Tiger spent much of the 2010s on the shelf, out of the competition area, while tending to personal and physical issues. Fat Jack basically took a hiatus in the late 1960s and returned as a stripped-down, cheered-on carnivore with an updated hairstyle and a ton of profit in his crosshairs.
In 2008, the year Sorenstam retired, she won three times. Like Wright, she wasn’t batting regularly in the fields at this point, but it wasn’t ceremonial either. Nicklaus, meanwhile, played in 133 tournaments after his last win – does anyone remember the 1986 Masters? As for Woods, it’s a wait and see game and could take a while.
So is Sorenstam the Duchess of Dominance? In addition to these 72 LPGA trophies, she won 17 times in Europe. These fields may not have been of the quality they beat in America, but Wright’s career has been marked by “official” wins in tournaments that have a very limited number of participants. There wasn’t a Solheim Cup when Mickey ruled the world, but that doesn’t mean Sorenstam didn’t deserve bonus credit for her brilliant 22-11-4 record in biennial team games.
Woods’ seven years without missing a cut equates to Joe DiMaggio having hit a hit in 86 consecutive games, not 56, but Sorenstam has missed nine cuts in her entire career. Four of them appeared during their rookie season in the US. She missed a total of two cuts in 181 appearances in the 2000s. From 2000 to 2005, Annika racked up 48 wins in 126 starts, a 38.1 percent clip that ended with 10 out of 20 in ’05.
She is the only LPGA player to ever hit a 59. In 2003 she became the first woman to appear on the PGA Tour since Babe Zaharias (1945). Although her 71-74 at Colonial didn’t get her to the weekend, Sorenstam had emphatically demonstrated a point. She was really, really good. And really, really brave.
Eight monetary titles, eight Player of the Year awards, six Vare trophies for the lowest point average of the LPGA – the shy blonde from Sweden, as the most dominant golfer of all time, can be content with the basic premise that she has won more tournaments in fewer starts than everyone else, including Mickey Wright. And one of the coolest things about it is that Annika Sorenstam just keeps winning. So much for this public phobia.
An overview of Annika Sorenstam’s career
Won 72 tournaments in 307 starts on the LPGA Tour. Your 23.5 career win rate is the highest of any player, male or female, at the highest level of the game.
Collected 10 main titles in 57 starts.
Won 17 times on the Ladies European Tour.
He was named Rookie of the Year in Europe in 1993 and Rookie of the Year in America in 1994.
Eight times named LPGA Player of the Year.
Won LPGA eight cash titles.
Claimed six Vare trophies for the lowest point average.
Set a 22-11-4 record in eight Solheim Cups.
Annika Sorenstam’s main subjects
Annika Sorenstam has won 10 majors in her career, starting with the 1995 US Open. Here is the full list:
1995 US Women’s Open
1996 US Women’s Open
2001 Nabisco Championship
2002 Kraft Nabisco Championship
2003 McDonald’s LPGA Championship
2003 Weetabix Women’s British Open
2004 McDonald’s LPGA Championship
2005 Kraft Nabisco Championship
2005 McDonald’s LPGA Championship
2006 US Women’s Open