Annika gets the hardware, Wie gets the hype
Annika Sorenstam must be wondering what she has to do to be noticed.
All she did at the Samsung World Championship last weekend was remind anyone watching why she rules her world. Despite a double bogey on the last hole, she won by eight shots. And her eighth victory of the season—no one else has won more than twice—ensured Sorenstam will be the US LPGA Tour player of the year for a record eighth time.
But she will have to settle for the hardware, not the hype.
Because even after one of her most dominant victories of the year, Sorenstam was a forgotten figure before the champagne was chilled.
The buzz at Bighorn Golf Club was—and still is—about Michelle Wie.
Sorenstam walked quietly into the desert night with her 64th career victory.
Wie was surrounded by her parents, sponsors, family friends, security and tournament officials who ushered her past a dozen photographers into a golf cart after getting disqualified for taking a bad drop.
Sorenstam can understand being ignored because of Tiger Woods, simply because people pay more attention to the US PGA Tour and Woods has become one of the most famous athletes in the world.
The star power in women’s golf now belongs to an American teenager whose legacy is built around power, potential and big dreams, with a marketing appeal that required a signature on two endorsement contracts to become the highest-paid woman in golf.
With the crystal trophy at her side, Sorenstam dropped subtle hints on Sunday that winning the Samsung World Championship was important “for many reasons,” not the least of which was upstaging Wie.
The 35-year-old Swede is comfortable with who she is and what she has done.
But every superstar has an ego, and Sorenstam is no different.
“I’m very competitive,” she said. “I want to play well when everyone is talking about someone else.”
Sorenstam is used to hearing her name mentioned when people talk about golf stardom, especially during her incomparable success over the last five years—seven majors, 41 victories, nearly $12-million in earnings. And perhaps the most impressive statistic of all is finishing in the top three 63% of the time.
It’s not always about her, of course.
“Tiger is the only one I can think of,” Sorenstam said when asked the last time she wasn’t part of the conversation. “Maybe because this is the LPGA, it seems like it’s been more about Michelle than Tiger.”
Wie brings notoriety, no matter what she does or where she goes. People want to watch her.
The crowds at Bighorn typically are sparse because of the searing desert heat and a hilly course designed for golf carts, yet Wie had the largest galleries throughout the week. Even though she already had played 24 times on the LPGA Tour since she was 12, her professional debut was accompanied by the kind of hype Woods got when he turned pro.
She was on the cover of Fortune magazine. More than 225 media credentials were issued, so many that tournament officials had to expand the press tent. The room was packed whenever she was in there, especially late on Sunday evening when she pulled off her most impressive feat at Bighorn—standing firm about her drop while showing respect for the rule that got her disqualified.
Wie had to forfeit her fourth-place finish and first tournament paycheck of $53Â 126, although the money doesn’t mean a lot. She already has contract endorsements worth $8-million to $10-million, and it’s not like Wie needs the LPGA earnings to get her card. She doesn’t plan to join the LPGA Tour for two more years.
What she gained from her loss was even more exposure.
And that pushed Sorenstam further into the background of a sport that, for the moment, is all about Wie.
About the only people who truly appreciate Sorenstam are her peers.
“When Annika comes to play, Annika comes to win,” Lorie Kane said after she finished her round on Sunday, the scoreboard behind her on the 18th showing Sorenstam up by 10 shots early on the back nine. “It doesn’t matter who else is playing. When she tees it up, she means business. That’s why she is one step ahead of all of us.”
Sorenstam insisted there was no message sent at Samsung, although 19-year-old Paula Creamer thought otherwise. Creamer already has taken some of the Swede’s spotlight because of her moxie, her good looks, her stellar play at the Solheim Cup and the American flag next to her name.
She was a footnote at Bighorn, eight shots behind in second place.
“Annika was just probably sending a statement to the world saying, ‘I’m still here. I’m still the best player,”’ Creamer said.
Sorenstam says she is motivated when the sun rises, that no one pushes her harder than herself. Even so, she has noticed the strongest youth movement on the LPGA Tour in 25 years, and it has her attention.
“I know the young ones are going to take over eventually, there is no doubt about it,” Sorenstam said. “I love the position I’m in, and I’m not going to let it go too easily.”
It might keep her on the LPGA Tour long enough to break Kathy Whitworth’s record of 88 career victories. Sorenstam is at number 64, and at this rate could break the record in three years.
Whether anyone would notice remains to be seen. - Sapa-AP