Annika Sorenstam is a golf legend who won almost all of the sport's big awards.
Annika Sorenstam is a golf legend who won almost all of the sport’s big awards.

It’s a cool and sunny Sunday afternoon in Orlando, Florida. Today would be a great time to play golf on one of the state’s more than 1,000 courses. Annika Sorenstam, who is thought to be the best female golfer of all time, is actually having fun with her husband and two kids in their Lake Nona garden by playing a game of putting.

Sorenstam’s 59, which was the lowest score ever in a women’s competition, and her 90 foreign wins make her the most successful player in professional history. She works just as hard now to give back to the sport that has helped her so much.

The former pro has been putting family and her charity, which helps young women play golf, first since she retired in 2008. Sorenstam thinks that investing in women will help them succeed in life, not just golf, which is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day.

In a recent interview at her home in Florida, Sorenstam told CNN, “There’s no doubt that the girls that come through the foundation are great golfers. But many of them don’t go on to play professional golf, which isn’t really the point of the foundation.” “It’s more to encourage them to make their dreams come true.” Women can do a lot of different things in this sport.

From nothing to becoming a world champion

Before she was the “GOAT” of golf, Sorenstam was just a girl from the small Swedish town of Bro who liked to play a lot of different sports but not golf.

She said, “Golf wasn’t really that exciting to me at first.” “A little more action and speed would have been nice.”

But because she lived near a golf course and her parents would offer her and her sister Charlotta ice cream if they played, she says she finally grew to enjoy the game and how hard it was.

When she was 18, she won the World Amateur Championship. That’s when she realised she could make a living playing tennis. She also says that other women in golf at the time, like Nancy Lopez and Beth Daniel, gave her ideas. She stresses how important it was to see women in those roles.

There was a Swedish player named Liselotte Neumann who won the US Open in 1988. Sorenstam said, “Wow, she has a similar background like me, so if she can do it, maybe I can do it too.”

When Sorenstam went pro, she knew that men’s golfers made more money and got more attention than women’s, but she said she wasn’t thinking much about the difference because she was so excited to play. “She said, “I knew women’s golf would grow, and I hope we will get there one day.”

At the time, the Swede had no idea that she would help start a new era in women’s golf that would make the sport better than ever.

As a professional golfer, Sorenstam won 11 major titles, including 72 on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. She also has the most Rolex Player of the Year awards and the most Vare Trophies for having the lowest score average in a season.

As of now, she is the only woman in history to break 60 in a real race. This was a big moment in her career in 2001.

Sorenstam said, “Being the first woman to do something gives you credibility and a nice little nickname: ‘Miss 59.'” She also said, “Set the bar high; just keep working, and you can break barriers.”

Because of this, she was able to play against the men at the Colonial in 2003, becoming the first woman in more than 50 years to play in a PGA game.

“I remember being really thrilled. “Wow, I’m going to push even harder,” she said. “I wanted to show that we can play, and it was fun to do so.”

Giving back to the sport

Because she’s never gone too far from the rules, Sorenstam quit professional golf in 2008, when she was 38 years old. She started making golf courses and clothes for golfers. She also started the ANNIKA Foundation, which offers clinics, tournaments, guidance, and money to help the next generation of women and girls get into golf.

The National Golf Foundation says that 38% of players in the US under the age of 18 are girls. Sorenstam says that number was less than 20% when her charity first started.

“I love being with these girls because I know what it’s like to be 14 or 15 years old and have a lot of questions and dreams but not sure where to go,” she said. “We think it’s very important to be able to get that help.”

On November 12, 2023, Sorenstam gives the prize to winner Lilia Vu at The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican. She is shown here on the right.

Sorenstam says that every year, over 600 girls from 60 countries take part in ANNIKA Foundation programmes, which include everything from big golf events to development programmes. The foundation also gives back almost $9 million to girls’ golf every year.

She does all of this with the help of her husband, Mike McGee, who helps her get support from businesses.

He told CNN, “She gives back more than anyone I’ve ever seen.” “I feel fortunate to work with Annika; she’s both my boss and my friend.”

McGee also helped get Sorenstam’s name on THE ANNIKA, driven by Gainbridge at Pelican, her first LPGA event in Tampa.

The LPGA’s commissioner, Mollie Marcoux Samaan, told CNN, “having her name on that tournament is very important for the sport.” She also said that Sorenstam “is the LPGA in so many ways, and we couldn’t be more grateful for the platform she uses to inspire girls and women on and off the golf course.”

Louise Rydqvist, a Swedish amateur and US college golfer who got her start through Sorenstam’s charity, had the chance to play in the tournament’s first year. Sorenstam called it a “full circle” moment.

“(To) be able to play in an LPGA event and make her dream come true,” she said, “it must feel great to be able to give more players a chance to play, not just the pros but also some of these up-and-coming players.”

Giving credit to a live legend

Sorenstam’s growth programme was held at Old Barnwell in Aiken, South Carolina. Katherine Muzi, a young professional golfer, was one of the first people to join. There, for three years, she had access to the golf course, a place to live, cash help, training, and advice from Sorenstam.

“(The programme) really just opened the door,” Muzi told CNN in February at the first benefit of the year for the ANNIKA Foundation. “Annika has really inspired me and a lot of other girls who play golf to do anything with her.” And just being around her makes me feel better; she has that kind of power.”

The American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) gave Sorenstam the Digger Smith Award, which is given every year to someone who is dedicated to the AJGA’s goal of developing young men and women through competitive junior golf. The event took place at the Country Club of Orlando.

But Sorenstam quickly called McGee to come get it with her. “From the beginning to the end, everyone works together,” she said.

She also said, “to win someone’s heart, to win someone’s inspiration, that weighs pretty heavy.”

Ryleigh Knaub, a junior golfer, gave an emotional speech at the event honouring the golf star. She said, “Players like me have seen you become a mother, a wife, a role model, an ambassador, and a champion for girls all around the world, just like me.” You’ve shown that it is possible to have everything.

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