An Interview With Annika Sorenstam and Kay Cockerill

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Photo Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

LPGA player Annika Sorenstam poses for a portrait prior to the start of the ADT Championship at the Trump International Golf Club on November 18, 2008 in West Palm Beach, Florida.

June 20, 2013

THE MODERATOR:  Like to welcome Annika this morning, like to offer to her some opening comments as we get ready for the U.S. Women's Open.
           
Annika, as everybody knows, you are a three‑time champion of this event.  You have some great memories of this tournament, including your playoff victory in 2006.  We just saw how challenging Merion golf club was for the men last week, and how Sebonack will pose a challenge for the women.
           
Just an opening question, what was your mind‑set and preparation going into U.S. Women's Open?
           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  Well, thank you, and good morning, everyone.  The U.S. Open certainly has a special place in my heart, and growing up in Sweden, I always thought it was the biggest tournament.  As a little girl, I dreamed about winning it, and like you said, I had a chance to do that a few times.
           
You know, certainly I think it's the toughest tournament for women's golf throughout the year.  The courses we play on are always immaculate and challenging, and it tests you in every aspect.  I remember watching it, and having all of the memories from playing it, and know what it was like and last week was no exception.  The course was really tough.  I had a chance to play Merion and I loved it.
           
I love old, traditional golf courses.  It's strategic and the National Championship that they host there, that's what it's all about.  As we all know, it's not certainly about distance; it was about managing your game and all of the tricky elements around it and that's what I love.  I'm sure the ladies will see a similar situation next week, so I look forward to being on site and watching it and see who can handle the course the best.
           
THE MODERATOR:  Kay is going to be lead analyst for our Golf Channel coverage in Arkansas this week, so tell us what you're hearing from the players on the anticipation heading into next week.
           
KAY COCKERILL:  Everyone is very excited and there have been a pretty good handful of women that have gotten out and played Sebonack already, and they are very impressed with the golf course.  I talked with Suzann Pettersen yesterday.  She spent, I think two or three days at Sebonack this last weekend before she came to Arkansas.
           
And I think everyone is in agreement that it's certainly wide open off the tee, but it's about placement of the second shot, just enormous undulating greens.  And the greens, and the shots around the greens, are going to be very critical.
           
But everyone gets up for the Majors, and I think the excitement level of going to a course like Sebonack out on Long Island that has so much history is really getting to the players.  They are really looking forward to it.


Q.  How is the prep for a course like Sebonack different than the prep some of these girls have gone through at past U.S. Open sites?

           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  Listening to what Kay said, and the years that I played in U.S. Opens, it's always important to prepare, but having said that, you don't want to make sure that you don't over‑prepare.
           
You go there early, you practice, and you put so much pressure on yourself once the tournament starts.  I like to say that you go out there, normal preparation week, getting used to the greens, the speed of the greens, the fairways, and put together a game plan.
           
But you need to be ready when the tournament comes and you need to make sure that your game is as good as it can be and that you haven't played five or six tournaments before and have two weeks off.  The U.S. Open is a long week, and we see every year, and this past week at Merion was no exception, you saw that there were rain delays and early starts and late starts and so forth.
           
So you need to be in top shape to prepare for the Open.  That's what I love and what championships should be all about.  But we all have our routines and what works and what doesn't work.  I've done it myself, I get so excited to play but by the time Thursday comes, you put a lot of pressure on yourself and start thinking too much about the trophy and not hitting one shot at a time and reserving the patience that you need.
           
KAY COCKERILL:  I can add a little to that, and I was just at the Open last week at Merion, as well, and a lot of the players followed just what you're saying.  A lot of guys were going out and just playing nine holes or 12 holes and a lot of them had done their homework beforehand and really got a feeling for the proper lines off the tees.
           
I think as I mentioned, a lot of the LPGA players have done the same thing.  They have gotten out to Sebonack early, done a lot of work, so that when they go next week, they can take it a little easy and pace themselves and just fine tune on the things that they need to score well at the Open.

           
Q.  Could you just talk a little bit about what kind of game, particular skills Sebonack might favor, and which players might there for seem to have a particular advantage or chance for this week, next week?
           
KAY COCKERILL: I'm going early, straight from here, and I'm going to play Shinnecock and National before the competition starts.
           
But from what I gather from what the players have said, there are some seaside holes.  It's a coastal‑type golf course, but then, pretty generous off the tees.  I think ‑‑ and I asked a couple players, if it's the kind of course where you can hit low shots and bounce it in.  And they said, not really, because of all the slopes on these greens and the wave‑like nature of the greens, you kind have to shape your shots in and it's going to be really quite a shot‑makers golf course.
           
I'm sure Annika can tag on this, I don't think it matters really what the U.S. Open venue; it comes down to consistency, hitting fairways and hitting greens and being very, very sharp with your short game.
           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  Yeah, I would echo that.  I have not played Sebonack. I look forward to seeing it.
           
I think overall, the way the USGA has set up this course, whatever type of golf course it is, they want you to be, you know, you need to be able to fire on all cylinders.  You need to be most of the time pretty long off the tee.
           
You look at the previous U.S. Women's Open, and it's getting longer and longer.  I believe at the Broadmoor in Colorado, it's over 7,000 yards.  That is going to matter.  And also, if the fairways are wider, then you will see a lot of players probably be more aggressive off the tee.
           
And on the greens, that's when you put a premium on the accuracy into the greens.  I mean, distance control and direction, because you want to make sure that you're on the right side of the undulation.
           
And having said that, and you do make it, you really will be tested on your short game.  Like the speed of the greens, but also have the imagination over that.  And that's fun.  That's what golf is about.  You can't win golf tournaments nowadays just hitting driver or win golf tournaments if you're just a good iron player.  They make you put all the pieces together, and again, that's what the U.S. Open is all about.


Q.  What you just said feeds into another question I wanted to ask, compared to the regular LPGA tournaments, how much, traditionally, how much more difficult is the U.S. Women's Open?  Is it comparably more difficult to how much more difficult the men's U.S. Open is to the regular tournaments?
           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  I think so, and I've always felt that way, as far as distance goes, most of the U.S. Opens are longer than our regular events.  It seems that the greens are a little firmer and the rough is a little higher.  It doesn't mean that you won't see that at other events, but if you put them all together, you have all those three or four elements in a U.S. Women's Open.
           
And then adding up the pressure; for some reason, it just seems like those tournaments are a lot more mentally draining.  I mean, I can speak for 2006 when we were up in Rhode Island at Newport, and it was just ‑‑ first of all, there was a fog delay, and we didn't even play the first day; tested your patience.
           
I played at Oakmont as an amateur in 1992 and we had rain delays, and I didn't tee off until 7:30 in the evening.  It seems like those elements really test you physically and mentally, and maybe that's why they feel so special when we do have a chance to win it.
           
And the field is always the best in the world participating, and like I said, it's my favorite event for all those reasons.  The course itself; we played amazing golf courses, and we rotate.  You're not going back to the course every year that you know the bounces or the breaks on the greens.  This is the first time for a lot of players to see this golf course.
           
KAY COCKERILL:  Yeah, I think the U.S. Open and the USGA typically set up USGA events to test every facet of a player, not only their physical aspect, but like Annika said, mentally.  Thursday and Friday are very tough days.  They are long days, you have a full field, they are long rounds.  You saw it at the men's Open and you'll see it at the Women's Open; five‑plus hours, you're out there and you have to stay patient.  You have to stay in the moment.
           
And then there's the excitement level players are dealing with that want to win the U.S. Open so badly, either to differentiate their career from just an average career to that next level of getting a major, or winning their second or third or fourth or fifth major.  So it's not only the actual physical test, but it's a mental test that separates.

 
Q.  I wondered if you can comment on whatever take away you took from the LPGA Classic we recently had, and further on that subject, in talking about the pressures, do you expect Inbee Park to be feeling any added burden or pressure, considering that she's going for a very unusual streak of Majors?
           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  It's an impressive start that we are seeing of Inbee Park.  I've been in her shoes.  I had a chance to go for the third major in a row.  It was a lot of pressure.  I wanted to, you know, not necessarily ignore it, but I was trying to not let it get to me.  I wanted to just focus.  It's another major.  It's the U.S. Open, and at the time, I had won two before, and I thought, you know, I can do this.
           
And we were playing in Denver in Colorado, and I loved the golf course.  I thought, this is a perfect week for me, perfect venue, and I felt ready to play and I was excited.  But there was this underlying pressure, and just wanting to do it knowing that I had all the pieces in the bag.  I just put a lot of pressure on myself and I would say that was probably pushing it too hard, especially not getting off to a good start; and then you tried harder.  And as you know when you try harder, it almost makes it tougher.
           
So it was an underlying ‑‑ it was in the back of my mind constantly.  And the media buildup before that was pretty big, also.  I was trying to balance my time on practice, but stay focused and just kind of show up like it was a new week and a new tournament.
           
I'm looking forward to seeing how Inbee handles this.  She has major experience and she's the No. 1 player in the world, so she's not necessarily brand new in this role.  She's had, you know, a few months that I would say, maybe a year or two, to get used to the attention and expectations.  She's maturing as a person, and she's getting better, also.  She has that going for her, also.
           
And the LPGA Championship was not that long ago, so her form is still there.  We'll see how she handles Sebonack and the conditions that await.
           
KAY COCKERILL:  I think she certainly has a very good chance to win three Majors in a row because she has the confidence.  Her game seems to be in place.  All aspects are in place, and she has that calmness of mind to allow herself to hit the shots that are needed down the stretch when a lot of other players succumb to the pressure.
           
She mentioned, reflecting that on her first win, which was the U.S. Open, in I think it was 2008, that she was very young; she's 19, and she didn't really realize what she was doing.  And she went into kind of a slump afterwards, not winning for four years, and she's really matured.
           
All aspects of her game are very solid, and again, going back to that sort of ‑‑ she's got a very peaceful place in her mind, and I think, Annika, I don't know, maybe you might agree with this; I think if anyone, she might be in the best place mentally to handle the pressure, but still, it will be surprising when she gets out there and sees all of the media that are out there, constantly asking questions, can you do it, can you win three in a row.
           
And this is the first year that the LPGA has five majors in a season; and she's won the first two, and she's the only person right now that has the chance to potentially win all five majors this season which has never been done.  So she has a lot of expectations and curiosity about what she can do, but she certainly has all the tools to get it done.


Q.  I know you haven't seen the course but based on some conversations that you've had with some players, are any of them making any equipment changes or maybe practicing a different set of shots in preparation for next week?
           
KAY COCKERILL:  You know I'll probably be able to answer that better next week when we really see, because some players may have an idea that maybe adding an extra wedge or taking out a certain hybrid for another longer iron or a 5‑wood, usually those are the tweaks that are made.
           
Generally players are not going to change anything like a driver or a putter unless they are slumping or they are having issues with that club because they are missing fairways.

I think we'll be able to answer that a little better next week once players actually get out and play.  But it sounds as though it's a long golf course.  Suzann Pettersen said she hit quite a few long irons, and she's a fairly long player.
           
So I would think for the average player, those long ‑‑ the hybrids and maybe 5‑woods are probably going to be pretty important, so you'd better make sure you've got the right set of clubs in there to tackle those shots.
           
And it sounds like there's going to be, like Annika alluded to, you have to have a lot of creativity.  So if you're a player that typically plays four weeks, you're probably going to have to be able to have that variety around the greens.


Q.  How do you prepare for a major, especially the U.S. Women's Open, how many times did you play the course and focus on any specific aspect of your game?

           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  I would say that throughout my career, I tried different things, and early on, I was over‑prepared because I was so excited to be part of it; which means thinking about the Open early, going to play the golf course and being out there, long, long days just to make sure you've covered every little area.
           
But, you know, as I get older and more familiar with my game and expectations, I realize it's more important to be fresh and not so worn out.  Having a good caddie helping you scout the golf course ‑‑ but you need to know, the greens undulation, the strategy, how to play it, lines off the tee, approach angles.
           
But I would say that my game fits a lot of different golf courses, so it wasn't like it was a particular shot for a month ahead of time or tried to change my swing from playing a fade to a draw.  I would play to my strengths and I felt like I could play pretty much any golf course, just finding a way to attack it.
           
But you have to have ‑‑ all aspects of the game better be ready because if you're not driving it well, then you're looking at some tough ‑‑ getting to the greens, and striking your irons, you put a lot of pressure on your short game, it's going to be very hard to keep that up for 72 holes.  Very seldom would you see a U.S. Open where it's a birdie‑fest out there.  It's more about making pars and avoiding mistakes, and we saw that last week.
           
So you've got to hang in there and you can't be over par and thinking that you don't have a chants and start pressing, and when you start pressing at U.S. Opens, it almost makes it harder.  The course sometimes is tough, but you can't think of it; you just have to play from A to B and with what you have and just yourself and try not to think too far ahead.

 
Q.  There seems to be, over the years there's been an interesting dynamic of one player kind of getting hot ‑‑ you were hot for a number of years and then Lorena kind of came along and then Yani, and now I'm wondering if Inbee is now that player.  I just want to know what that dynamic is; do you just get into a roll where you're so confident?  It's been a pattern for the last decade or so.
           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  I think that's a phenomena you see in sports in general.  We all have our window; some people have a bigger window and some people have a smaller window.  You know, some sports are tougher to peak for a longer period of time.
           
I look back at my career, and I'm not really sure how I did it, but you know, I'm proud of what I achieved.  It's hard to be at the top for a long period of time.  I mean, physically, you're to the extreme constantly.  You're finding ways to get better and try to improve your long game, your short game.  You push and push and push, and there's really no resting.  Eventually your mind and your body says, hey, I've had it ‑‑ and some people pass through like it's nothing.
           
So you need to have the desire and you need to have the motivation to keep on going, as well as having the physical attributes to be able to get there.  You see it in other sports.
           
You know, Yani, lately, is a good example.  She came out there, a lot of talent, very hungry to be No. 1, got experience and pushed herself and became No. 1.  And then she got to No. 1 and then the pressure just elevated and she found it hard to balance Yani life and professional life.  And then questioning, when she lost her No. 1 spot, is this really what she wants; and I think she was almost relieved and it gave her a little bit more breathing room.
           
For me, I loved being No. 1.  That was my goal and when I was up there, I wasn't ready to let it go; I was forced to let it go, but eventually it hit me, too.  I didn't have the motivation to stay up there.  I think it's pretty common, and the timing of the window, and how many tournaments or seasons are we talking about.
           
KAY COCKERILL:  Yeah, I think it's very, very rare, especially in golf, for someone to be able to sustain that kind of consistency over such a long period of time.  That's why it's remarkable what Annika was able to do and Lorena was able to do.  You had other players like Karrie and Se Ri and recently Yani who have been able to sustain some pretty good periods, and right now, Inbee is in that time frame, that window, that Annika spoke of.
           
Last year at this time, she wasn't really a factor.  Her year didn't really get going until Evian when she won, and she's been on a tear and she's won three Majors in this last year.  It's pretty remarkable.
           
I think, you know, someone like Stacy Lewis, who wants to be very much No. 1, she had it briefly, but it's hard to sustain it, especially when you have a lot of hungry players and a lot of talented players.  It will be interesting to see if Inbee cools off, and Yani and Stacy are the closest pursuers; if they can kind of pick up and close that gap.  But it is very difficult, and golf is a sport that is hard to control.  There's so many unknowns and the elements of weather and bounces and so to sustain a really high level for a period of time, I find very remarkable.


Q.  Following up on Yani, I know you know her well, and she's still so young.  Do you sense that she still has that hunger and drive, or do you think maybe she's beyond that window now?
           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  Well, I don't think she's beyond that window, but I do think that it's going to take a lot of work for her to get back.  She's worked very hard already, and she continues to push herself.
           
But we see a lot of talented players out there, and you have to do it every day, every week, every month, every year.  She lives a very comfortable life and I think she's wanting to enjoy a little bit.  What I mean by enjoy is when you can make a profession like this 24/7, I think she's wanting to hang out a little bit with friends.
           
Some of these players are very young and come out on Tour when they are 18 and 19, and there are other parts of your life that you don't want to miss.  She's still, you know, a top player in the world, and that sometimes could be satisfying for somebody.  I've seen her a little bit lately and I've talked to her, and she's not as hungry for No. 1; it's not something that she mentions constantly; before, she did.  So that might say something about it.
           
KAY COCKERILL:  I think with a lot of the young players turning pro and playing at such high levels early, that the burnout factor is definitely there.  That can happen to them before they are 30, and we are seeing a whole different type of player now than we saw even in the 80s and 90s.
           
And you had players like Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel and Juli Inkster who are still competing.  They got involved in golf and really were at higher levels later in their years, more like late teens or early 20s before they developed their game.  And they also had true love, love affairs with a game of golf and I think that will carry a player longer into their career.
           
I feel like some of these young players may not truly love the game; they may love competition and that may be all they know but they may not have developed a real passion for the game.

 
Q.  I wonder what you can tell me about ‑‑ just thinking of people that might have been No. 1 at some point, about Michelle Wie's putting stance and stroke these days, and just generally some thoughts about where she stands these days.
           
KAY COCKERILL:  I've known Michelle for a very long time.  I've watched her play since she was ten years old, and she was at the time the youngest to qualify for the women's Public Links which has now been eclipsed by Lucy Li.  So Michelle has been part of our golf world for so many years and it's hard to believe she's only 23 years old.
           
I personally do not like her putting stance.  I find it amazing that she can even stand in that position for an amount of time.  Maybe it doesn't bother her back very much.  She certainly wouldn't be using that putting stance if it hurt or was uncomfortable.  It's not what you're typically used to seeing, but it takes ‑‑ I have to tip my hat to her because it takes a bit of guts and bravery to do something very different and risked being made fun of.
           
She has committed to this.  She seems to; I think she's been told what to do so much that if this was truly her own idea and her own experiment that she felt strongly about and she's committed to it, I applaud her for that.  I don't know how long it's going to stay, but she does seem to be putting a little bit better.  She has holed some putts.  She's had a couple Top 10s recently.
           
She's starting to build herself, I told this story ‑‑ that for someone so young, age 23, she has a lot of baggage.  She's experienced a lot of negative things and has a lot of bad memories that players may not have really until they are 40 or 45 years old.
           
So she's shown a tremendous amount of optimism and hope and hard work and dedication, just to stay in it and keep feeling like the good things are right around the corner.
           
So I think with her talent and with her potential, of course, she still has the potential to be a very good player.  Will she be the type of player like Annika, winning seven, eight, ten times a year and double‑digit Majors?  Right now, I would say, no, I don't know if she's going to be that kind of player, but I still think that she can be a very fine, consistently winning player.
           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  Yeah, I don't think there's much to add to that.  I played against Michelle Wie later in my career and early in her career, and you know, she was extremely talented.  Her future was extremely bright.
           
She's gone through some up and downs in her career, which we are all familiar with.  You know, when things don't go right, we experiment.  You have to find ways to make it happen.

I know from my perspective in putting, I had some years where I didn't putt well.  I tried left‑hand‑low, you try a lot of different things, because when you don't make putts, there's nothing more frustrating.  Because you're hitting fairways and you're hitting greens and there are opportunities and you can't convert them.

So putting is so important, and when you don't make putts, it's just so frustrating.  I think in Michelle's case, that's what she's going through and she's willing to try anything.  And this is her idea, and there's certainly no lack of instruction from her end.  I know she has tried everything, and eventually you have to try something new.

You know, when that putter releases and you make some putts, the tension in your long game is going to go away and you're going to play so much better, and that's what I think she needs.  We've seen her develop as a young person, and you know, the potential is there that you have to go through this one way or another.

        
Q.  Does she have an instructor that's helped her develop this style or is it just her idea?
           
KAY COCKERILL:  I believe she picked this ‑‑ she's been working with Leadbetter for quite a few years; Gary Gilchrist before that, but Leadbetter has been for the last nine years, ten years.
           
I think, Annika, she experimented with this on her own, unless she talked about it with her parents, who are obviously very influential, as well.
           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  Yeah, that's what I've heard, and even worked with Dave Stockton a little bit.  There's not lots of instruction available.  And we know that anybody that's played golf, when you become too mechanical on the greens, then you've gone too far.  You have to find a balance of trust, imagination and technique.  That's when you putt the best.
           
Right now, she has a lot more doubt than confidence, and it's hard.  She's trying something new.  Standing the way she does, it probably stabilizes her upper body a little bit more.  She has a strong back, so good for her (chuckling).
           
THE MODERATOR:  One final question and we'll wrap it up.  You talked about Inbee a little bit.  You talked about Yani a little bit today, but talk about, you've been out on the road with the LPGA Tour, and Annika, of course, you're following; but whose golf game do you think is hot leading into this tournament next week?
           
KAY COCKERILL:  Obviously Inbee is a given, and I think Stacy Lewis is someone you always have to look at, because she's so consistent.  And it's interesting that this year, I saw her coach this year and they are trying something different.  Her working on her game this weekend and her coach is not coming next week; so do the work beforehand and then just go play golf and learn how to play that course well.  So I like that approach, doing her preparation beforehand and freeing herself up just to play.
           
Karrie Webb is not here this week but she is a two‑time Women's Open champ.  She's been playing really well lately.  She's proved a lot to us about what she still has in her game.  She scored a beautiful 68 in Atlantic City, and that's a seaside, coastal course, which probably is not going to be exactly like Sebonack but maybe there will be a few little similarities.  I like Karrie's chances for putting right now and she seems to be very confident and she's always been a great ball‑striker, but her putting confidence is very high, so that's why she's been at the top.
           
Someone that's surprised me and sort of always overlooked and Annika, you know Catriona Matthew very well, she's been consistently right in there.  She's not flashy.  People overlook her because she doesn't do a lot of ‑‑ she doesn't have a lot of big sponsorship endorsement deals.  She's just a mom with two kids and a simple, very efficient golf swing and she always seems to be in the mix, especially at tough courses and big venues.  So she's sort of someone that maybe we are not thinking about, who I say, look out for.
           
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:  Yeah, I would agree with you there.  You know, Karrie, she has the experience and she's won this year.  That golf course, listening to it, sounds like it suit her, and she has a wonderful short game.  It could be her; experience, Major winner, just one week ago at a tough golf course, probably energized her a little bit.
           
Somebody I think could play well, not on the radar, young player like Jessica Korda, quite long off the tee, she's had a few really good rounds ‑‑ I know this is a Major Championship, and the U.S. Open was my first.  I mean, you never know.  I kind of like the way she plays and she feels very comfortable it looks like.
           
Going into Majors for some reason, I always think that you have to have experience.  Like I said, when I won, I was ‑‑ you know, that was my first win, but I think anybody can bomb it off the tee, and it's around the greens, that could play a factor as far as experience goes.
           
KAY COCKERILL:  Suzann Pettersen is another player that's always there.  She has the tools to win a U.S. Open.  I think sometimes with her, she's so intense and wants things so much that that sometimes hinders her.
           
So if she can relax and kind of let it come to her and be the natural athlete she is, because her ball‑striking ‑‑ if she can relax to let it come, she's also someone we can look at.
           
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Topics: Interviews, Sorenstam, Annika, US Women's Open

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