By Lisa D. Mickey
Charlotta Sorenstam might be the new teacher on the block among LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals (T&CP), but already, this former winner on the LPGA Tour has some fresh ideas about how to reach her students.
As the director of golf operations at the ANNIKA Academy at Reunion Resort and Club outside Orlando, Fla., Sorenstam has joined forces with her sister, LPGA great Annika Sorenstam, and longtime swing instructor, Henri Reis, to build the academy into a viable golf learning institution. Both sisters have transitioned from competing on the LPGA Tour to focusing on the swings and dreams of others at the nearly three-year-old ANNIKA Academy.
And while big sister Annika is the visionary and entrepreneur behind the school, Charlotta is quickly gaining a following as a teacher, as well as the instincts of a leader on the instruction tee.
"It's a different gratification," said Sorenstam, 37, who defeated Karrie Webb and sister Annika at the LPGA Tour's 2000 Standard Register PING, and then added another professional title at the 2001 Hyundai Securities Ladies Open on the Korean LPGA Tour (KLPGA).
"Of course I miss the crowds, the fans, the excitement and the pressure of hitting a good shot in competition, but I've found new pleasure in getting e-mails from students who just won a tournament, or a long-drive competition, or a club championship, or who want to tell me they're not slicing anymore," she added. "That's the new excitement I get as a teacher because it's a challenge to find solutions to their problems."
And while her big sister's name often attracts golfers to the academy for group learning, customized schools and private outings, Charlotta Sorenstam has continued expanding her private clientele and hands-on instruction with up-and-coming juniors, amateurs and young professionals, both male and female.
"Maybe for the first time in her life and golfing career, people are coming to her for who she is and not for her name," said Mike Magee III, who is involved in the digital media publishing business and is Charlotta's boyfriend. (He also shares a similar name as Annika's husband, Mike McGee.]
Truthfully, it was often difficult to be the little sister on the same golf tour as one of the LPGA's greatest-ever players. Charlotta was sometimes called "Annika #2." And as successful as she was in her own right as a player, with an individual NCAA Championship while at the University of Texas, top-10 finishes in seven of her 10 full LPGA seasons, a spot on the 1998 European Solheim Cup team, and more than $1.5 million in earnings, she was often overlooked by media and fans, and always overshadowed by her sister's star power.
"I'm so proud of her and I don't mind people asking me about her, but sometimes, it's how they ask," said Charlotta. "Annika has helped me become better, both as a player and now as a teacher. I've grown as a person and I want to get better. But I really want to be known for what I do."
When Annika asked Charlotta to come aboard with her at the ANNIKA Academy, the two sisters put their heads together on how to create a learning center that would deliver top-shelf training and instruction for their students. Charlotta became certified and trained by Callaway Golf as a Callaway club fitter and the academy became one of only 13 Callaway Performance Centers. Charlotta also became a certified golf fitness instructor through the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI). Additionally, she has a K-Vest Level 2 certification for a 3-D animation program that provides feedback of what the body and hands are doing throughout the golf swing.
"Annika is a perfectionist and she knows what she wants at the academy," said Charlotta. "I'm out there in the field every day, helping students get what they need."
But while Team ANNIKA is always looking for ways to enhance the brand and to tweak what the academy has to offer, Charlotta is working with Magee to brand herself as a teacher. She plans to launch "LOTTA Golf" in December using a Smartphone application. Through the high-tech program, she can send drills to her students over their mobile phones and her students can email swing videos back to their teacher for analysis.
"It will be a fast, effective way for them to get quick feedback, wherever they are," she said. "It's hip and cool for the younger players, who really want the technology."
The Swede laughs when she says the best part of no longer traveling on tour is "staying in one place, being able to drive to work and seeing my dog every night," but admittedly, she has had to adjust to a regular schedule at the academy. Her work hours now require her to be available for lessons six days a week for three weeks each month, October through May.
"When I started cutting back on my tournament schedule [in 2007], I was still hitting the ball well, but I wasn't getting the results I wanted," she said. "I was frustrated, and then this came along. So I came into it without any expectations."
But what happened was that a shy, somewhat reticent LPGA touring professional blossomed. Sorenstam found that being in the public and media spotlight on the LPGA Tour had been awkward and difficult. Now, standing before students wanting to learn at the academy, she suddenly found her voice.
"I'm a lot better at that, maybe because I'm more relaxed," she said. "It's a different kind of pressure. The pressure now is to communicate more than to perform."
Because she has played and won at the highest level, Sorenstam wants to share some of her life's experiences with her students. As a seven-year member of the Swedish National Team, she can bring a little bit of her homeland's winning ways to America. And as a player who says her only mulligan on the LPGA Tour would be to have "practiced more effectively" and to have "practiced er weaknesses more," her students can expect instruction based on practical application.
Like so many widely acclaimed male teaching professionals who share her current hometown of Orlando, Sorenstam says she hopes someday to be considered as an equally proficient swing coach, in demand by both male and female touring professionals.
But until then, she is content to make a difference for those students who have set goals in golf at a variety of levels.
"Now, I see how happy a student can be for little things," she said. "My objective for them is to have an effective swing that allows them to play injury-free for many years."
And like Charlotta Sorenstam, to ultimately make their own mark in the game.