I came to America in 1990, a wide-eyed teenager with a dream of playing college golf and, hopefully, having a successful professional career on the LPGA Tour. That dream began when I saw Liselotte Neumann, a Swede, win the U.S. Women’s Open. If a “local” girl from our country could win the biggest event in women’s golf, maybe I could make it, too.
During college at the University of Arizona, my desire to play professionally grew stronger as I watched the best women golfers in the world compete on television and, occasionally, in person. They inspired me to work harder and focus. My parents taught me that there are no shortcuts to success. Through hard work, dedication, boundless help from others and more opportunities than I could imagine, all my dreams of success in golf came true. When I played, I wanted to win. Though I never could have dreamed of winning 72 LPGA Tour events including 10 major championships.
Even after my retirement from the LPGA Tour, my life has exceeded my greatest expectations.
Last fall, I learned from President Trump that Gary Player and I had been chosen to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is America’s highest civilian honor and certainly the most distinguished honor I’ve ever received. My response came in a wave of emotions: goosebumps – for sure. Then gratitude, pride and humility.
I am enormously grateful to the President for this honor and all it represents to me, to my family, to the LPGA and the ANNIKA Foundation. I am proud to be the first LPGA player and female athlete who is a naturalized American citizen to be recognized in this way. It is an overwhelming feeling. I am grateful, I am humbled, I am moved, and I am blessed.
In reflecting on this honor, I realize how thankful I am for the groundwork laid by others. I am very thankful for the love and support I have received from my parents and my sister throughout my career. I am thankful for the LPGA Founders, the 13 pioneering women who paved the way for me and every other little girl who dreamed of playing the LPGA Tour. I’m thankful for all of the tournaments, sponsors, organizers and volunteers; people who believe in women’s professional golf and who give tirelessly of their time and resources to make the LPGA Tour a reality. I’m thankful for the charities that benefit from the LPGA Tour and all the good they do throughout the world. I’m thankful for Mike Whan and the leadership team that helped grow the LPGA into a global brand. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have traveled around the world and to have met so many incredible people. I’m also thankful for my fellow competitors who pushed me to be my best inside the ropes and who embraced me as a friend outside of them.
I am grateful beyond words for my husband, Mike McGee, and his hard work and support - both at work and at home. We have two great kids who are starting to understand the game. They like watching the LPGA Tour and they get a kick out of hearing Mama’s name every once in a while.
And of course, I’m thankful for my journey in golf, which has taught me so many life lessons: Strength in the face of adversity, courage to overcome my painful shyness, and the ability to believe in myself. Golf has given me the platform to give back. I am very proud of the ANNIKA Foundation and the opportunities we give to young girls around the world to play the great game of golf. We try to inspire and mentor the next generation of girls through our “More than Golf” mantra at each of our events. More than 6,000 girls from over 60 different countries have played in our tournaments, and over 60 of our alumnae have made it to the LPGA.
Other parts of my life have also exceeded my dreams. My journey to America was for golf. There were opportunities in the U.S. that simply weren’t available in Sweden. But I also discovered a life here that I love. The people, the lifestyle and the culture have all become a part of me. Whether in Orlando or Lake Tahoe, we have great neighbors and communities of friends, and we enjoy activities with our kids and the parents of their friends. We love our normal routines like taking them to school, their sporting events, going to the grocery store and being active outdoors together as a family. I love everything about our lives here, especially being home and sharing meals together.
Of course, I am also Swedish. I don’t know a single naturalized American citizen who doesn’t have wonderful things to say about their native countries. I am no different. I love Sweden. I was honored to represent Sweden in many international events and was privileged to captain the European Solheim Cup team in 2017. I am proud to go back each summer to host the ANNIKA Invitational Europe there, and I look forward to the new Scandinavian Mixed event I’ll host with Henrik Stenson starting this summer. I enjoy taking our kids there and sharing different parts of my homeland. I like to say that our family has blended two cultures into one.
We had to keep the Presidential Medal of Freedom announcement a close secret for the better part of five months, which wasn’t easy. We were able to share it in confidence with a few family and friends so they could arrange to travel to Washington, D.C. for the March 23 ceremony. But in terms of a broader announcement, we couldn’t get ahead of the White House.
Holding that secret allowed me to reflect on the last 30 years of my life and all the extraordinary opportunities I’ve had and people I have met. I wanted to write this piece to say, thank you. To the country where I’ve built my home. To the LPGA and the game of golf, which has given me a platform and purpose beyond my wildest dreams. And to my family and friends for their encouragement, love and support. This honor is your honor, too.