It’s taken until the 2020s for 50 to become the perfect age, square in the middle of what most people hope will be the 21st-century life expectancy. At the moment, 50 is the new 35, the spot in life where a few aches, sags and confounding and recurring itches are a small price to pay for some built-in confidence and cache. And grey, it turns out, is the new blonde. Just ask hairdressers whose appointment books are full of teenagers wanting to dye their locks colors ranging from powdered sugar to Bondo, shades most AARP members fight tooth and nail to avoid. But today it’s chic. Tick that fifth decade with a few strands of white over your ears and you instantly command the respect of the whippersnappers. An added bonus, assuming you have the interest and enough juice to put in the work, is that you can still beat the stew out of a few of them.
Just ask Annika Sorenstam.
At brunchtime on Thursday, the 50-year-old LPGA Hall of Famer and mother of two meandered out of her home just off the 16th green at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club and ventured about 600 yards south to the clubhouse for a 12:25 tee time in the Gainbridge LPGA. It was her first official round in an LPGA Tour event in 13 years. One of the first things she did when she went to the putting green a few minutes after 11:00 a.m. ET was check her stand bag to make sure one of the kids hadn’t put an extra club or two in there.
“Considering my plans for the summer and turning 50 (last) October, wanting to play the U.S. Women's Senior Open, I figured I just needed some tournament rounds,” Sorenstam said. “I need some experience back inside the ropes and focusing on 18 holes, making putts, no Mulligans and no gimmes.
“I was really persuaded more by my family and parents, our kids, and then neighbors and members, and also the pro here at Lake Nona, who said, ‘Of course you're going to play.’ So, it was really a late addition and not something that was on my mind.”
She wasn’t even sure how to enter and had to call the LPGA Chief Tour Operations Officer, Heather Daly-Donofrio, who also played on Tour with Sorenstam, for a refresher course.
“I think the biggest thing that I messed up was the practice round tee times,” Sorenstam said. “I was told that you're supposed to be ready by 7:00 on Saturday. I didn't hear 7:00. I just heard Saturday. I somehow messed that up. Luckily, I was able to play with Anna (Nordqvist) on Monday anyway and with Danielle (Kang) on Tuesday. It was a little different, but you’ve got to get used to these new rules. By the time I figure them all out, I'm outta here.
“Again, if it wasn't for Lake Nona (being the host site) I wouldn't be playing. This is not a comeback. It's an appearance. And I'm just thrilled about that.”
Those who know her best know better, including Kang who has been a phone buddy of Sorenstam’s for the past year. The two chat about attitude and mental preparation, what it takes to get to the next level. On the surface, they seem like an odd pairing. Sorenstam was famously shy as a player and remained uncomfortable in large settings for the first couple of years of her retirement, while Kang has been gregarious since she burst onto the scene as a teenager. But that’s part of the magic of turning 50 with a resume that includes 10 major championships and a 72 LPGA Tour titles. Kang, who shared a great story about Sorenstam giving her media-training tips as a kid, also said that she was nervous in her practice round on Monday.
“I'm excited to be here and appreciate the opportunity to come back and see all these players,” Sorenstam said. “I know it's a limited field, but they have, I think,, 40 players that are playing here this week that are ANNIKA alumni as we call them, meaning they have played in one or more of our events around the world the last 13 years. So, I've seen many of these young players grow up, whether it's Anna Nordqvist, the Korda sisters, Maria Fassi, Leona Maguire, Bronte Law. I mean, you name it, I've seen them grow up and play in either our invitationals or intercollegiate.
“So, now to be inside the ropes playing with them, it's kind of fun and also makes me more in tune in what the courses are like and what they go through every week.”
Sorenstam parred her first four holes playing alongside fellow Swedes Anna Nordqvist and Madelene Sagstrom, both of whom grew up idolizing Sorenstam.
“Playing with who might have been the best golfer of all time is going to be amazing and an experience that, as a little girl, I could never have dreamed of doing,” Sagstrom, the defending champion at Gainbridge, said before the first round. “Playing with her and Anna is going to be great. I do feel sorry for our caddies because we're going to be speaking Swedish. But it's going to be such a good time.”
Sorenstam put up a triple-bogey on her first nine, something that she most certainly would not characterize as a “good time.” But she bounced back and played pretty well afterward.
That’s the beauty of being 50. You no longer live and die by the numbers on your card. There are kids watching who love you, a husband carrying your bag. And a field full of players who will stop and look and speak.
No matter what you shoot, it’s perfect.