BELLEAIR, FLA. | This is something she’s wanted for a long time, not to burnish her brand or enhance her image – with a legacy that has her leading every “best that ever was” conversation, there’s not much left that could elevate her stature – but this opportunity does allow her to give back and remain engaged.
On Tuesday in Belleair, Florida, officials from the LPGA Tour and the Pelican Women’s Championship announced that, beginning in 2023, the tournament will be called The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican, making Annika Sorenstam the only LPGA Tour player with a tournament currently named after her and the first since the Lorena Ochoa Match Play fell from the schedule after 2017.
“It’s been in the works for a long time,” Sorenstam said last week as she was rushing out the door to take her family to the Bahamas for a few days. “I’ve always wanted to have a tournament to continue my partnership with the LPGA. And Florida makes a lot of sense. Playing the Gainbridge (LPGA) last year at Lake Nona (Golf & Country Club) and being involved with people, like Marci (Doyle, the Pelican Women’s Championship executive director), whom I’ve known for many, many, many years, it all made sense. It’s been brewing in a lot of ways.”
There was once a time when celebrity names donned almost every event on the PGA Tour calendar. Glenn Campbell, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleeson were among many who joined the more famous Bob Hope and Bing Crosby as the face of various tournaments. There was even a short-lived mini-tour event called the Jerry Clower Yazoo City Classic named for a stand-up comedian remembered by almost no one.
Players were a different story. Only a few carried enough sway to elevate a tournament brand. The Arnold Palmer Invitational was one; the Byron Nelson Classic another. Nancy Lopez hosted the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship for years, but the tournament was never called “the Nancy.” Lorena’s event began as the Lorena Ochoa Invitational and evolved into the Lorena Ochoa Match Play, which was a fall event in Mexico. Other than that, the only LPGA Tour event with a one-name celebrity attachment was “The Dinah,” after Dinah Shore, now The Chevron Championship.
If anyone can elevate the panache of a late-season, full-field event on one of the best golf courses the tour plays all year, it’s Annika. To date, the ANNIKA Foundation, which is the charity beneficiary of the new event, runs six ANNIKA junior invitationals in five countries, annually hosting 600 girls from 60 different countries. Her name is also attached to one of the world’s best collegiate golf events. The annual award to the best female college golfer is called the ANNIKA Award, and the LPGA Tour’s best player in the major championships annually receives the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award. Now, she has added an LPGA Tour event to that list of namesakes.
“When I first talked with Annika and (her husband) Mike (McGee) about this opportunity and we came up with different names, (calling it The ANNIKA) was just the right thing to do,” said Dan Towriss, president and CEO of Group 1001, parent company of Gainbridge. “I think with what Annika has meant to women's golf and her impact on the sport, we're so proud to be associated with her. We think the order of the names is exactly right. We'll get out and activate. Gainbridge will get its due. But this is about Annika and what she's meant to the sport. That certainly is the way we wanted it.”
“This one completes the circle,” Sorenstam said. “We now have everyone from 6-year-olds to having a professional tournament. We’re now able to go from every level, every aspect of the game.
“The LPGA is where my career started and now seeing all the ANNIKA (collegiate event) alumni there, we try to inspire them at every level to be their best and we hope to do that with this event, too.
“In our case, it shows my commitment, and the LPGA’s commitment, making it a partnership with Gainbridge. We’re just going to be super involved in a number of ways. I want people to know how important this event is for us.
“I won’t be in the field as a player, but I will be engaged in many other aspects of the event. They’ll be a women’s event, a junior clinic, pro-ams, pro-am dinners, sponsor commitments, those things will need a lot of support and I will be there for that.
“Pelican seems like such a special place. I can’t wait to get started.”