Things might not be new, but they are different. Annika Sorenstam knows better than most what it’s like to defend a title. She did it 72 times on the LPGA Tour, including 10 major championships. In fact, two of her first four career wins were U.S. Women’s Opens, the first in 1995, followed by a successful defense in 1996. But Sorenstam’s title defense this week at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open is not a repeat of an old song, but a new melody that sounds oddly familiar.
“I think it feels different because I don't do it,” Sorenstam said of defending this title. “This is the first one this year and the first one since I stopped playing as far as I can remember.
“It's hard to put in perspective,” Sorenstam said when reflecting back on her victory at the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open, the first time she was eligible for the event. “It was just the coolest thing I think I've experienced in a long time. Lucky to be a mom and lucky to have my husband on the bag and to share such a special moment. We had worked together on it for quite some time. It wasn't just something (where we said,) ‘Let's go play the U.S. Senior Women's Open.’ The preparation (was huge) and to have the kids there with me and friends and family; to be able to share all that, for us it was a fairytale, it really was. I could not have asked for a better return to a USGA championship.”
Since that time, Sorenstam has prepared even more for her title defense. Not only did she return to the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, an event where she has played in the celebrity division the last couple of years, she also competed in the U.S. Women’s Open presented by ProMedica at Pine Needles, the Scandinavian Mixed in Sweden (an event she hosts), the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Michigan with partner and fellow Swede Madelene Sagstrom, and the Senior LPGA Championship. It’s the most competitive golf she has played in more than a dozen years since she retired from tour life to start a family.
Now, Sorenstam is excited to be out, not because of her desire to “come back,” but because of how it feels having her family around. Her husband Mike McGee has been caddying for Annika since she began competing again and the couple’s son, Will, is an ever-present force in the gallery.
“They're coming tomorrow,” Sorenstam of her kids, who will make the trek from Florida to NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio. “They started school already, so we have to count the days that we take them away from there. But they're coming tomorrow and look forward to having them with us.”
Unlike a year ago when she had no idea what to expect when she teed off “under the pencil” for the first time since retiring, she feels more confident this time around.
“You know, I feel really good about my game,” she said with a hint of a smile. “I'm not going to say too much. Golf is golf; we know what that's like. As you know, I've been playing quite a bit this year on different tours, different events, and been working on my game. I'm happy to be here. I'm happy to defend. I really don't do that very often. So, we're going to cherish the moment.
“When I was here for the media day, I fell in love with this place,” she said of NCR Country Club’s South Course. “Ohio has been good to me on a lot of levels, so this place is just very special. You can really tell that it's a championship golf course. You have to drive it well. You have to hit good shots. It's just a true test.
“The goal here is to come, play, and have a good time. I've said it before, this is a family affair. I'm also playing for a different purpose, to try and go out there and just have a good time and see what happens.”
Then, a minute later, she reflected on her expectations a little more. And without giving too much away, the 51-year-old LPGA Hall of Famer said, “I'm thinking that I have a chance. I think I come in here knowing -- before I didn't really know where my game was and where I stood and how the others were playing. Now I feel like (I know).
“I had a good time last time,” she said. “There's something about winning. There's something about performing. That's a feeling that I felt a lot before. And I still like it.”