BELLEAIR, Fla. — Annika Sorenstam is used to achievement. As a 72-time LPGA Tour winner and a 10-time major champion who has won the Rolex Player of the Year award a record eight times and who leads the LPGA Tour career money list at $22,583,693, success is something that the legend is more than familiar with, something that’s been associated with her name since she burst onto the scene in 1995 with a win at the U.S. Women’s Open.
There are also very few things in the game of golf that Sorenstam hasn’t done. Commonly referred to as the greatest of all time, the Swede was the first Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 1, teed it up in a PGA Tour event in 2003, has won three U.S. Women’s Open titles, shot 59 at the 2001 Standard Register PING and still holds numerous records on the LPGA Tour, among plenty of other accolades of which there are too many to list fully.
But this week, Sorenstam added a new honor to her laundry list of incredible achievements – serving as tournament host at what’s now her namesake event, The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican.
It’s a role she’s held before at the amateur level, putting on events through her ANNIKA Foundation across the globe for junior girls of all ages as well as collegiate golfers from all over the country. Sorenstam has also been involved in the Volvo Car Scandinavian Mixed on the Ladies European Tour and DP World Tour. But this is her first time hosting an event on the LPGA Tour, and The ANNIKA has been something Sorenstam has been looking forward to since the tournament was announced this time last year.
“Seeing my name on an LPGA event is very fulfilling, and I’m thankful to Gainbridge for helping the ANNIKA Foundation expand our reach at the professional level for current and future women’s golfers,” said Sorenstam ahead of the week in Belleair, Fla. “We want to inspire and empower girls at every level in their golfing journeys. We have programs that help inspire juniors starting at age six, through junior golf, into college golf and now professional golf.
“Louise Rydqvist, the Swede from (the University of) South Carolina, is a good example of this. She played in our ANNIKA Cup for young juniors in Sweden, then our ANNIKA Invitational Europe, then our ANNIKA Intercollegiate, and now, through that event, got an exemption to play in The ANNIKA. That’s what we are all about.”
Throughout the week at Pelican Golf Club, Sorenstam could be seen roaming around with her husband, Mike McGee, and her children, Ava and Will, grinning from ear-to-ear as she walked past the numerous fixtures, signs and umbrellas bearing her name that were scattered around the property. She gave one of her trademark “Share My Passion” clinics, made two appearances in the Golf Channel booth and caught up with many of the 57 ANNIKA alums in the 120-player field, athletes who had benefited from her events as young golfers who are now chasing – and achieving – their dreams on the LPGA Tour.
“I love seeing these young girls living their dream,” Sorenstam said. “I've seen some from 16 years back. Whether it's Nelly Korda, Alison Lee, Leona Maguire. I'm not going to repeat all of them, but it's great to have them all here. Anything that you do, when you see it's working and you see the results, it's inspiring.”
It couldn’t have been a better ending on Sunday for Sorenstam as ANNIKA Alum Lilia Vu came from three shots behind to hoist The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican trophy, capturing her fourth victory of the 2023 LPGA Tour season. Finishing at 19-under (261) to break the 72-hole tournament scoring record by two shots, Vu won by three strokes over Alison Lee and Azahara Munoz, joining Celine Boutier as the only other player to win four or more times this season.
With two majors on her LPGA Tour resume, it’s hard for Vu to pick favorites, but her victory at The ANNIKA is definitely ranked near the top of her list of successes, simply because of whose name is attached to the tournament.
“Annika has done so much for women's golf. Every single level of golf, junior golf, The ANNIKA Junior, and then the ANNIKA Award in college. I was really bummed out when I didn't get that when I played in college, so I'm finally super excited to win something (her) name on it,” Vu said. “I think (this win ranks) second-best, just after the Open. I thought about it a lot. I think I want more wins in America, and to add this one to my results has been really great. And (for it) to be Annika's event is just amazing.”
For Sorenstam, this latest achievement also ranks pretty high.
While she’s at a much different point in her life than when she was playing on Tour full-time, having an event named in your honor is one of those acknowledgments that few in the game ever receive, a fact that isn’t lost on Sorenstam. Her over-arching message on Sunday at Pelican Golf Club was one of gratitude, as Sorenstam recognizes how much of a privilege it is for The ANNIKA to even exist.
But the G.O.A.T, just like she did throughout her playing career, won’t stop here and knows that there’s still plenty of room for The ANNIKA – and women’s golf – to keep pushing and to keep growing, a challenge she’s taking personally as she continues working to elevate the women’s game.
“This is a dream come true and a different chapter in my life. It's still a little bit surreal to see my name on the tournament, on the signage. It's been everywhere. But I'm very thankful for that. My passion to give back to the game has not got any less or any smaller,” Sorenstam said. “I think women's golf has come a long way, but there is still more to go and more to do. So, if we can help out, it just warms my heart to see they're getting a chance to live their dream like I'm living my dream.
“I'm proud, but that doesn't mean that we're settled. You know us. We keep going. We keep going forward and higher and better, hopefully.”
THE GREATNESS IN THIS PHOTO 🤩😱 pic.twitter.com/ADdwrYGhjp— LPGA (@LPGA) November 12, 2023