Annika Sorenstam "tunes-up" at Safeway on the road to elusive "Soren-slam"
The Safeway International sponsored by Coca-Cola is always an important tournament for the ladies on tour. A few events have been played and comfort zones are being established. The girls are starting to sling the hash about their dreams of surpassing the number one golfer on tour and are busily trying to amass points for the ADT Championship finals and the $1 million prize that goes along with it.
This week heralds an event that is essentially a tune-up for next week’s first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco Tournament. Sorenstam’s victory last year had many people conjecturing the possibility of a “Soren-slam". Although a sweep of the four majors did not occur, Annika still went on to win half of all of the tournaments she entered.
This week at the Prospector Course at Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club, Annika will attempt a three-peat while at the same time being challenged by the number two on tour, Paula Creamer, as well a a bevy of rookies pushing for their first LPGA victory.
I’m not much of a believer that the first place prize of $210,000 or the gift of an all-inclusive stay at one of Canyon Ranch’s resorts is as important to the competitors as toppling Annika Sorenstam off her perch. The LPGA’s number-one player has four consecutive tournaments under her belt to date, has never lost on this venue and feels confident about her game. And why shouldn’t she? Her achievements are becoming the stuff that legends are made of. For example, from 1997-99 Annika swept the Michelob Light Classic, she claims three victories at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship from 2003-2005 and is looking for this victory to add to the “Soren-slam” and is gunning for her sixth Mizuno Classic trophy. Annika Sorenstam finishes in the top-ten an amazing 75 percent of the time!
The girls are going to have to work pretty diligently on their games to be able to take one away from Annika. As Annika puts it she makes crucial shots at the most crucial moments being able to hit the “dream shot” she needs to at just the right moment.
But goal-setting is the name of the game for both professional athletes as well as beginners because it gives you something to achieve. At the pre-tournament interviews Paula Creamer stated, “my main goal last year was (the) Solheim Cup, but (this year) it’s to be the number one player.”
The “Pink Panther’s” receipt of the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award seemed effortless. There wasn’t anyone even near her in the points standings although Meena Lee made a mid-season charge with her victory at the BMO Financial Group Canadian Women’s Open. This year is a totally different story. Creamer is no longer a rookie and feels more pressure because she is now like a poster-child of the LPGA. Her young, fresh face can be seen on magazines and her sponsors are expecting her to perform well.
The 2006 season places rookie Seon Hwa Lee both atop the ADT Money List and as a leader in points for the Rookie of the Year Award. But instead of her dominating in points as did Creamer in 2005 she is being chased by Parguay’s Julieta Granada and outspoken American contender Morgan Pressel. This will make the season more interesting and we’re likely to see a competitive spirit emerge between both the young guns and even between the veterans on tour.
Speaking of Pressel, she isn’t as outspoken as she has been in the past and is starting to watch her comments realizing that the press will take her words and “twist” them as she stated in her pre-round interview. “I think a lot of it’s taken way out of context. And, you know, I have my opinions, but a lot of it’s taken much harsher.” What are Pressel’s opinions of this year’s group of players?
“I think people are going to recognize that more and more often, there is going to be a group of players that could easily, top her that week,” says Morgan, speaking of Sorenstam. Pressel also believes that her publicity on tour is helping to bring people to the course and more television viewers. Which young gun can try to defeat Annika this week?
Annika doesn’t feel discouraged or upset that the younger players are getting more attention than she does. She’s actually happy with the insurgence of the more talked-about golfers. More interest brings more sponsorships, better television and press coverage and more fans. “I don’t mind sharing the spotlight a little bit,” states Sorenstam. “Maybe I can practice under the radar and play under the radar. It might be a good thing.”
As an aside, take notice of Sorenstam’s “Lexus” logo adorning her shirt. She is now the ambassador for Lexus, removing the Mercedes emblem from her attire. Annika has selected a Lexus GX Utility vehicle for her own personal use.
Natalie Gulbis is still searching for her first victory although she has been impressive this season with all top-five finishes. Lorena Ochoa had victory snatched from her grasp last year during a sudden-death playoff and has been tuning her game now for the last four events.
Let’s not count out the veterans in this week’s pairings. Always poised to grab a trophy, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster and Laura Davies are among the stalwarts here in Phoenix. Both Webb and Davies are previous winners at the Safeway. Grace Park, who is in Annika’s group today, is just hoping to put her miserable 2005 season behind her even though most of her poor performance was due to recurring injuries. Even Rosie Jones has decided to attend even though rumors were flying last year of her retirement.
The Golf Channel is televising this tournament all weekend, from March 16th through March 19th from 8-10p.m (ET). Although I’m happy that the LPGA is getting cable television coverage I would eventually love to see these events on the networks.
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It makes you wonder why Mercedes let Annika get away?
Is it possible Mercedes is looking to a younger sponsor for the future?
They may join in with the Nike, Sony and Omega Suits in an effort to add youth to their advertising portfolio.
All the little "Rich Girls" would want to drive around in a Mercedes, wearing a sparkly diamond Omega Watch, all while dressed in their Nike attire and talking to their friends on a Sony Phone.
The SL-600 would look quite nice cruising around Hawaii. I wonder if Punahou has student parking? :-)
The younger golfers are where the $$$ are...but I don't think Mercedes dropped Annika.
This is our debut on the World Golf Network. Barry and I co-host the podcast each week and my blog has also been recruited to the network.
Thanks for noticing!
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