'The Time Is Right'
After a dominating performance at Kingsmill, Annika Sorenstam announces she will retire at the end of the season
For the 72nd time in an LPGA career that began in 1994, Annika Sorenstam walked out of an interview room after a victorious performance, this one a textbook display of near-perfect golf in the Michelob Ultra Open at the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va. Her smile showed weary signs of the effort needed to play championship golf as she turned her gaze toward a familiar face and said, "It was like old times, wasn't it?" Then, in a secluded corner of a not-yet-open dining room, speaking in a voice that never once indicated a shred of doubt in her decision, the Swede who transformed herself into the one-word superstar "Annika" told Golf World she was retiring from competitive golf at the end of this year.
The news was not completely surprising. There always had been an unspoken understanding implied in Sorenstam's commitment to perfection that she would walk away from the game on top. But unlike Sandy Koufax, who quit baseball in 1966 at age 31 after winning 27 games that year, or Jim Brown, who left football at 29 following an MVP season in 1965, Annika is not breaking her ties with the sport she dominated but rather transforming that connection from inside the ropes to outside. In that way, she is more like Bobby Jones, who retired from competition at 28 in 1930 after winning the Grand Slam, then co-founded Augusta National GC and started the Masters.
If the 37-year-old Sorenstam feared her retirement, which she planned to announce Tuesday afternoon at Upper Montclair CC in Clifton, N.J., site of this week's Sybase Classic, would be interpreted as an admission her level of play had fallen, she obliterated that notion Sunday. Sorenstam finished off a seven-stroke victory on the River Course at Kingsmill and broke the tournament record by five strokes with a final-round 66 in which she hit every fairway and putted or chipped for birdie on every hole. It was, as she said, like "old times" -- relentlessly methodical golf that wore down and ultimately overwhelmed her opponents.
"The time is right," Sorenstam said about leaving the competitive stage. "I have seven more months and there is a lot of golf left to play, and I look forward to that. But it takes a lot of effort to be at the top, and there is a part of me that doesn't have that desire anymore. It is just the daily grind. I'm not a person who can be out here just to be out here. Today almost makes it even better. I proved today I am back, and I am leaving on my terms."
A year ago Sorenstam had to skip the Michelob because of a ruptured disk in her neck. While she was injured, Lorena Ochoa passed her to become the No. 1 player in the Rolex Rankings. And while Ochoa, with 19 wins since 2006, is the best in the world right now, Sorenstam reminded Lorena -- and everyone else -- why she is on the short list with Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth as the best LPGA player of all time.
Paired with Ochoa for the first three days, Sorenstam gave a lesson of her legendary consistency. She went 53 holes before making a bogey, and while Ochoa hung with her for two days -- the duo combined to make 23 birdies and an eagle over the opening 36 holes -- she cracked 44 holes into the Swede's demoralizing run of consistency, missing a five-foot par putt on No. 8 in the third round that triggered a tumble of four bogeys in five holes.