2017 European Solheim Cup captain Annika Sorenstam spoke on Swedish golf success, the state of the women's game, the Solheim Cup and the Costa Smeralda Invitational
Annika Sorenstam On Swedish Golf, Women’s Golf, The Solheim Cup & More
2017 European Solheim Cup captain Annika Sorenstam was speaking at the Costa Smeralda Invitation in Sardinia where players were raising money for the charity The Global Gift Foundation.
Right now is a special time for Swedish golf – players like Stenson and Noren have really stepped up a level. Can you explain the recent success and the effect it’s having on the rest of the country?
“Yeah, I think previously in Swedish golf it was probably more the ladies that were performing and, you know, I don’t mean that men weren’t playing good golf, it just wasn’t major quality. We’ve now had a few represent Europe in the Ryder Cup, which is a fantastic performance. You look at somebody like Henrik Stenson and when he finally broke through last year at The Open – he literally went head-to-head against Phil Mickelson and broke every single record. That’s going to be something for the record books, something we will always remember and for breaking the spell. I’m not really sure why now, other than just persistence and hard work – he continued to believe it’s possible. And then you have Alex Noren who has really come from nowhere. He’s had a lot of injuries, but has always been a great talent, lots of physical ability, it was maybe more the mental aspect that was holding him back. And you win once and the door opens – so yes, Swedish golf is at a high. They talk more about golf, it’s more covered in the news, which is good for the game. Young kids look for role models and Henrik is certainly one of them. He has done a lot for the game.”
And was it one of those moments where you’ll always remember where you were when Stenson won The Open? How did you react?
“Yeah we were at home watching, glued to the TV and just following it, keeping our fingers crossed. We spend quite some time with him and his family, we live in the same neighbourhood and our kids play with their kids. So I know he had a lot of support, and I was very, very happy for him. He works very hard, you always see him either in the gym or on the range if he’s home, otherwise he’s on the Tour.”
And onto the women’s game, where do you think it currently sits as a whole?
“I think we’re really at a high, but it doesn’t mean it can’t climb any higher. I’d like to say it’s just the tip of the iceberg with more to come. I find it an interesting time where lots of different players from around globe are coming through – whether it’s New Zealand, Thailand, Canada, USA or Europe. There’s lots of great players with wonderful talent and they seem younger than when I played, as teenagers now. But it’s a good time and the commissioner Michael Whan sets a good example – I’m a fan of global tour I think it’s good for the game to really spread the word.”
Do you think there’s any more we could be doing to get more women into the game?
“I mean I’m not involved in every single initiative out there…I have an ANNIKA Foundation where we run six global tournaments around the world and we focus on junior girls and we’ve seen it grow since. And, as a matter of fact, junior girls is the fastest growing segment of the game, so we obviously feel delighted about that. We’ve just got to continue to work hard – it’s very competitive with other sports and other activities. I mean kids now, they get bombarded with stuff, so we’ve just got to keep them active and interested in the game. But I do think we have to make it more family friendly and when they [kids] think of golf I want them to relate it to fun because it’s a game you can play for the rest of your life. We’ve got to continue to push the women and the girls because I think it’s the biggest growth potential. So whatever different initiative it is… maybe it’s just 9 holes or 6 holes because it is time consuming and people think it’s a tough game and we don’t want to discourage them. So whatever we can do to inspire them needs to be done.”
Presumably strong ambassadors are key to increasing participation?
“Yeah we’ve had some great stars obviously with Alison Nicholas and Trish Johnson…now it’s a different generation and Charley [Hull], you know she’s really fun. I think she has a lot to offer, she’s very talented and I love the way she plays – just goes up and hits it. She’s a typical teenager, in a way she’s very mature on the course and then when she leaves the course you can tell she has other interests. Same thing with Mel Reid, she’s another player you have. You think of England, you’d really hope you would have a lot more candidates as a Solheim Cup captain, but I have two stars right there and I’m very happy about that.”
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The Solheim Cup is quickly approaching. Will you be seeking advice from anyone over the coming months?
“You know I have been seeking advice and talked to some past Solheim Cup captains and some past Ryder Cup captains, just to get their input and what’s important to them. But I’ve been a player there eight times and a vice captain three times, so you have a little feel of what’s going to happen and what has to be done. I’m thrilled of the opportunity and I’m almost ready to go. It’s been 18 months and the countdown is here. There’s really nothing else we can do other than just observe closely and see how the players play, how they perform. I’ve told them you have to earn your way in. Then captain’s picks are going to be hard and it’s probably going to be the hardest thing to do, because it’s nice with options, but when you have more options it leads to more headaches in a way.”
Do you have a certain number of players in your head already?
“Yeah, I mean, we’re literally now down to 16 potential players that we’ll keep an eye on, but it’s really an interesting two months now because obviously the Ladies European Tour schedule has been a little empty of tournaments for them. But on the LPGA we have three Majors for them in the space of nearly 45 days and Majors give double points, so anything can happen on either the world ranking or on the LET Solheim Cup ranking. So, we’ve got to keep our options open, but it’s going to be interesting, I’m hoping it’s going to be easier than it is right now (Laughter).”
Looking at some of the up-and-coming players, is there anyone there you think is a really special talent?
“Well there’s so many great players out there and they all have a lot of different things to offer, but you know if you’re thinking of someone from England…Georgia Hall is someone who plays very solid. Florentyna Parker as well – she won a big tournament in Spain not too long ago where I thought you almost had a star-studded field, so that shows a lot about her potential and how she was finishing up. Then you have to look at current form, do they have experience, how are they with match play, are they team players, does the golf course fit their game? There’s a lot of different criteria, so to me it’s whether they’re going to be able to perform under pressure – that’s really important too. If you have a young team, you might want to pick someone with a bit of experience and vice versa.”
COSTA SMERALDA INVITATIONAL
And we’re here at The Costa Smeralda Invitational where there is a strong focus on making money for charity. How important is ongoing charity work for you as you have progressed throughout your career?
“Well it’s very important – that was one of the reasons why we came here [to the Costa Smeralda Invitational in Sardinia]. The Global Gift Foundation is really taking care of kids, mothers and families that aren’t doing so well and need extra help. If you think of sports and how much they give, golf is probably one of the highest. We are very fortunate of what we do, where we go, where we travel, so why not be able to share a little bit and play for a good cause and give back to those that need a little help. So yeah, that’s something that’s been introduced…the game of golf is giving back to charities and I do it with my foundation to also grow the game of golf and inspire the next generation. We’re lucky we can do that and get the support from other sports stars and entertainers. Golf has a lot of positive ways.”
You’ll be leading a clinic tomorrow at the Costa Smeralda Invitational – is there someone in particular you really want to give a lesson to?
“I’m looking forward to getting to know some of these people. I don’t know them all by any means, so I’m looking forward to mingling and getting to know them and going from there. But it’s always fun to give a clinic to people that are interested, they want to learn and they’re enthusiastic about the game.”