Thursday, April 17, 2008

Let's Start Speculating About Annika

As the Ginn Open gets underway in Florida this week, the Orlando Sentinel did a profile piece on Annika Sorenstam. This part in the article made me start to wonder:

On one end, Sorenstam has a fiance, Mike McGee, the possibility for children down the road and a strong interest in her academy and other endeavors. All these aspects point to a reduced schedule and eventual retirement in the coming years.

On the other, she has finished in the top five in four of her last five starts and won the season-opening SBS Open, encouraging signs on which she can build.

"She won't want to be a middle player later in her career," said Henri Reis, Sorenstam's longtime swing coach. "She wants to leave on top. She could play really good golf for another 10 years, but she doesn't want to do that. If she plays well this year, she might play another year or another two years or another three, maybe."

What keeps Sorenstam motivated, Reis said, is the presence of Ochoa, who has won two straight majors and four of her first five tournaments this season.
Let's say that Lorena continues on a pretty amazing pace for this season and wins, say, 12 tournaments. It is likely that Annika would probably win no more than 3 or 4 at that point, but have a lot of top 5s and 10s. Keeping in mind that she wants to have kids (and has exactly none at 37), doesn't want to just lurk around to make cash, and wants to go out on top, how much time does Annika honestly have left?

Obviously, what I am about to say assumes that Annika does not adopt a child. But, is she does want to have a child relatively soon, then we are looking at next season or the season thereafter in which her and Mike would likely try to have a child. Pregnancies after 40 are riskier and I assume Annika would care to avoid that. If she does go that route, then she has 1 good season left in her without any of the other factors thrown into the equation.

Now, take into account the competitive requirement that she has. Certainly, Annika is having a solid season to this point. You could easily argue that she is #2 on the LPGA Tour right now. Is that close enough to the top for her, or would she demand of herself that she wants to be #1 to keep on playing? The likelihood of that is impossible for this season given Lorena Ochoa's massive lead on the money list and world rankings. It would be a 2 year mission to recover lost ground. Would it be worth the endeavor to Annika in the face of all of the other things that she wants to achieve?

Certainly, I don't know Annika. I don't know her true intentions. But, it seems that it is beginning to come to light that we may be viewing the end of a great career. Both Sorenstam and friend Tiger Woods have indicated that they will only play as long as they are at the top of their sport. Jack said the same thing and then walked away in his 60s. Would Annika have the courage to leave the game as she believes she would? I don't know, but it will be interesting to see if this is the beginning of a farewell tour of sorts.


The Constructivist said...

You know what would be even cooler? Annika doing what Juli Inkster, Carin Koch, Catriona Matthews, Karen Stupples, Hee-Won Han, and dozens of other great players have done--coming back to compete at a high level after having a child or children.

From what I've read in interviews and on her blog, what she really lives for on the golf course is the thrill of being in contention down the stretch. Once Ochoa returns to a normal percentage of time on course in the zone and Annika builds back up to her usual ITZ rate, we're going to see some great duels this summer--at the latest. Add in the fact that any of the 20 less consistent but still pretty damn awesome players can contend any given week and Annika will have plenty of company this season and for years to come if she wants to return after a maternity leave.

Ryan Ballengee said...

Fully agree with you. And I don't discount the possibility that she could come back and do exactly what you describe. I hope she does. But, it is fun to speculate. :)