'Nobody is going to give it to you': Annika Sorenstam carries two-stroke lead into final round of U.S. Senior Women's Open
Surrounded by family, including her two children, Annika Sorenstam will play for her first major title in years on Sunday.
FAIRFIELD, Conn. – As Annika Sorenstam signed golf balls after speaking with the press late Saturday afternoon, son Will asked if he could have one. Of all the fans walking down the fairways of Brooklawn Country Club at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, children Will and Ava make this particular major unlike any of the rest.
Sorenstam left the LPGA 13 years ago to start a family and a build a new business with husband Mike McGee. The records they’ve read about in books (Will loves stats), and the hardware that packs the home trophy case are evidence of one of the greatest careers in LPGA history. But now, Will and Ava get to watch mom battle for a major championship in real time with dad on the bag. And, in many ways, they’re watching vintage Annika.
“It’s like she’s never been away,” said Laura Davies, who played alongside Sorenstam in the first two rounds. “It’s incredible.”
Going into the final round, Sorenstam, 50, holds a two-shot lead over Liselotte Neumann, who provided a source of inspiration for a young Sorenstam when Neumann became the first Swedish player to win the U.S. Women’s Open in 1988.
Sorenstam battled to an even-par 72 on Saturday to stay at 8 under for the championship. Neumann’s 71 put her at 6 under, and 2021 European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew sits in solo third at 4 under. Both Davies and Japan’s Yuko Saito share fourth, six shots back.
Sorenstam preached the positives after the round and said she wasn’t going to over-analyze.
“You got to let it happen,” said Sorenstam of any pressure she’s feeling. “Nobody is going to give it to you. You got to go out there and earn it. Every shot you got to earn it, make the putts, hit the fairway, the green, and that’s what it takes to score out here.”
She leads the field in greens in regulation at 85 percent and ranks third in driving distance (241.0) behind Helen Alfredsson (241.1) and Davies (268.4). Several missed tee shots put her out of place in Round 3. She also felt like she lost her feel early on in the round.
How do weekend nerves compare to winning on the LPGA in her last year on tour in 2008?
“I used to know what I would be feeling, what to do,” she said. “Now I’m having all kinds of feelings, up and down, and it just – you know, I just don’t really know what’s coming.”
While Sorenstam played in a handful of tour events and pro-ams leading up to this week, Neumann, 55, said she’s only played in the Southern California Open in the past 18 months, a two-round event at La Costa in which she tied for sixth. While it’s tough replicating competition back home, she’s relishing the opportunity of playing in the final group alongside Sorenstam.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Neumann. “I just love golf and love to compete. It’s just the most fun thing we can do being out here, and being able to be in the last group, it’s pretty special.”
Davies, the inaugural champion of this event, put together the day’s best round of 68 after a nightmare of a day on the greens on Friday. She brought two putters with her to Fairfield and put the second one in play on the weekend.
“Every time I step on these greens I’m terrified because they’re good and tricky,” she said. “They’re a really true surface. You feel like you should hole lots of putts because they’re so pure, and yet when you’re – I’m not going to say the word yip because that too extreme.
“My hands were stopping and wasn’t getting it online. So, yeah, it’s pretty miserable when you know you’re hitting it pretty well tee-to-green, and you know when you get on the green best result is going to be a two-putt.”
Thankfully, she had options.
Matthew, who, like Sorenstam is making her debut in the USSWO this year, hadn’t competed since the AIG Women’s British Open at Royal Troon until she teed it up in an LET event in London earlier this month. While the mother of two didn’t exactly miss tour life, she was looking forward to the chance at competing for another major title.
“As my kids said, I’ve got a chance of winning this one,” said a grinning Matthew. She’ll play in Spain next week on the LET, followed by the AIG Women’s British Open at Carnoustie.
Sorenstam won 72 times on the LPGA, including 10 majors. A victory tomorrow at Brooklawn would give her an exemption into the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles next year, site of Sorenstam’s 1996 Women’s Open victory.
Not that one of the game’s greatest champions will be getting ahead of herself.
“I have a lot of positive things going around,” she said. “My family is here, being here at the Open, playing in the last group. I love the golf course. I feel the love from the fans. Just having a good round.
“I mean, it really doesn’t get much better.”