By Sandra Harwitt
If Annika Sorenstam had followed her original path in sports the Swedish sensation just might’ve been a tennis champion instead of a golfing great. Fans know that in her incredible fruitful 15-year LPGA career the star amassed 10 major trophies and 79 other international titles. What we don’t know is how that would’ve translated to tennis if she didn’t exchange her racket for a club?
These days, the 44-year-old Sorenstam, who is retired from the LPGA pro tour, will make one of her rare competitive golf outings this coming weekend at the 25th American Century Championships at the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in South Lake Tahoe, Calif./Nev. Playing the event was a natural fit for Sorenstam who is a part-time Lake Tahoe resident.
In a recent conversation with Sorenstam, she retold her life as a jock-oriented youngster in Sweden where she loved all sports. That’s when she spent eight years dedicated to tennis.
“I played a lot of tennis – competed in tennis for many years,” Sorenstam said. “I played soccer, loved downhill skiing. I wanted to be a tennis pro but things change. Sports was just my thing, but golf wasn’t something that I picked up until a little later and I’m certainly glad I did.”
Once Sorenstam made her acquaintance with golf she was immediately hooked by the sport where in its purest element a player tests themselves against the course. But what was it about golf that turned the potential tennis star into an eventual golfing great?
“Wow, this is a tough sport,’ that’s what got me about golf from the beginning,” said Sorenstam, the mother of two pre-school aged children. “In tennis you always wanted to practice with someone who is a little better than you. My weakness in tennis was my backhand and a lot of my opponents noticed that right away. In golf, you play to what you can do. And I just love to practice and I could go out on my own time, when it suited me, and work on my strengths.”
Sorenstam, who is the driving force behind her highly successful ANNIKA brand that covers an academy, clothing line, course design and charity foundation, also believes that golf is truly “a game for life” and the perfect “business tool.”
In truth, Sorenstam could be viewed as something of a trend-setter in switching allegiances from tennis to golf.
Two current successful LPGA Tour players – 16th-ranked Jessica Korda and 40th-ranked Morgan Pressel — hail from families steeped within the tennis community. Both passed on playing tennis for a very similar reason: running wasn’t their thing.
The 21-year-old Korda, already in receipt of three career LPGA titles, is the daughter of two interntional tennis stars. Dad, Petr, is a Grand Slam champion having won the 1998 Australian Open title. Mom, Regina Rajchrtova, was a top-ranked player who retired early because of injury. But tennis wasn’t on Jessica’s radar – it was going to be golf or an early interest in gymnastics, although her 5’11’ frame would’ve gotten in the way of success in the latter sport.
In a June 2012 article on Korda for ESPNW the young talent explained her choice of golf over tennis: “I just didn’t fall in love with tennis,” Korda told me. “I love watching it and I don’t mind playing it. I never felt like I wanted to do it. At a young age I just really didn’t feel like running.”
As for the 26-year-old Pressel, she followed her path to a sports future with the guidance of her grandfather, Herb Krickstein, who had previously crafted his son, Aaron, into a top five tennis player.
Krickstein admits his father first had dreams of his granddaughter, Morgan, becoming a tennis great. But the elder Krickstein’s original intention ran into a serious roadblock.
“My dad told me he took Morgan out to the tennis court but realized immediately there was a problem,” said a laughing Aaron Krickstein, of his niece. “She was lazy and didn’t want to run after the ball. So then he took her to the driving range and that clicked.”
It’s also worth noting that Ivan Lendl steered his daughters towards golf instead of tennis.
In the big picture this all boils down to an each to their own preference scenario. However, it has to be hard for the tennis world to see that a trio of top talent got away from their grasp.