I remember watching Annika Sorenstam on 60 Minutes when I was just 13 years old. She was doing weighted pull-ups on the segment, and her ab and back muscles were on prominent display. This is when Annika was getting ready to play in the PGA Tour event at Colonial, and all eyes were on her—mine included.
Would she live up to expectations?
Would she be able to compete with the men?
Would it have the reverse effect of hurting women’s golf?
At the time, many didn’t understand or appreciate what it meant for the best women’s player at the time to be given the opportunity to compete against the men.
But for me as a young girl obsessed with the game, it meant everything to me see someone I admired so deeply go against the naysayers. And her dedication to fitness sparked me to start working out on my own.
Every morning, at 5:30 am, I would wake up and do my lunges and squats, all because I wanted to be like Annika, though I never did achieve doing weighted pull-ups.
Still, she inspired me to do and be better, and I too believed that I would play on the PGA Tour one day.
This is the beauty of sports idols: they can make us believe that anything is possible if we work hard enough. For young girls, our sports idols are few and far between and having someone like Annika to look up to helped carve out the path I would eventually take.
A couple of months later in my hometown of Tulsa, OK, the LPGA held the Williams Championship tournament (now known as the SemGroup Championship), I worked as a standard-bearer for the tournament, and I kept hoping to run into Annika. I kept a glove in my back pocket just in case.
Then, while walking through the parking lot, there she was in all her glory. My mom was with me and saw me freeze. “Go talk to her,” she said, giving me a gentle nudge. Problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted to say.
Should I tell her that I can do ten push-ups in a row now because I wanted to be strong like her?
Should I tell her that I thought I could play against the boys too?
Should I tell her that I wanted to be the best in the world like her?
None of those words came out as I fumbled reaching for the glove in my pocket. She graciously signed it, and I sighed a big relief, feeling as though I had just met a god.
A few years later, I won the State Championship in Oklahoma while a junior at Jenks High School. The LPGA event was coming through town again a few months after my victory, and the Golf Channel reached out to my coach to ask if I would be part of a segment with Annika.
I’m pretty sure he said yes on my behalf, knowing I would never reject an offer like that. During the tournament week, we met at a Golf Galaxy. They were going to have me swing side-by-side with Annika and compare our swings on a computer monitor. As I waited, my hands began to sweat profusely.
I asked someone from the Golf Channel if they could get me a glove because of all things, I had forgotten to bring one. I felt certain that the club would slip out of my hands, and I couldn’t embarrass myself like that in front of Annika.
Quickly, I was handed a glove and escorted out to meet with her.
To be honest, it’s all a blur. I can’t remember for the life of me what she said about my swing. I know she was kind and encouraging, and that was enough.
That interaction, along with the one as a 13-year-old, and all the moments I had before of watching her on TV of breaking records and breaking stereotypes, steered me away from self-doubt and towards self-belief.
I never had the chance to compete against her on the LPGA during my only season on the LPGA Tour in 2014, but her presence was still formidable out there. People talked about her all the time, and it was never forgotten what she meant to women’s golf, and more importantly to golf in general.
With 93 professional wins, a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame, and an empire she’s built away from the golf course, Annika doesn’t have anything to prove.
We’re just all still aspiring to capture a little bit of her magic.