Apart from no longer participating in competitive golf, not much has changed for Annika Sörenstam when it comes to pushing boundaries in golf. Just over ten years ago, Annika stepped away from her professional golf career in order to start a family and devote more time to giving back to the game that gave her so much. To do so, she established her ANNIKA Foundation, which will be hosting its tenth-annual ANNIKA Invitational presented by Rolex, Jan. 12-15 at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla. To mark the occasion, we invited Annika to take a look back at the Foundation’s last decade, chat about the tournament, and share her thoughts about how she is impacting the future of the game.
At its heart, the ANNIKA Foundation was built on the idea that it will promote “More than Golf”, which is something Annika insists is exemplified in all the Foundation’s initiatives and partnerships.
“Our events are not just about tournaments,” she said. “It’s not just hitting 7 irons and making putts. It’s much bigger than that.”
And it shows. Routinely, Annika’s tournaments and clinics feature topics many grow-the-game initiatives often overlook; things like fitness, nutrition, and mental training in addition to golf instruction. This is because Annika believes in a more holistic approach to golf with founding principles centered around helping junior girls embrace healthy lifestyles—both physically and mentally—through the game of golf.
“The Foundation has my name, and for the past ten years it has stood for who I am and what I do,” Annika said.
She recalls how inspiring it is to see girls growing through the game of golf like she did, becoming happier, healthier, and more confident in both their golf skills and abilities off the course. In true Annika fashion, she likes to be directly involved in her Foundation’s initiatives.
“I’m there,” she assured. “Running a foundation is different from competitive play, of course, but we’ve worked hard the last ten years, and it makes me proud to do work that is so close to my heart.”
Shifting her passions away from her playing career over to encouraging others in their own golf journeys hasn’t been done in a vacuum. To ensure that the ANNIKA Foundation is making as large of an impact on the game as it can, Annika and her team have partnered with sponsors from within and outside of the golf industry such as 3M, The R&A, Mastercard and Rolex. The Foundation also partners with the LPGA Foundation to put on a girl’s golf clinic in conjunction with LPGA*USGA Girls Golf.
“We feel very lucky that all of our partners share the same mission,” Annika said. “There is a synergy there. That’s the key.”
When working with anyone, Annika and her Foundation always have “More than Golf” in mind, evaluating what each side can bring to the table to make the largest and most positive impact.
Annika knows she is in a unique position. As someone who has broken so much ground for women playing the game, she has a platform and a playing history that countless girls around the world can look up to.
“I want to inspire them,” she said. “And they inspire me to keep taking it to the next level.”
And with this year’s ANNIKA Invitational presented by Rolex, held for the first time at the World Golf Village, the tournament will be the biggest in its ten-year history. It will host 72 players from 15 foreign countries, having invited winners from other Foundation tournaments in Europe, Asia, and South America.
“Golf is such a global sport,” Annika said. “Just look at the LPGA Tour, college golf, the Olympics . . . Golf is undeniably international, and it means a lot to me as an international player myself to make sure the ANNIKA Foundation reaches all corners of the world.”
In more recent years, it has worked to bridge the gap between junior and professional golf, extending its influence to the world of college golf with the 2013 creation of both the ANNIKA Intercollegiate presented by 3M and ANNIKA Award presented by 3M. The ANNIKA Award came about when the Haskins Commission spoke with Annika about the absence of a female collegiate golfer award.
“The Haskins Award has been a prestigious accolade recognizing the best male collegiate players for over 40 years,” she said. “When the Haskins Commission came to me with the idea for the ANNIKA Award, I couldn’t believe there hadn’t been a female equivalent for all of this time. I was thrilled to work with them to create this award to similarly honor the best collegiate female golfers.”
The award comes with some clout. The inaugural recipient, Alison Lee, has made a name for herself in the professional golf world by earning her LPGA Tour card and making a 2015 Solheim Cup appearance.
“Alison represents the game well,” Annika recalled. “She was voted in by her coaches, fellow players, us at the Foundation, and her teammates. How far she’s come and what she’s achieved is inspiring.”
Other winners of the award include LPGA professional Bronte Law and the first ever two-time winner Leona Maguire. Leona, who will be playing on the Symetra Tour after graduating from Duke in May, hopes to earn her LPGA card next year.
In just ten years, the ANNIKA Foundation has reached amazing goals. Since the Foundation’s inaugural tournament—the 2009 ANNIKA Invitational USA—more than 30 ANNIKA event alumnae have earned LPGA cards, while 500-plus have played at the collegiate level. And they are only just getting started.
Always looking to improve, Annika envisions the Foundation getting bigger with each year. She’s got her sights on expanding the number of tournaments, as well as how many countries they can host tournaments in, how many girls participate, and the visibility of the Foundation as a whole by reaching out to more sponsors and golf influencers.
“We’ve accomplished a lot the last 10 years, but are motivated to do even more over the next decade,” Annika said.
If you want to learn more about the ANNIKA Foundation or find ways to get involved yourself, head over to www.annikafoundation.org.