‘My mental strength was probably my 15th club’
Annika Sorenstam won 10 majors and 72 titles on the LPGA Tour. Considered by many as the greatest woman golfer in history, the expectation in her prime was that every time she played she’d win.
That’s a pressure only really Tiger has also had to cope with and it demands strength of mind and resolve to which few of us can relate.
In retirement, Sorenstam has campaigned on health issues and is a global ambassador for the Golf and Health project.
We caught up with her at the recent International Congress on Golf and Health, in London, to find out how she held herself together in the most pressured moments, how we can keep ourselves fitter and which course she would play if she could have one relaxing round…
We’re told golf is a great sport for mental health but you had to deal with the stresses and strains of it as a job. How did you balance the pressures of competing while also enjoying the game?
You’re right. It’s a little different. Recreational golf is not necessarily about competition. It’s not about trying to lower your score every single day. It’s more about the social aspect of it and the game itself.
What I did was more to stay positive, stay in the moment and focus on what you can control. From the recreational aspect, it’s different. It’s about self-esteem and being out there.
How did you cope when you were at your peak – always contending and always expected to win?
My mental strength was probably my 15th club. I was able to stay positive, forget about bad shots, stay in the moment and trust myself. A lot of people have doubts in their minds and when you have doubts there is tension, and hesitation, and you don’t perform.
I liked a little tension. I stepped up to the pressure and focused better. I just put my mind into it. And I learned how to move on.
If I had a good week I was obviously excited. If I made a mistake I tried to learn from it.
When you are playing well – learn from the good and keep doing it. Learn from the bad and stop doing the bad.
It was almost training every day. It was not so structured, and not with a coach, but you have got to have a good mind to play the game of golf.
I am very driven, of course, but my mind is what pushed me. Physically, I was just trying to keep up.
Is it interesting to play social, less competitive, golf these days?
I don’t play. Maybe (if I did) it would be frustrating. I am an extremely competitive person so it’s hard to go out there and not necessarily care about where you hit it, or how it looks and feels. I know what it is supposed to feel like. Now it’s not doing any of that and then it becomes frustrating. But I don’t practice so I’m at a point where I am okay with it.
I have accepted that I am not at the level that I was but I’ve also got piece of mind that I knew I could (be) if I wanted to. I can go out there and still hit a few shots and it is a great game but it’s different than it was.
I just wondered whether, from a mental perspective, you found golf more frustrating now than you did were at the top?
I don’t pay attention to my score. If I would then yeah, but I just can’t. I play scrambles and I play different formats and I play with my kids. I try not to tee up where I used to. I put myself in different situations and then it’s OK. Then I can’t compare and it’s a very different type of golf.
There are lots of articles about the gym routines of pros. Obviously we amateurs haven’t got the time they have, but what can we do to get ourselves fitter and healthier?
For Rory, Dustin, Tiger and the women on tour, that’s what they do for a living. But I certainly think strength training is a good thing for golf. I think mobility and stretching is a good thing – a range of motion is really good, whether it is yoga or something else.
I just think that, from a general perspective, general health and workouts are good.
Sometimes I think people get too golf-fixated. You can do can exercises with weights (and simulating a golf motion) and I think ‘hang on a minute, you do that with a golf club all day long’. I’m more of a believer in general fitness, where you work on the right side of the body and you work on the left.
In golf, we’re so one-sided and that’s where you get injuries. I would focus more on general fitness, just being active, and there’s nothing wrong with going in the gym for general stuff that would help your golf game. If you don’t have time for that, I think golf can help you in many ways – in terms of just being outside.
If we tell people to go and take a walk and walk 10 miles they are not going to do that. But if you tell them to go and play golf they would probably go in a heartbeat.
If I could give you one course to play, to maximise those mental health benefits we’ve been talking about, where would it be?
I love links courses and there are a ton of courses in Scotland I like. But I played Pine Valley once and I just thought it was fantastic.
What was it you liked so much?
There are no homes on the course. It is a very difficult golf course. I went in 2003 and that was my peak year and I thought it was very difficult.
It’s just scenic. At every hole, there’s nothing else and is really true golf. I like that. It’s a mixture. It’s not a links, but it is not just a park course and it’s got a lot to offer.
There are some areas where they don’t rake it and you end up in footprints and all kinds of stuff. You have got to hit it straight and on the grass. I think I would like to play that again.
This article originally appeared on Lady Golfer