Interview: Annika Sorenstam on becoming the first woman to break 60
Shooting 59 is rarefied air; six men have managed it on the PGA Tour, none on the European Tour or LET and, on March 16, it will be 15 years since Annika Sorenstam made history on the LPGA Tour.
She came to the Standard Register tournament at Moon Valley Country Club on the back of her first win of 2001, she would go on to win eight.
She opened with a 65 and followed it with the most ridiculous run of scoring the following morning. The Swede missed one fairway (by two yards), hit every green and knocked in an accumulative 150 feet of putts.
What was your previous best score before the 59?
I shot a 61 in Nashville two years before. I have always believed in shooting a 54 but I never had in mind where that would take place other than having a vision of hitting fairways and greens.
I didn’t think this would be the course but I played there quite a bit and lived in Phoenix. When you think of a 59 you don’t think it would be on a par 72.
When does a starting run of birdies become weird?
After I made four birdies in a row I turned to my caddy (Terry McNamara) and asked what was the most birdies in a row that he had seen and he said four. I told him I had made six before in a British Open so I told him I could do that.
After that I didn’t think four was such a great start. Then I birdied seven and eight and that’s when I started to feel a bit nervous and thought this was quite out of the ordinary.
I turned to Terry and said I need to make a par now and that’s what I did. And then I was back in my comfort zone.
How easy was it to suddenly just think of making a par?
I was thinking just fairway, green, par. That was my comfort zone. I talked myself out of it and felt good again and then got this burst of energy and thought I’m ready for more birdies.
And you then made another four on the trot?
Again after those four I was 12 under and I started to feel the nerves again. I wasn’t getting protective but I was feeling a little different than I had on the previous holes.
How good was your putting in 2001?
Throughout my career I had some ups and downs in my short game. My long game was my strongest suit but now I look back and think what did I do different on the greens?
The one thing that comes into my mind is that I never thought about my second putt. It was read it and hit it. I never thought of lagging anything. When you think of a second putt you have already told yourself that you are going to miss it. I never had that.
How hard was it not to think of the possible end result?
It takes a lot of experience. A 59 might not be very relatable to a lot of golfers but it’s the same the first time you break 100 or 90. How do you feel? You start counting the shots and you start thinking ahead but you have to play golf now, not 10 minutes from now. That’s the hardest part in golf.
I used to get to a tough par 3 and change to a bad golf ball. You are sending signals to yourself. It is fine to have those thoughts but you have to be in the present.
You can add them up later.
You were playing with your sister Charlotta and Meg Mallon. Did you notice their behaviour change?
On the back nine they let me do my own thing. We were all a bit ’OK, what’s happening here?’ What was really neat was that there were so many players who hadn’t teed off and they came and watched. And I had never had that before. There was a buzz in the area, ESPN were there, it was a morning start, you could just feel it.
What does your caddy say when you’ve got a par to break 60?
He was experienced, maybe not in the 59 area! The 18th was a par 4, not very long, but I was so pumped up and the adrenaline was out of the roof. We had to really concentrate what club to hit. I hit the fairway and I took a club less and I went straight at the flag and it finished nine feet away for a 58.
When did you start thinking 59?
I knew what was going on, there were so many red numbers on the scoreboard. I was thinking of the 59 at the turn and then after 13 holes. I was having fun. I did have some other chances too. I didn’t chip in, I didn’t hole any long shots. It was kind of the perfect golf that you have in your mind; fairway, greens and putts. I was never stressed.
People compare us to the men and some think that women can’t shoot low scores. That doesn’t work” How did the nerves compare to a Major?
It was a very different feeling. This was in the middle of a tournament. The Majors were always so much bigger and they all had the history. I didn’t play the 18th thinking I was going to win the tournament, it was a Friday.
What did it do for women’s golf?
People compare us to the men and some think that women can’t shoot low scores. That doesn’t work. It was a par 72, it was a good length and other players then knew it was possible. It hasn’t happened since but it will.
Do you still think how did that happen?
I do, when I do a clinic and we talk about being positive I bring up the 59 and make girls believe what can happen. The ball doesn’t know who you are so just keep going.
And vice versa, if you get off to a bad start then you can turn it around. People think they lose their swing midway through a round, you don’t. You might start thinking negatively and you need to trust yourself.
How do you stop protecting your score?
Focus on the process and what you have to do and not the consequence.