By Andrew Both
(Reuters) – Annika Sorenstam has fond memories of becoming the first woman in 58 years to play in a PGA Tour event, but feels the future of golf is for men and women to compete with and not against each other.
Fifteen years after paving the way for women to compete in men’s tournaments, Sorenstam, who rarely plays these days having swapped her golf clubs for a triathlon outfit, has no regrets at opening the floodgates for a fad that lasted a few years before dying a natural death.
She captured the imagination of the golf world by competing in the Colonial tournament in Texas.
On a Colonial Country Club course in Fort Worth that is short by modern standards and ideally suited to shorter hitters, be they men or women, Sorenstam equipped herself well and for a time looked in with a chance of making the cut.
Though she missed it by four strokes, her performance inspired several other women to test themselves against the men, most famously Michelle Wie, who competed as a teenager in no fewer than 13 men’s events before acknowledging the novelty had run its course.
Sorenstam was at the top of her game in 2003, and had been there or thereabouts long enough that she needed a new challenge to keep her interested.
“I had been number one in the world. I was looking for different things to keep my motivation going,” the 47-year-old told Reuters in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
“I have so many wonderful memories. It was so amazing overall.
“I had a putt on my last hole to shoot par. That would have been nice but I didn’t need to play the weekend.”
To this day she says she is remembered by people as much for that appearance as for the 59 she recorded at an LPGA event in Arizona in 2001.
These days, however, the conversation has changed from women competing against men, to women competing alongside men, as evidenced by the recent Victorian Open in Australia.
Men and women played that event on the same course on the same days for the same prize money, in alternating groups, albeit from different tees.
Sorenstam sees this as the future, rather than a lone female wolf playing with a pack of 100-plus men.
“I grew up playing with boys at my club,” said the native of Sweden, who now lives in Florida with her husband and two children.
“Men and women should play together, but not necessarily compete against each other.”
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan recently said it was just a matter of time before the women’s tour and the PGA Tour staged a joint event, though nothing has been announced.
Sorenstam, meanwhile, walked away from competitive golf in 2008 at the relatively young age of 38 and focuses her attention these days on her myriad of business and philanthropic interests.
Her Annika Foundation seeks to develop women’s golf worldwide, and stages six junior tournaments. She hopes soon to add one or two more.
Sorenstam also finds time in her busy schedule for triathlon training.
She recently competed in a race in St Petersburg, Florida, completing the 750-metre swim, 20km bike and 5 km run in a respectable one hour, 26 minutes, 32 seconds.
While she has little time left for golf, she remains proud of her achievements in the sport.
“I’m very happy, and when I look back on my career I’m proud,” she said.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Toby Davis)