Annika Sorenstam thinks the future of women's golf is in good hands with junior players such as those in an international field for this week's 10th annual Annika Invitational at the World Golf Hall of Fame Slammer & Squire.
"These girls are terrific role models," Sorenstam said on Saturday before she addressed more than 120 visitors at the first Hall of Fame Speakers Series of 2018. "Junior girls are the fastest growing segment of golf and over the past 10 years, I've seen them coming in very mature. They've had coaches, mental coaches, they're starting workout programs ... when I was 14 of 15 years old, I wasn't at this level. I didn't have any of that."
Which might be scary because Sorenstam was the dominant LPGA player from 1994-2008, winning 72 LPGA events (third-most in history), 90 worldwide titles and 10 major championships. She was an eight-time LPGA player of the year and entered the Hall of Fame in 2003 at age 33.
If junior girls have more advantages than Sorenstam did when she was learning to play the game in Sweden, are there players who will one day approach her records?
Sorenstam said perhaps not, but only because the depth on the LPGA will continue to increase.
"Inbee Park won the first three majors one year, and that was pretty exceptional," she said. "Lydia Ko was number 1. In the last year, it's been a few weeks where this person played well, then a few weeks where another one played well. And they're coming from everywhere: New Zealand, Canada, Thailand ... it makes it very exciting."
Sorenstam said the LPGA is mirroring the PGA Tour in that regard, with multiple players capable of dominating at different times.
"That said, I enjoyed dominating for a little while," she said.
Sorenstam said Tiger Woods, who ruled over the PGA Tour during the same era she was the clear No. 1 on the LPGA, shouldn't be counted out when he makes his return to golf later this month at the Farmers Insurance Open.
"It would be great for golf if he's competitive, there's no doubt about it," she said. "You can't count him out because he did things you didn't think were possible."
Sorenstam said she's never regretted retiring when she was at the top of her game. She has two children, several business interests, is on the selection committee for the Hall of Fame and runs her Annika Foundation, which promotes opportunities in women's golf at the junior, college and professional level, with an emphasis on promoting a healthy lifestyle through fitness and nutrition.
The Annika Invitational isn't just about the competition, which this week features 68 of the top junior players in the world, representing 16 countries. The participants also have a clinic with Sorenstam and a workshop.
The tournament's motto is "More Than Golf."
"We're trying to create opportunities for these young tirls to have dreams, encourage them and inspire them," Sorenstam said. "We're already seeing growth from our first year. I'm seeing them act like professionals when they're still amateurs."
There also are Annika Invitationals in China, Sweden and Argentina.
This article is written by Garry Smits from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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