SAN DIEGO – Annika Sorenstam watched with keen interest last Sunday as 23-year-old South Korean Sei Young Kim made a run at the Swede's all-time LPGA scoring record in Phoenix.
Kim had a birdie putt on the 72nd hole in the JTBC Founders Cup to shoot 28 under for the week. Think about it – that's 7 under per round.
She missed, but matched Sorenstam with the 27-under total the Hall of Famer shot in 2001.
With the way the young, fearless LPGA players are firing at flagsticks, the mark will no doubt fall at some point, which causes us to ponder an even greater accomplishment that only Sorenstam owns on the LPGA: shooting 59.
In that same tournament in 2001 that the scoring record was set, Sorenstam birdied eight of the first nine holes at Moon Valley Country Club in the second round and went on to shoot 13-under and record the first and only 59 in women's pro history.
In the 15 years since, four rounds of 60 have been scored on the LPGA, though none came on a par-72 course. Paula Creamer was the most recent challenger to the magic number – seven years ago – when she fired 27 on the back nine at par-71 Highland Meadows en route to 60 during the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic in Sylvania Ohio.
Meg Mallon (2003), Anna Acker-Macosko (2004) and Sarah Lee (2004) also have 60s.
No one has really come close to matching Sorenstam's near-perfection that day. She missed one fairway and hit every green. Zero players have scored 12 under, while eight have notched an 11-under total.
"I think we're all maybe a little surprised not to have seen (another 59) because it seemed like on the men's tour, when Mr. Al Geiberger shot 59, it seemed like it opened the door and a few more players have done it since," Sorenstam said on a conference call on Tuesday to promote the Golf Channel's coverage of next week's first major of the season, the ANA Inspiration.
"I kind of compare it to other sports. You know, in track and field, somebody would jump a certain height or run a faster mile. OK, now people know you can do it, it gives you kind of a vision or you know that it's possible."
Maybe an LPGA player is just about due.
There have been five 59s on the PGA Tour, and following Geiberger breaking the barrier in 1977, it took another 14 years for the second. Chip Beck was No. 2 in the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational.
Eight years later, David Duval fired 59 in the final round to win the Bob Hope. His was the last on a par-72 layout. Paul Goydos notched a 12-under 59 in the 2010 John Deere Classic, and later that season Stuart Appleby scored an 11-under 59 in the Greenbrier Classic.
In storming to tie Sorenstam's scoring record, Kim stirred her own 59 watch. She birdied six of the first eight holes, and when she eagled the 11th she was 7 under. Six birdies would have got her to 59, but she could only make half that.
More women are going lower more consistently.
Lee's closing 62 only tied the course record – set earlier in the week by Mi Hyang Lee. In the six official events this season, the winner has shot 65 or better in at least one round. Lexi Thompson, the only American to win this year, fired two 64s to prevail in Thailand.
"I know it's going to happen, and if it's going to be this year I mean, it looked like it could have been last week," Sorenstam said. "And the better the courses get, the smoother the greens; we see that a lot of the time. The ladies make a lot of birdies when the conditions are perfect.
"Obviously, it's tough to tell who it's going to be, but the courses are out there for birdies, so it will happen soon in my opinion."
The biggest challenge remains overcoming the fear and nervousness that comes as the birdies keep falling. Sorenstam has admitted that she basically tried to only make par on her ninth hole at Moon Valley to relieve some of the stress.
"When you're standing on the first tee, all the players know it's out there," said former player Karen Stupples, now a Golf Channel on-course commentator. "It's just a question of getting through it mentally. The physical capabilities are there across the board on the LPGA, but it's just the mental side that's the tough bit.
"If you start to see your score going down and down, you stop for some reason playing as aggressively because you want to protect what you already have. I think that's why you see that sort of stopping of where the numbers are going."
Sorenstam always had a different mindset. She had grown up with the instruction of Pia Nilsson, who pushed the idea of the perfect round: "Vision 54."
"We always talked about what it would feel like to hit every green, to make every putt," Sorenstam said in a recent LPGA video to commemorate her accomplishment. "I always believed it was possible."
This article was written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.