Sorenstam returns with a lot more stress and fewer birdies

ORLANDO, FLORIDA (AP) — Annika Sorenstam does not remember golf being this difficult.

She still managed plenty of smiles when the most dominant player of her era played her first LPGA Tour event in more than 12 years. With one birdie and one bad hole, Sorenstam had a three-over 75 in the LPGA Gainbridge on her home course at Lake Nona.

“It seems a little bit more stressful, this kind of golf,” she said.

Sorenstam was 10 shots behind another Lake Nona member, Lydia Ko, who opened with a 7-under 65 for a two-shot lead.

But then, this week isn’t about Sorenstam adding to her 72 career victories or even starting a comeback at age 50. The LPGA Tour came to her home course and she wanted to play.

With that early heard turn and tee shots that more often than not found the fairway, it didn’t seem like Sorenstam had been away from the LPGA Tour since Nov. 23, 2008, when she retired after a three-win season to start a family.

Annika Sorenstam chips a shot to the ninth green during the first round of the Gainbridge LPGA golf tournament. PHOTO: AP

It was the rest of the game that felt so foreign.

“I could have been more aggressive on the putts, I could have been more aggressive on iron shots,” she said. “I’m at a point in my life that it’s not automatic. It’s not a pin-seeker the way it was. I did OK. A little more stressful golf, but overall, it’s fun.”

Lake Nona members and a few family guests were allowed, and Sorenstam found about 150 people gathered around the first tee. That constitutes a sizeable crowd in the COVID-19 pandemic era. “I was quite nervous. I’ve been nervous for a few days,” said Sorenstam, adding that she practised meditation that morning to help calm her down.

The highlight was a gap wedge from about 95 yards on the 14th hole that landed some 10 feet behind the hole and spun back to a foot away for a tap-in birdie.

Sorenstam said she could play 14 holes fine but there were a few surprises on the other four. She only had one surprise Thursday, but it was a big one.

After opening with four pars, she pulled her tee shot on the fifth hole so far left that it settled directly under the gate of a wrought-iron fence. The rules officials determined it was in play “by a dimple”. Sorenstam asked if she could open the gate to play the shot, but that was not allowed.

And then she almost made other mistakes. She was reminded the drop was knee-length, not shoulder-length. The Rules of Golf have been updated three times since she last played, the major overhaul coming two years ago.

“I have not studied the rules in 13 years. Rules are not part of my life right now,” she said with a laugh.

After a penalty drop, she hit it back toward the fairway to about 70 yards, hit an ordinary wedge and three-putted from about 18 feet for a triple bogey. “I can’t remember the last time I made triple bogey,” she said.

“I’m in a different place with my game,” she said. “When I talk to my friends, they say, ‘This is how golf is for all of us.’ Well, it never was for me,” Sorenstam said. “It was a little bit of a rollercoaster. It makes you stay on your toes a little more than it used to.”