ORLANDO, Fla. – Annika Sorenstam was recently transferring items from her old golf bag into a new one when she discovered a couple of familiar items: her money clip and yardage book from last summer’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
“Shows you how much I clean my bag,” said Sorenstam, who won by eight shots last August at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Connecticut. “Luckily, I didn’t find any old bananas from Connecticut in there.”
Sorenstam returns to competition this week at her home club, Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, where she made the cut in last year’s Gainbridge LPGA, her first LPGA start in 13 years. This time, though, she’ll be teeing it up in the celebrity division of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.
While not as rusty as she was here at Lake Nona a year ago, Sorenstam admits that she still didn’t have the best preparation for this year’s event. She had a bulging disk in November, a similar injury that forced her to miss a few months back in 2007, and then caught COVID-19 around Christmas, so she’s taken a few weeks off in recent months.
Full-field tee times from the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions
“One of the symptoms is I start losing distance, and that’s how I realized … maybe I’m a little stiff in my neck,” Sorenstam said. “Then I worked with the LPGA doctor, Bruce Thomas, and his team, and he said, ‘Yeah, you have a bulging disc. You need to take a little break,’ so I had to do that.
“It’s a little bit of a lingering thing, I guess, and just got to be more careful. When you’re older it feels like things just get worse.”
Sorenstam, 51, will play Thursday’s opening round alongside the event’s defending champion, Jessica Korda, and MLB Hall of Famer John Smoltz, one of Sorenstam’s biggest challengers in the celebrity Stableford format.
“I’m pretty pleased with my pairing, how about that?” Sorenstam said. “I look forward to the challenge.”
It’s no secret that Sorenstam has the home-course advantage, though at 6,600 yards, she says it won’t be easy to be more aggressive in a format that rewards birdies and eagles and doesn’t punish the big numbers as much as stroke play.
Regardless, it will be a good tune-up to begin the year, as Sorenstam said she’ll play a few more tournaments than the six or so that she competed in last year. She is eligible for the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles.
“Hopefully no more setbacks and I can continue to practice and find my game,” she added. “I do think I feel overall a lot better, more comfortable [than last year]. I feel a little bit more into the game than I did then – I really didn’t know what to expect [last year] – so, I hope that that’s a good thing. We’ll find out.”