GREENSBORO — Annika Sorenstam wasn’t sure whether the young golfers surrounding her this afternoon even knew who she was.
The greatest women’s golfer of our time retired before most of the young girls at her clinic were even born. But that’s something Sorenstam, 48, is used to. Her own daughter is 9, and she’s not all that into golf, either.
But for Sorenstam, this is just her way of giving back to the game that has given her so much.
As she told her audience of girls ages 6-12, golf is about more than hitting balls and keeping score. The Annika Foundation “Share My Passion” girls golf clinic at Sedgefield kicked off the Wyndham Championship.
As she stood on the range talking to the girls, all the professional golfers in town early to practice stopped what they were doing to listen.
Sorenstam is a bigger deal than the PGA Tour players, and no one would dispute that.
She explained that her role now as a retired golfer is as an ambassador for the game.
“We do these clinics throughout the country, both to introduce girls to the game of golf but also to inspire the ones who already play,” Sorenstam said.
She’ll also be at the course Tuesday for the Executive Women’s Day as one of the guest speakers.
Tournament director Mark Brazil was asked whether he’d considered giving her a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Wyndham.
“That’s a great idea,” he said.
She shook her head “no.”
Sorenstam is still more famous than any player currently on the LPGA Tour, and she’s asked everywhere she goes why she decided to retire at age 38.
“I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve on the golf course, and I was getting married and wanted to start my own family,” she said. “I had some big dreams as far as the foundation to inspire others to do what they like. I’m pretty happy. It’s been fun so far.”
The 40 girls who came to the clinic were chosen from a group that had written Sorenstam. Some sent brief notes about why they play golf or why others should learn to play. The response was overwhelming, she said, some including long detailed letters about golf, some including drawings.
Sorenstam said some brought tears to her eyes.
“They’re inspiring to me because I know the importance of golf and how golf can really change somebody’s life,” she said. “Golf is a sport you can play all your life. There are a lot of benefits with golf, not just health benefits but being outside and getting kids away from devices.”
Sorenstam said parenting is challenging enough, so getting daughters interested in sports is important, and not just golf. She said the game doesn’t even have to be her daughter's favorite sport but just knowing it’s an option.
“She likes to golf on occasion,” she said. “She has a lot of sports that she likes. But yes, she’s familiar with the game.”
And she’s becoming familiar with her mom’s role in the game.
There was a time when Sorenstam was the equal to Tiger Woods and Roger Federer on a global sports stage. She won 90 international tournaments, 72 on the LPGA Tour including 10 majors. In 2003, she played in the PGA Colonial Open, the first woman in more than 50 years to play a tournament on the men’s tour.
But to young girls all over the country who come to her clinics, Sorenstam is a curiosity.
“Some of them look at me a little bit,” she said, tilting her head. “I’m getting to the age that I’m getting a little old, so that’s why I’m trying to stay hip and young with these girls and bringing them in.”
She had the full attention of every girl on the range.
And for that matter, every PGA player on the range, too.