Annika Sorenstam on the Annika Academy and the 2012 Solheim Cup

Dan Murphy sits down with the 10-time Major winner

Was getting more women and girls into golf the driving force behind your Academy?
Well a little bit, it is partly about making sure that people stay in the game and introducing new people to the game. I think the biggest segment for growth is women and kids and we have to think out of the box and do things differently to include them and kind of catch their interests. At the Annika Foundation we do a lot of initiatives for young girls to help them to practise harder, to play more and to be able to travel around the world and meet other girls of the same age and educate them.

What’s a big problem, getting girls to try golf or, having got them to try it, keeping them in the game?
I think catching the girls’ attention is difficult, it’s very different compared to the boys. It needs to be accessible, there are a lot of things that we have to do, it is a traditional sport, it’s got a strong culture but I think we have to find a mix a little bit to change things.

Over here in the States especially it is important that we have to get the family involved to have the family go to the country club rather than maybe the husband or the wife every weekend.

Then you can spend all day there and then that’s a start and you can slowly introduce the kids to the
game. It’s not going to happen overnight and you can’t just say hit some balls and then go on the course and then you say now it’s time to compete, the kids will say ‘no, no that’s too quick’. You’ve just got to take it slowly and make it count.

Is that something that’s done better in Continental Europe?
I think so, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own little issues with participation. I think it’s a global issue, you even see it in Asia and a lot of places where it’s grown very quickly but it’s become a high-end sport.

The time issue is another thing, it seems like we’re all so busy and golf is known for taking time so that’s something we have to address. But, yeah, I would say family is the way to go for now and if you do things together it really doesn’t matter how much time it takes.

I’m missing the fitness aspect, I’m an athlete, a professional athlete and I should actually train my body. One of the central beliefs of the Academy is to work on fitness and nutrition and you famously re-dedicated your career on that basis, what made you realise that it was so important?
I have always been interested in food, my mum loves to cook and I like to read recipes. And I always enjoyed fitness and I knew that in the back of my mind that it’s important to supply your body with the right nutrients so they can perform at the highest levels, especially if you work very hard you know it needs to be the right fuel for you to perform.

When I became the No 1 player in the world in 1996-97 and then lost the world rankings in the end of 1999 I was disappointed but it also got me fired up.

I looked at myself and thought what do I need to do, what am I missing and I really started to analyse things. I thought I practise a lot, I hit a lot of balls, I play but that’s not what I’m missing.

I’m missing the fitness aspect, I’m an athlete, a professional athlete and I should actually train my body. And I wasn’t, I was just going out for a little jog or lifting a few dumbbells or something!

What did the new regime consist of?
I wanted to create some proper speed and strength and I needed some more power. This was in 2000, and it was a big commitment because they were still talking about how working out is bad for you, you get very tight and lose your flexibility and you get muscular. But I really think that if you train right you can do it right and we all know the benefits of fitness today. I got back to No 1 and I was able to stay there for a while and I credit a lot of that to the fitness.

And it all seems so normal today?
It is normal, for me it wasn’t about the silly golf-specific fitness, I think it’s more general fitness. I knew my career would come to an end and you want to make sure you work out for the future. Now I continue to do it, it’s not to get power on the course, it’s to feel good.

How much has the game changed since you stepped away in 2008?
I think the game is very similar, the players are getting a little younger, fitness is a big deal and the fashion is a little bit more colourful. Maybe the golf itself is a lot more technical in the sense that the equipment that’s used and social media was just beginning to get going when I stepped away.

What were the key factors behind Europe finally winning the Solheim Cup on American soil in 2012?
To win a lot of things have to fall into place; Lotta Neumann did an excellent job as captain, the team set-up was a mixture of veterans and young ones so you got some energy but you still got some stability in the team. It just clicked but the team atmosphere was amazing.

How important is Suzann Pettersen?
She’s such a team player, she’s very aggressive and she loves matchplay. There’s something about the Solheim Cup and she has an extra gear, it’s all about the team and she does very well there. Now she’s becoming more of the team captain, some people just raise to team events and she’s just one of them.

Have you ever seen anything quite like Charley Hull on a debut?
It was amazing. Obviously before we picked the team we looked at players in Europe and we looked at players in the States and my role was to look at players in America.

The name Charley Hull kept coming up and I said, well tell me about her, and they said well she’s 17.
Lotta played with her at the pro-am at the British and she was very impressed and she had an instinct of wanting to pick her. So we analysed it and then in the end she went with her instinct. Then I met her and she had so much poise but was so playful.

How much advice did you give her?
We worked a little bit with her because she was very aggressive on the greens. Early on in the week she would hit putts and she would have 10-footers coming back!

It’s no fun when you play alternate shot and you have a 10-footer so I kept telling her you’ve got to pay attention and don’t be so aggressive. She was so receptive and then the better she played the more comfortable she felt. And then playing with Paula Creamer and beating her 5&4 was a big win for her.

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