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Opinion & Analysis

My chat with a champion: Long after her competitive days, Annika continues to strongly influence the game

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There are a handful of golf legends that go by only one name; Tiger, Jack, Arnie and the queen of golf, Annika.

Annika Sorenstam continues to be a major influence on the game long after her retirement from competitive golf. Right by her side, every step of the way, is her husband Mike McGee, who has golf blood flowing strongly through his veins as well. I have had the privilege of getting to know Annika and Mike a bit over the past ten years. It has long been my opinion that this family is one of the games most generous and genuine. The work that they do through the Annika Foundation is playing a major role in the growth we have seen within the women’s game over recent years.

I had the great honor to chat a bit with Annika and Mike recently. As you will see, they absolutely have their fingers on the pulse of the industry and continue to work hard everyday to make golf better then they found it.

When did you start playing the game and who had the biggest influence on you getting started?

Annika: I started to play golf at the age of 12. I split a set of clubs with my sister, Charlotta. I got the odd numbers and she got the evens. My parents were my biggest influence in starting to golf as they played a lot. We would go to the course with them and ride their pull carts like a horse and get ice cream at the turn. Fun memories.

At what point did you know that you had what it took to play at a high level?

Annika: My first love was tennis, but when I was 16, I decided to focus on golf. I played on the Swedish National Team and won the World Amateur Championship in 1988. That’s when I realized I could play at a high level.

How early in your development did you first start getting formal instruction?

Annika: I started getting formal instruction early on. I would say between the ages of 12 and 14.

Was golf something that was part of your childhood? If so, when did you start and who was your influencer?

Mike: Yes, my Dad, Jerry McGee played the PGA TOUR until I was eight in 1982. He won four times and played in the 1977 Ryder Cup. I traveled the TOUR as a kid, so golf was literally a part of my upbringing.

What are your thoughts on current youth player development programs such as Drive, Chip & Putt and PGA Jr. League?

Annika & Mike: Mike and I both love what the PGA has done with PGA Jr. League. In fact, our kids play to play this year for Old Greenwood in Tahoe. We also love what Augusta National has done with Drive, Chip and Putt. It is a fantastic initiative and really motivates kids to try and make it to the Finals and putt on the 18th green at Augusta National.

Since your retirement from playing, you have been involved in several business endeavors. In recent years a great deal of attention has been put into the development of your Foundation and specifically, your Invitational, Intercollegiate and Annika Cup events. Can you expand on your passion for helping bring opportunities like these to young female golfers worldwide?

Annika: We started the ANNIKA Foundation in 2007 as a way for me to give back to the game that has been so good to me, and now have seven global events that sees over 600 players come through per year from over 60 countries. Over 45 have gotten LPGA cards and we have dozens of college coaches come to recruit the junior girls. We have what we call “More than Golf” educational seminars at each event to prepare girls for the future. I also give a clinic at each event and share my experiences to hopefully improve their preparation. It gives me great pride to help inspire the next generation.

I see that the McGee kiddos did some Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying and did fairly well…what is the kid’s connection to the game at this point in their lives? Any prospects for either to play competitively?

Annika & Mike: Our kids have been fortunate to attend the Drive, Chip and Putt finals the past two years. I can say that it really inspired them to take the game more seriously. They both have talent and I would say Will is more serious about it at this point. They’ll try DC&P again this year. Mike and I just want them to have fun with it. Golf teaches you so many valuable life lessons so the fact that they want to play makes us happy.

Professionally, what is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?

Annika: I would say being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. That encompasses all of the accomplishments that mean the most….89 worldwide wins, shooting 59, playing against the men. I have achieved more than I ever thought possible and I take great pride in always showing good sportsmanship.

How often do you get out to play or practice? Not for a clinic, or an event, but just for you?

Annika: I practice a little before events. I still play some sponsor outings or TV matches, so I don’t want to embarrass myself. I would say I practice once or twice a month.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the game? Where are we winning and where do we need some work?

Annika & Mike: The game of golf is in a great place on the professional Tours. I love the global nature and the young superstars. Family friendly is the key. I think we have a lot of great initiatives to grow the game, we just need to keep working at it. We need to make it fun, take less time and be more accessible for anyone who wants to play. I don’t think golf is much more expensive than other sports. Competitive skiing and soccer are equally as expensive if not more. We really just need to all work together to make it fun.

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PGA Professional Brendon Elliott is a multiple award winning Golf Professional based in Central Florida. He is the 2017 PGA of America's National Youth Player Development Award Winner among other coveted awards. He is considered by his peers as an industry expert on topics ranging from Jr. golf player development to operations to industry sustainability. He is the founder of the Little Linksters Golf Academy and the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development, a 501c3 nonprofit also based out of Central Florida. You can learn more about Brendon and Little Linksters at littlelinksters.com

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Geoffrey Holland

    May 12, 2019 at 12:27 am

    When the author’s bio is longer than the actual article, you know that the author has a giganticly ridiculous ego.

  2. Dave r

    May 8, 2019 at 10:24 am

    Yes great article, lovely person it’s what’s golf should be about giving back .

  3. dj

    May 7, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    Nice article.. I’ve always liked her and her approach to the game.

    Looks like you are job hunting…Nice resume’

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Opinion & Analysis

A day at the CP Women’s Open

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It’s another beautiful summer day in August. Just like any other pro-am at a professional tour event, amateurs are nervously warming up on the driving range and on the putting green next to their pros. As they make their way to the opening tees, they pose for their pictures, hear their names called, and watch their marque player stripe one down the fairway. But instead of walking up 50 yards to the “am tees,” they get to tee it up from where the pros play—because this is different: this is the LPGA Tour!

I’m just going to get right to it, if you haven’t been to an LPGA Tour event you NEED to GO! I’ve been to a lot of golf events as both a spectator and as media member, and I can say an LPGA Tour event is probably the most fun you can have watching professional golf.

The CP Women’s Open is one of the biggest non-majors in women’s golf. 96 of the top 100 players in the world are in the field, and attendance numbers for this stop on the schedule are some of the highest on tour. The 2019 edition it is being held at exclusive Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, which is about an hour north of downtown Toronto and designed by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. The defending Champion is none other than 21-year-old Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson, who won in emotional fashion last year.

From a fan’s perspective, there are some notable differences at an LPGA Tour event, and as a true “golf fan,” not just men’s golf fan, there are some big parts of the experience that I believe everyone can enjoy:

  • Access: It is certainly a refreshing and laidback vibe around the golf course. It’s easy to find great vantage points around the range and practice facility to watch the players go through their routines—a popular watching spot. Smaller infrastructure doesn’t mean a smaller footprint, and there is still a lot to see, plus with few large multi-story grandstands around some of the finishing holes, getting up close to watch shots is easier for everyone.
  • Relatability: This is a big one, and something I think most golfers don’t consider when they choose to watch professional golf. Just like with the men’s game there are obviously outliers when it comes to distance on the LPGA Tour but average distances are more in line with better club players than club players are to PGA Tour Pros. The game is less about power and more about placement. Watching players hit hybrids as accurately as wedges is amazing to watch. Every player from a scratch to a higher handicap can learn a great deal from watching the throwback style of actually hitting fairways and greens vs. modern bomb and gouge.
  • Crowds: (I don’t believe this is just a “Canadian Thing”) It was refreshing to spend an entire day on the course and never hear a “mashed potatoes” or “get in the hole” yelled on the tee of a par 5. The LPGA Tour offers an extremely family-friendly atmosphere, with a lot more young kids, especially young girls out to watch their idols play. This for me is a huge takeaway. So much of professional sports is focused on the men, and with that you often see crowds reflect that. As a father to a young daughter, if she decides to play golf, I love the fact that she can watch people like her play the game at a high level.

There is a lot of talk about the difference between men’s and women’s professional sports, but as far as “the product” goes, I believe that LPGA Tour offers one of the best in professional sports, including value. With a great forecast, a great course, and essentially every top player in the field, this week’s CP Women’s Open is destined to be another great event. If you get the chance to attend this or any LPGA Tour event, I can’t encourage you enough to go!

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Podcasts

TG2: New podcaster Larry D on his show “Bogey Golf”

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GolfWRX Radio welcomes a new podcast, Bogey Golf with Larry D and we talk to Larry. He lets us in on his show, who he is, why he loves the game, and even what’s in his bag! Rob missed his member-guest and Knudson got a new driver.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Getting to know Payne Stewart

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Ever since that final putt fell in Pinehurst in 1999, Payne Stewart’s memory has enjoyed mythical qualities. A man of complex charm, but many of us who grew up without him recognize only his Knickerbocker pants, his flat cap, and his W.W.J.D. covered wrist wrapped around that United States Open trophy.

I had a wonderful opportunity to play a round of golf with two men that know a lot about Payne. One through friendship and the other through journalistic research.

Lamar Haynes was Payne Stewart’s close friend and teammate on the SMU golf team. He’s full of stories about Payne from the good old days. Kevin Robbins is an author who just finished a new book on Stewart’s final year of life, set to release to the public for purchase this October. He works as a professor of journalism at the University of Texas but has also enjoyed an impressive career as a reporter and golf writer for over 20 years.

We met at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to talk about Payne. Robbins is a solid golfer who spends time working on his game, which tells me a lot about his personality. He is one of us.  As for Haynes, the guy hasn’t lost much since those SMU golf team days. He can still swing it. Fantastic iron player. And both men are wonderful conversationalists. They offered a unique perspective on Stewart—the golfer I grew up idolizing but never really knew. There’s a good chance you don’t really know him, either. At least not the whole story.

“Most golf fans now know the story of his ’99 U.S. Open win,” Robbins said.  “What they don’t know is where he came from.”

Robbins’ book, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Foreverchronicles Payne’s last year on earth with dramatic detail, covering his triumph at Pinehurst and the Ryder Cup at Brookline. And, of course, it tells the story of that tragic plane crash that took our champion from us. What the book doesn’t do is hide any of the blemishes about Payne’s life that have either been forgotten or pushed aside by brighter moments and memories.

“I thought that the other Payne Stewart books, while they have a place, they didn’t tell the whole story,” Robbins said.

The whole story, from what I read, was Payne being brash. A poor winner and sometimes a poor sport when he lost. He often said things he shouldn’t have said and then made those mistakes again and again.

“He had no filter,” remembered Haynes.  “Several close friends on tour had a hard time with him when he won his first Open. He didn’t take into account any of the consequences his words could create. He had a huge heart. Huge heart. But at times there was just no filter. But he grew a great deal over the last 2 or three years.”

It’s most certainly is a book about a change. A change in a man that was better late than never. But also a change in golf that began at the turn of the century and hasn’t really slowed down since.

“The 20 years since his death, to see the way golf has moved, what the tour looks like now,” Robins said.  “There was an evolution that was taking place in 1999 and we didn’t know how it would manifest itself. But now we do. So when you see Brooks Koepka hit a 3-wood in the US Open 370 yards, well that all really had its beginnings in 1998 and 1999. The Pro-V1 ball was being tested in 1999 and being rolled out in 2000. Fitness and equipment, sports psychology, nutrition. All of those things that a guy like Payne Stewart really didn’t have to pay attention to.”

But that change that occurred in Payne, culminating in his final year of life, is something worth learning. It’s a lesson for all of us. A guy on top of the world with still so much to fix. And he was fixing it, little by little.

“He was authentic,” Haynes said. “And he learned a lot later in life from his children. With their Bible studies. You saw a change in him. Very much. He had a peace with himself but he still would revert to his DNA. The fun-loving Payne. Raising children and being a father helped him tremendously.”

Payne was passionate about so many things in life but his children became a primary focus. According to Haynes, he would be so loud at his daughter’s volleyball games…yelling intensely at the referees…that they gave him an option: Either he wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games anymore or he needed to become a line judge and help out with the games. So, Payne Stewart became a volleyball line judge.

Lamar brought the head of an old Ram 7-iron along with him to show me. Damaged and bent from the crash, the club was with Payne on his final flight. He had it with him to show his guys at Mizuno as a model for a new set of irons. That Ram 7-iron belonged to Haynes and Payne had always adored the way it looked at address.

“Payne also used my old Mizunos the last year of his life,” Haynes said.  I had received the MS-4s 10 years earlier from Payne in 1989. They were like playing with a shaft on a knife. The sweet spot was so tiny on the MS-4. They made the MP29 and 14s look like game improvement irons. Payne used those. Then Harry Taylor at Mizuno designed him an iron, which later became the MP33. The 29 and 14s were very sharp and flat-soled. Well, Payne loved this old Ram iron set that I had.. He asked for my Ram 7-iron for Harry Taylor to model his new set. He liked the way it went through the turf. He had it with him on the plane. This is the club that started the MP33.”

It was Lamar Haynes, the man who seems to know just about everyone in the golf community, that set Robbins on this writing journey. Robbins had written one book previously: The story of the life of legendary golf coach Harvey Penick. But this book came a bit easier for Robbins, partly due to his experience, partly due to the subject matter, and partly because of Lamar.

“There’s a story here,” Robbins said. “With any book, you hope to encounter surprises along the way, big and little. And I did. I got great cooperation a long the way. Anybody I wanted to talk to, talked to me thanks to this guy Lamar Haynes.”

“Lamar said the first guy you need to talk to is Peter Jacobsen,” Robins said. “And I said ‘great can you put me in touch with him’ which became a common question to Lamar throughout the process.” Robbins chuckled.  “Literally 2 minutes later my phone rings. ‘Kevin, this is Peter Jacobsen here.'”

“Peter told me the story about the ’89 PGA championship in our first conversation. So literally in the first 10 minutes of my reporting effort, I had the first set piece of the book. I had something. Lamar made a lot happen.”

Lamar Haynes and Kevin Robbins

The book is not a biography, though it certainly has biographical elements to it. It is simply the story of Payne’s final year, with a look back at Payne’s not so simple career mixed in. The author’s real talent lives in the research and honesty. The story reads like you’re back in 1999 again, with quotes pulled from media articles or press conferences. Anecdotes are sprinkled here and there from all of Payne’s contemporaries. The storytelling is seamless and captivating.

“I was pleasantly surprised how much Colin Montgomerie remembered about the concession at the 1999 Ryder Cup,” Robbins said. “Colin can be a tough interview. He is generally mistrustful of the media. His agent gave me 15 minutes during the Pro-Am in Houston. This was in the spring of 2018. I met Colin on the 17th hole and he had started his round on 10. Just organically the conversation carried us to the fifth green. Just because he kept remembering things. He kept talking, you know. It was incredible. Tom Lehman was the same way. He said “I’ll give you 20 minutes” and it ended up being an hour and a half at Starbucks.”

The research took Robbins to Massachusetts, Florida, and Missouri—and of course, to Pinehurst. He met with Mike Hicks, Payne’s former caddie, there to discuss that final round. The two ended up out on Pinehurst No. 2, walking the last three holes and reliving the victory. It gives life to the story and fills it with detail.

“Part of what I hoped for this book is that it would be more than just a sports story,” Robbins said.  “More than just a golf story. The more I started thinking about where Payne began and where he ended, it seemed to me…and I’m not going to call it a redemption story although I bet some people do. People when they are younger, they have regrets and they make mistakes. They do things they wish they could take back but they can’t. So, what can they do? Well, they can improve. They can get better. That’s what Payne was doing with his life. He was improving himself. It was too late to change what he had done already. So what could he do with the future? He could be different.”

“It was accurate,” Haynes said.  “I had a tear when I finished it. I texted Kevin right afterward. I told him I couldn’t call him because I’m choked up so I texted him.”

So here’s two men who knew Payne Stewart, albeit in very different ways. They knew he was flawed in life but he got better. Was Payne Stewart that hero at Pinehurst, grabbing Phil Mickelson’s face and telling him the important thing is he’s going to be a father? Yes. But he was so much more than that. He was so much more than I knew before I read this book. Most importantly, Payne Stewart was always improving. A lesson for all of us, indeed.

If you want to hear more about my experience, tweet at me here @FWTXGolfer or message me on Instagram here! I look forward to hearing from you!

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