May 23 10:04 AM ET

Annika forges a name in business



If hindsight is 20/20, foresight sometimes can be surprisingly myopic. Even for the most visionary among us.

When Annika Sorenstam played in a PGA Tour event a decade ago, she wasn't focused on how that could help establish a brand name so important to her post-competitive career.

Participating in the Colonial tournament in May 2003 was about shorter-term goals: She accepted the pressure-packed challenge in hopes it would translate to her playing even better on the LPGA Tour.

The long view, though, was that the "Colonial experience" likely did even more for Sorenstam's future off the course than on. And that's really saying something, considering how well she continued to play post-Colonial.

"I wasn't thinking that way then, but I was planting a seed," Sorenstam says now of Colonial's lasting elevation of her stature. "And when I look back at it, I would absolutely say that was one of the aftereffects."

Annika, the initially shy Swedish golfer, has transformed into ANNIKA, the head of her own business empire.

Her endeavors include a golf academy, clothing line, golf-course designing business, wine label, fragrance, financial-planning group, charitable foundation and role as an all-purpose golf ambassador. Plus, she's the mother of two children with husband, Mike McGee, her partner in business and life.

All of that would have happened in some form without Colonial. Sorenstam's 72 LPGA Tour victories, her ambition, energy, optimism and creativity were bound to add up to a successful post-playing career.

But Colonial gave her higher name recognition -- an undeniable asset in the entrepreneurial world -- and business connections that might not otherwise have been made.

It gave the LPGA Tour -- and women's sports overall -- always-welcome publicity, as Sorenstam's rising tide lifted all the other boats. But there was something else, too.

It resonated beyond sports or gender. Sorenstam made the point again and again that she wasn't trying to prove she could step right into the PGA Tour and win events.

Rather, she was taking advantage of an opportunity to test herself against the highest level of competition. She hoped that by facing that challenge -- by not being afraid -- she would come away with increased confidence and a stronger sense of her own ability.

In that, Sorenstam's playing at Colonial was universally inspiring. She was the embodiment of all who ever have had the courage to put themselves "out there." To try something they know is going to test them in ways that -- deep down -- scare them.

"Maybe people couldn't relate to me as a golfer,'' Sorenstam said, "but they could relate to wanting to achieve and follow their own dreams in whatever aspect it could be."

And even though her rounds of 71 and 74 didn't make the Colonial cut, it was a respectable show of golf and an endearing show of character by a woman who became more of a one-name celebrity: just "Annika."

Ten years later, in the all-caps version, ANNIKA the businesswoman is tackling endeavors that Annika the golfer proved to herself she could handle. That proof came over the long haul of a spectacular career and the relatively short haul of a withering spotlight during her appearance at the Colonial.

Soaring popularity

Sorenstam -- then 32 -- was the second woman to play in a PGA Tour event, following the legendary Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who had last done so in 1945. How did the Colonial impact Sorenstam's playing career? She won 29 of her 72 LPGA titles after millions of people (either in person or on TV) had monitored her every shot at the Fort Worth, Texas, course.

Consistent excellence marked Sorenstam's career; from 1995 to 2008, she won at least three tournaments every year except one.

A five-season reign -- 2001 to 2005 -- is where she was truly at her peak. During that period, she won 43 titles, seven of them majors, and more than $12.1 million in prize money. At the very middle of this sublime stretch came the Colonial.

It's impossible for Sorenstam to specify just how much impact the Colonial experience had on her psyche, in terms of fulfilling her goal to be even stronger mentally. However, there is some way to measure what impact it had on Sorenstam as a brand name.

For that we look to The Q Scores Company, the New York-based agency that measures celebrities' familiarity and appeal to the United States-based public.

According to Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the firm, a Q score among the very top level of marketable athletes -- he cites someone such as quarterback Peyton Manning -- would be in the high 30s.

Before playing at the Colonial, Sorenstam's general awareness level in 2003 among sports fans was 39 percent and her Q score was 19, both of which are very good for women's golf. But in the year after Colonial, those numbers went to 48 and 24.

"It really dramatically jumped up in terms of recognition and consumer appeal significantly for her," Schafer said.

The company has updated Sorenstam's numbers for 2013, five years after she retired as a player.

"Among all sports fans, 13 years of age and older, she currently has a 44 percent awareness level, and her consumer appeal is an 18," Schafer said. "The average sports figure gets about a 16 Q score, so she's a bit above average. I would say she's done a pretty good job of breaking through the world of golf and establishing herself as a fairly well-known and likable sports personality."

For active female athletes who have at least a 40 percent awareness level, among the top Q scores currently are Olympic gymnast Gabrielle Douglas (28), tennis player Serena Williams (21) and race car driver Danica Patrick (22).

Patrick has a 73 percent awareness level and also stands out as the still-rare female competitor in a mostly male sport. The nature of motor sports -- the vehicle, ultimately, can be an equalizer between male and female competitors -- makes Patrick's feats a bit different from Sorenstam's.

Patrick has been racing against men for many years; it is second nature to her by now. Sorenstam was the lone female competitor in a tournament just that one time, when she was invited to the Colonial on a sponsor's exemption.

Yet earlier this year when Patrick won the Daytona 500 pole, Sorenstam overheard her husband telling their daughter, Ava, that her mom had something in common with the driver.

"They were watching it on TV, and he was explaining, 'There is only one girl in the race, and your mama did something like this 10 years ago, '" Sorenstam said. "She's only 3.5, but she understands that it's OK for girls to do things.

"And I want my son [Will, age 2] to understand that, hey, there are going to be girls competing against you in school and the workplace and there's nothing strange about that. If somebody is good, they want to succeed at things. That's a message I would love for them to understand."

Building a brand

If Sorenstam has been an inspiration to people in terms of pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones, she also is an exemplary role model for her fellow athletes in figuring out their lives after their playing careers end. For Sorenstam, a lot of things started to come together in the early 2000s. Her elevated fitness level made her the LPGA's best player. She gained greater fame in 2001 when she became the first woman to shoot a 59 in competition.

"I was starting to see a bigger picture and have opportunities that I thought I'd never have," Sorenstam said. "It's the effect that golf has, it reaches many people: It's global, men and women, young and old, it's got health benefits. All of these puzzle pieces were lining up, and I was putting them together and saying, 'This is where I fit in.'"

Her final season of 2008 was emotional, and she had bittersweet moments at each tour stop. But she was eager to get started with the rest of her life. In early January 2009, she and McGee married, and they had Ava in September.

Sorenstam's previous marriage ended in divorce in 2005, but in McGee she found not just a soul mate, but a business partner.

"I'm very lucky to have such a confident guy; he's comfortable in his own skin and proud of what I've done," she said of McGee, who played collegiate baseball and is the son of former PGA Tour player Jerry McGee.

"It's fun, and we can work together. A lot of people ask what that's like, and I say, 'We work just fine together.' He's very passionate about what he does."

Which is good, because the ANNIKA brand and two toddlers keep them both constantly busy. Sorenstam said work and family have made the transition away from playing pretty easy for her.

She advises younger athletes to not fear what comes when it's time to move on. She can use her own life and business as a perfect example.

"As athletes, we've been doing something for so many years, and we're used to the routine,'' Sorenstam said. "You're scared you might not be good at anything else.

"I try to encourage them and say, 'Yes, you are good at other things, and now you have time to pursue them.'"

Not many people will attempt to pursue quite as much as Sorenstam. But the model she's setting is particularly noteworthy in women's athletics because there aren't many other examples.

Venus and Serena Williams have various business interests and have made strides in establishing their collective and individual brand names. But Sorenstam's role models for her multifaceted business were all male: golf legends such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Greg Norman.

Various past LPGA standouts, including Nancy Lopez, have had specific business ties -- usually with equipment/clothing -- during and after their careers. But there's really no female athlete who has attempted something with the scope and depth of the ANNIKA brand.

"It's not to say that I'm so competitive that I said, 'I have to do it because nobody else did,''' she said. "But I wanted to do it. This is hard work, too, but it's what I love.

"Just because I don't play anymore doesn't mean I'm just going to put my feet up and eat pralines." She had to laugh at that image ... although you suspect in the back of her mind, she began strategizing about getting into the praline business, too.

"I don't know if my pursuits now are going to help somebody else down the road do the same things," she said. "But, hopefully, they will. I want athletes to see that there is so much more than just your playing career."

The 145 strokes she took at Colonial during that May week 10 years ago amounted to a fraction of the time she has spent on golf courses in her life, but the importance was immeasurable.

Sorenstam thinks one day the Colonial will be a video she shows to Ava and Will. They'll see the enormous gallery watching her tee off and the roar of supportive laughter that came when she faked fainting after her first drive. They'll see the kids who played hooky from school to be there, the men and women and boys and girls wearing green "Go Annika" buttons on their shirts and hats.

They'll see their mom taking out her clubs to face one of her biggest challenges, and knocking it a long, long way.

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