For Sorenstam, it's all about life after golf

October, 28, 2009
10/28/09
10:03
AM ET

BEDMINSTER, N.J. -- Annika Sorenstam has just finished up the ninth hole as part of a scramble -- a bogey on a par 5, if you must know; perhaps a first during her storied career in this type of nonchalant format, one observer surmises -- and she is now working on her slice.

No, one of the LPGA's most decorated players of all time hasn't developed a grotesque left-to-right ball flight -- in fact, she's still playing shots from only 100 yards and in as part of her recovery from giving birth to daughter Ava on Sept. 1. Instead, this is a slice of New York's finest pizza, straight out of the oven, a deliciously cheesy snack as she makes the turn.

Sitting Down With Annika

Annika Sorenstam joined ESPN.com's Jason Sobel to discuss the focus of the LPGA Tour, her rivals on the golf course and more. On The Tee podcast

Such a story serves only to symbolize how the game has changed for the 10-time major champion.

In the past year, Sorenstam has transformed from the world's No. 1-ranked player to a full-time mother and businesswoman. She sat down on the ESPN.com Hot Seat on Oct. 13 at Fiddler's Elbow Country Club to discuss life after golf and whether a comeback might someday take place.

Q: I know you've been working on your game a little bit since giving birth to Ava. If you're planning on a comeback to the LPGA, I think now would be a terrific time to make that announcement.
A: [Laughs] Well, I haven't really practiced that much; she's only 6 weeks old. I was out last week at home for the first time in months -- and I mean, months. We're 10 months into this year, and I've been out on a course maybe five times, which is so strange to go from competing full time for so many years, 24/7, that's all I did, practice or play, and then to do nothing, so it's been very different. I have a long road back, and today I'm still recovering from the surgery, so I don't have any plans to do anything else at this time.

Q: That doesn't exactly sound like a no. When you stopped playing on the LPGA, you said you didn't want to use the R word, meaning retirement. Is that still the case?
A: Yeah, I said, "I'm stepping away," and the reason is because, like you said, you never know. I'm lucky in that if I wanted to come back, I could. But I'm very content with where I am today and what I'm doing and all the businesses and family life. So today I have no plans whatsoever, but things change. In five years? I don't know. I certainly don't have the desire to go out there and grind, and that's what it takes. There are times when I wish I had that motivation, because then I would be out there. But with all this other fun stuff, there's more to life than golf. I'm glad that I've found other things in life and can enjoy a different chapter.

Q: Catriona Matthew won the Women's British Open just nine weeks after giving birth. She was followed by new mom Kim Clijsters earning the U.S. Open tennis title. Becoming a mom and then winning a big tournament is sort of the in thing to do these days.
A: Well, they certainly proved that. I was amazed by both of them. Obviously, I know Catriona; I don't know Kim at all, but I watched a lot of her matches, and it was very impressive and fun to see. For her to be able to share it with her family has got to be very special. But it takes a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work. I don't know how they do it, especially Catriona, so soon, because I think it's quite the adjustment, and it takes a lot of time to be good and win tournaments. That's a full-time job itself.

Q: Is there a part of you that would like to show Ava what Mom can accomplish in a competitive environment?
A: Maybe, but right now, she's so young that all she cares about is food, sleep and her pacifier. So, who knows? Maybe when I can get a little bit more feedback and can interact with her a little bit more it might change, but as of now, all she needs is my attention and my time, and that's what I'm planning to give.

Q: Just because you're retired -- sorry, there's that R word again -- from playing on the LPGA, it doesn't mean you have nothing to do all day. In fact, it seems like you're busier now than ever before.
A: Well, it seems like it, yeah. My time certainly goes by quickly. The last four years, I've been planting the seed for a different career, and it's really taken off. I can't think of a harder time to start a business, and therefore it is a lot of work. It's 24/7 for me, and I'm determined to succeed. That involves working at my academy down in Orlando [Fla.], foundation work, golf course design -- I'm about to sign my ninth golf course. It's a lot of work. We just launched an Annika syrah, the red wine, this past May, and also a fragrance line. So that's five or six different projects that I've got going at the same time, and that's obviously where I spend all my hours.

Annika Sorenstam

Pete Fontaine/Icon SMI

Will Annika Sorenstam ever return to play on the LPGA Tour? She hasn't completely closed the door on that possibility, as she refuses to use the R word (as in retirement).

Q: What drives you to these other pursuits? Is it money? Passion? Boredom relief?
A: Well, it's passion. And, you know, I'm competitive. I love the challenges that business gives me. It's different than on the golf course; on the course, it's hitting a 7-iron or making a putt or competing against the best in the world. Here it's different, but my goal is to get the Annika brand out there. If you look at other athletes, some have been very successful in creating businesses after athletic careers, but a lot of them are men. I can't think of a female athlete who has really done that. There have been many who were extremely good in their own field and have done some things around their sport, but no one's really ventured out into different areas. I'm really curious as to why that is. I love what I do and therefore I spend a lot of time on it and want to succeed.

Q: Is there someone after whom you've patterned your brand?
A: Just like I did in golf, I have role models. You look at Greg Norman. He's a golfer, plus I think he's an extremely good businessman. Arnold Palmer has been very successful. You can look at other sports, too. Lance Armstrong, mostly with his foundation. Andre Agassi is incredible with what he has done. There are a few who have taken the next step that I look up to and say, "What are they doing and what can I learn from them?" It almost seems like they're as happy in their new careers as they were in their first.

Q: Among other things, there is an ANNIKA Collection clothing line, ANNIKA Financial Group, ANNIKA Vineyards and ANNIKA Fragrance, which basically means consumers can dress like you, invest like you, drink like you and smell like you.
A: [Laughs] Yeah, that's a lot of me, huh? It's true. Again, it's passion and working in the different areas that I have an interest in. It's just turned out that I've had an opportunity to do all of those. It's been a learning experience for me as far as wine. I mean, I grew up in a family where we cooked. My parents have always enjoyed a glass of wine. And with all the travel that I've done -- I've been to so many countries and been exposed to some incredible wines -- it's more of a lifestyle than anything. And that's what I'm enjoying now, the lifestyle of everything together. It's golf, it's wine, it's food, it's clothing -- those are things that you do every day.

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Q: Is there one part of it that you're most passionate about? Maybe the foundation or the academy?
A: Well, they're two different things. One is obviously non-profit and one is profit. I am very dedicated to my foundation because I want to make a difference and because I'm living a dream. I really am. How can I give back to the game that's been great to me? How can I help young girls to live a dream? I think sports in general are a great way to raise a kid. Golf, for example, teaches you not just to make a swing or read a putt, but it's life lessons. It's learning how to stay focused, it's learning how to be patient, it's teaching you to set goals -- so many qualities that you need in life. Other kids, whether it's soccer or tennis, it's the same way. Just to give them opportunities to pursue their dream is so important.

Q: You gave birth to Ava on Sept. 1. How's parenthood?
A: Oh, I love it. It's an amazing experience and something that you can't explain. I've spoken to friends, I've read books, but that doesn't cover half of it. It's just so different. There are a lot of responsibilities. It's challenging, but it's rewarding at the same time.

Q: We talk about all of these post-playing career roles that you have, and you were also instrumental in getting golf into the Olympics, serving as a global ambassador in support of the International Golf Federation.
A: That's right. I was part of that initial presentation in Geneva in June. All of the things that we did to get ready for that were learning experiences. To be part of the presentation in Geneva ... and do the presentation in front of all the gentlemen and ladies who are very powerful in sports, and try to explain why we should be there, what we can bring to the Olympic Games and why golf would benefit from that. I thought it was very interesting. And then we get the result that we're in. I thought it was great for the growth of the game. You can consider it global today just by looking at the different tours, but I think it can be more global. Again, it doesn't get better than sharing the sport that I love so much with people who might otherwise never have a chance to try.

Q: You and Tiger Woods used to playfully text each other after each major victory. Do you still keep in touch, and if you can't brag about major wins anymore, what do you text him about?
A: It has not been as much this year, but he's one up in children also. He's up in everything. And he's very competitive; he lets me know that. But I keep touch with his wife, Elin, as much as I can. It's just hard because he travels a lot and we've been quite busy, so hopefully when things calm down, I can get in touch with him a little bit more again.

Previous Hot Seat Guests

Who else has appeared on ESPN.com's Hot Seat to discuss golf? Everyone from Tiger Woods to Jack Nicklaus.
Click here for the full list.

Q: Does his competitiveness mean that if you have another kid, they'll need to have another one, too, just to keep up?
A: Probably, yeah [laughs].

Q: Even with everything you accomplished in the women's game, one of the things you're best known for is competing on the PGA Tour at Colonial. When you reflect on that week, what thoughts come into your mind?
A: Oh, I have so many incredible memories. I would say the support that I felt and received from fans and from everybody. I remember the preparation and I remember standing there on the first tee, really wondering what's going to happen, and then walking away with some memories that were just unbelievable.

Q: Do you think we'll see a day when a woman is playing full time against the men? And would that be a positive thing for women's golf or a negative, since it will take away from the LPGA?
A: I don't know if we'll ever see a woman play regularly. I do hope that we will see more tournaments together. I would love the ladies' game to elevate to the point where we could have some fun tournaments together. But that's why we have different tours. If somebody is that good, then that would enhance her tour, so an occasional visit here and there I think is good for the game, but I don't see it happening regularly.

Q: Lastly, among all of those other roles that we discussed earlier, you also write your own blog. Any thoughts about joining the rest of us hacks in the press room someday, maybe steal our jobs?
A: Oh, don't you worry. Your job is fine. I don't have the skills. But I think it's a fun way to share what I do as far as the businesses and some of the fun places I go. I'm fascinated with this new media -- Facebook, blogs, Twitter. All of these things. I'm a beginner, but I think it's a fun way to reach out to fans and even some friends I have. They keep up with me through Twitter. I think it's really cool. It takes time, but it's a fun way to interact.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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