BELLEAIR, Florida – Nelly Korda first met Annika Sorenstam at the LPGA legend’s namesake AJGA event. Like many in this week’s LPGA field, Korda’s first recollection of Sorenstam is her putting on a junior clinic. Today’s players can quite literally play in events around the world that bear Sorenstam’s name. The college player of the year wins the Annika Award; the player who fares the best at the LPGA majors each year wins the Rolex Annika Major Award.
It’s only fitting then, that one of the premiere stops on the LPGA schedule now bears her name, too. The Annika driven by Gainbridge at Pelican, which started in 2020 but was rebranded this year, boasts one of the biggest purses on the LPGA schedule outside the majors at $3.25 million and a stacked field.
“I think it’s important to have history involved in the current game,” said former No. 1 Stacy Lewis. “I think it’s important for these girls to know the players that have come before them.”
While other LPGA greats have had their names on events throughout the history of the tour – the Betsy King Classic, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, the Babe Zaharias Open, to name a few – Sorenstam’s is the only current event that carries a player’s name.
“I love to see these young girls living their dream,” said Sorenstam. “I’ve seen some from 16 years back, whether it’s Nelly Korda, Alison Lee, Leona Maguire.”
Of the 120 players in the field this week, 57 have competed in Sorenstam’s events, including the Volvo Car Scandinavian Mixed, which Sorenstam co-hosts with fellow Swede Henrik Stenson. Eight of the top 10 players in the world are there this week, including two-time defending champion Nelly Korda and the three players vying for Rolex Players of Year: Celine Boutier, Lilia Vu and Ruoning Yin.
On the PGA Tour, events hosted by Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and the late Arnold Palmer are the gold standard in the men’s game.
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Sorenstam wants the same at Pelican, an exclusive Tampa-area club whose membership includes Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley. Sorenstam, of course, is Augusta National’s newest member.
“It starts everywhere from, I mean, parking lot, right, to locker room, to practice area, to lunch, everything that they somewhat touch,” said Sorenstam. “Sometimes it’s really small things you might not think about, like you said.
“So I like to listen and learn from them. At the end of the day, we want the players to go home and say, I’m coming back and I’m bringing so and so with them.”
Annika Sorenstam strolls the range at her new namesake event on the LPGA. (courtesy photo)
South Carolina junior Louise Rydqvist won the Annika Intercollegiate in Minnesota earlier this year to earn a spot in this week’s field. Rydqvist has grown up playing in Sorenstam’s events, starting with the Annika Cup in Sweden. Rydqvist went to high school with Solheim Cup players Linn Grant and Maja Stark – and Ryder Cupper Ludvig Aberg – and has the same swing coach as another member of Suzann Pettersen’s team, Madelene Sagstrom.
Rydqvist, who is also getting an advanced look at where the SEC Championship will be played next spring, learned that a victory at the Annika Intercollegiate came with an LPGA exemption when she read about it on the drive to the course before the final round.
Rydqvist’s prep work for this week’s event included a chat with the host herself on Sorenstam’s SiriusXM radio show, where they talked about strategy.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Rydqvist of the opportunity that’s before her.
Sorenstam won the inaugural Betsy King Classic in 1996 and backed it up with a victory in 1997. She also won the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship twice, which was hosted by Nancy Lopez.
This week, she hopes to have a similar impact to what some of the game’s greatest had on her.
“I think the purpose of this event is to inspire the next generation, whether it’s Linn Grant in there or whoever it might be,” said Sorenstam.
“You hope they’re going to see an event like this, or event like Nancy’s, that hopefully one day they want to follow in the same footsteps, and pay forward or bring the game to the next level and just inspire some young girl or boy down the road. I think that’s really what to me these type of events mean. It’s elevating them to a level we haven’t seen before. Not just the quality of the course, the food, and the partnerships, but the memories, how it touches your heart. When you leave here, what do you feel.”