ORLANDO, Fla. - Annika Sorenstam sits in the corner of the hotel ballroom, looking over her notes for a corporate gig. The best women's golfer in the world mouths some of the words on the hand-scrawled index cards to herself in a whisper, getting the lines down.
Waiters carrying trays of smoked salmon puffs and crab crepes swoop past, serving the corporate types here for a joint Lexus/USGA press conference. Sorenstam is dressed in the requisite power pants suit, all black. But she still seems out of place amid the insider backslapping and forced guffaws over free food.
When it's time to emerge from her corner and head to the podium stage, she delivers her lines with equanimity.
"I got here in my Lexus," Sorenstam says, winning a laugh from the assembly of execs.
She poses for pictures next to the sparkling Lexus that's been brought in for show - including one with a guy in a white T-shirt pushing a stroller who seems to have snuck in. "You're the best, Annika," he says.
Annika smiles. But as she moves through the crowd, trying to blend back in, it's not hard to tell she'd rather be somewhere else. Sorenstam's endorsement contract with Lexus requires her to make five public appearances for the automaker, but it's clear the glad-handing isn't her thing.
What is her thing, now that she's 36, freshly divorced and, for the first time in forever, not the LPGA's No. 1 golfer, might surprise you.
In an exclusive interview with TravelGolf.com, Sorenstam revealed her desire to become a groundbreaking force in golf course design.
"I don't know why there aren't more women course designers," she said. "That's a good question, one of those things in golf that doesn't make a lot of sense. I've heard it said that women wouldn't know how to design a course from the back tees. Which, again, doesn't make a lot of sense.
"We're not playing from the front tees on the LPGA. Plus, women are the fastest-growing segment in golf. You would think that some courses would want to take advantage of that."
Sorenstam talks like she wants to make a Jack Nicklaus-like impact in course design, only for female pros.
"I'd love to do something to change some minds," she said, "and open up more opportunities for more women to get into designing courses."
Her first foray in the U.S. market will be a redesign of Patriots Point Links, a waterfront golf course in Charleston, S.C. The assignment grew out of her long association with Bobby Ginn, whose Ginn Resorts owns Patriots Point.
"It's a fun part of golf," Sorenstam said of course design. "As a player, we only see what's out there and how it affects our game. I'm learning to view a course from a lot more different angles, to see how it affects golfers of different skill levels."
What will be the hallmark of a Sorenstam course? Much as it may alarm many marketers, the golfer who's made such a huge mark on the women's game is not a fan of "signature" concepts. You know, the ones that often drive course ad campaigns.
"Do you mean like a little touch that's the same on every golf course?" Sorenstam said, all but crinkling her nose. "I haven't done enough course designs to have anything like that yet. And I'm not sure that I'd want to anyway.
"I would hope that each course I do will stand on its own."
Sorenstam plans to cut back on her playing schedule in 2007 and beyond, in part to devote time to her architectural ambitions. She talks of wanting to "play better" than she did in 2006, when she captured another major but won less overall.
"I think the critics are right," she said. "I didn't have the season I wanted last year. Now I'm going to focus on the tournaments that really matter, without trying to please everyone. This will give me more time to do some of the off-course stuff like course design, while giving me the chance to get back to where I want to be with my game."
All course architects swear they are going to be hands-on. Nicklaus still talks about his attention to detail even as flies over the hundreds of courses with his name on them. For now, though, Sorenstam is not a design brand with a coterie of handlers.
At this corporate appearance her entourage consisted of her sister Charlotta, who's helping with her business matters these days, and a friend. When her two-woman entourage rushed to get a glass of the complimentary Dom Perignon, Annika broke into her first legit laugh of the night.
"Annika truly has her stuff together," USGA Executive Committee member Irv Fish said, watching her merge back into the crowd. "You can tell she has a plan."
And that plan carries more than a little bite.
"They say that women might only design courses from the forward tees," Sorenstam said. "Does that mean all these guys all these years have only been worried about the very back tees?"
Sorenstam grins. She knows the answer, and she doesn't believe it should be the only one anymore.
February 9, 2007