Annika Sorenstam returns to Colonial, 20 years later

By scott@360westmagazine.comMay 23, 2023No Comments

Colonial, Schwab Challenge Remember Sorenstam’s Play in Men’s Tournament 20 Years Ago

Story and Photos By Tori Couch

When Annika Sorenstam last visited Fort Worth’s Colonial Country Club 20 years ago, she stirred up controversy as the first woman since 1945 to play in a men’s PGA Tour event.

Sorenstam did not make the cut for the later rounds, but her willingness to push the boundaries impacted women across the nation.

Julie Butner, president and chief executive of the Tarrant Area Food Bank, lives across from the first green at Colonial and remembers that day as her front yard became a parking lot.

“Mothers were literally rolling down their windows going ‘I took my daughter out of school. Can I park here? We gotta see Annika’,” Butner said. “That was such a trailblazing move. Huge risk. Such a great signal and example for women and girls.”

Countless stories like that were overheard during the Charles Schwab Challenge Executive Women’s Day luncheon on Tuesday where Sorenstam was the keynote speaker. The luncheon served as a fundraiser for a new partnership between Executive Women’s Day and Fort Worth Colonial Charities, the Schwab Challenge’s fundraising arm.

Sorenstam also received a special gift from the Colonial following the luncheon. The club named Sorenstam the club’s 16th Honorary Member. She is the first woman to join that group.

“It was a total surprise,” Sorenstam said after the event. “Excited, honored. You heard some of the other honorary members. Quite the list and to just be in their name’s presence is very special. This place is a very big part of my life. It means a lot.”

Other honorary members include legendary golfers like Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer, and broadcaster Jim Nantz. Honorary members are unanimously selected by the board of directors and must be an ambassador for golf and have supported Fort Worth and the Schwab Challenge.

The Colonial also reserved one spot in the 2024 Ben Hogan Monday Pro-Am for a qualified golfer from the ANNIKA Foundation. Sorenstam founded the ANNIKA Foundation in 2007 to develop and grow women’s golf around the world, while encouraging children to lead healthy, active lifestyles. She also sponsors a global tournament circuit.

During the luncheon, Executive Women’s Day and Colonial Charities donated to The Women’s Center of Tarrant County and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Tarrant County through the “Help a Sister Up” campaign. The campaign supports local charities that provide services for women and girls. The Women’s Center received $35,000 and the Boys &Girls’ club received $40,000.

Butner, the Executive Women’s Day chair, said the event underwent changes recently that quadrupled net revenue, which meant the event could donate significant amounts to local charities.

“We wanted to make it more aligned with women, girls and charity,” she said. “Rather than Executive Women’s Day just being about the networking opportunity, asking women to literally use their influence in their community and their own resources to support other women and girls who are less fortunate.”

The luncheon has been held during the Schwab Challenge tournament week since 2013. The event provides local women and business leaders an opportunity to network and share ideas.

Sorenstam shared plenty of wisdom while recounting how she scored a 59 in a single round of golf while coming in 13-under par, maintaining a world No. 1 ranking, running her numerous business ventures, and now being a mother to two teenage children.

Of course, the result of her playing with men two decades prior was a major talking point.

“It’s all coming together, the impact it has from different levels,” Sorenstam said. “If it’s inspiration for a girl or for golfers. That’s what’s so neat about it. It’s not so much what I do on this hole. It’s the whole experience.”

As a professional golfer, Sorenstam — member of the LPGA Hall of Fame and World Golf Hall of Fame — did more than just shake up a golf tournament.

She rewrote the record books, earning LPGA’s Rookie of the Year in 1994 and capturing eight of the next 11 Player of the Year awards. Career highlights included becoming the first woman to shoot a 59 in a round of a professional tournament, winning 72 times on the LPGA Tour, earning the No. 1 world ranking, posting a season-scoring averaging below 70 twice, and capturing her 10th major career title at the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open.

Sorenstam has remained an ambassador for golf since retiring in 2008 and helped grow the game of golf through many avenues, including the ANNIKA Foundation. She said these golfers can gain exposure to college recruiters and scholarship opportunities through the foundation’s tournaments.

Sorenstam also established a pair of awards at the collegiate and professional levels in 2014. The ANNIKA Award — in partnership with the Haskins Commission, which supports the college game — is given to the top female Division I golfer and voted on by players, coaches and golf media. Stanford’s Rose Zhang, the 2022 winner, was announced as the 2023 recipient while Sorenstam was speaking at the luncheon.

The Rolex ANNIKA Major Award is given to the LPGA golfer with the most outstanding Major Championship record.

Sorenstam also turned her attention to family shortly after retirement, marrying Mike McGee in 2009. The couple has a 13-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. 

Staying away from golf has not been easy though. Sorenstam said she picked up golf clubs again in part because of her children and the young golfers she mentors through the ANNIKA Foundation.

Sorenstam won the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open by eight shots and qualified for the 2022 US Women’s Open. She missed the Open cut at 13-over par.

Sorenstam and her son, Will, played together in the 2022 PNC Championship, a tournament that pairs former golf champions with members of their families. 

“It’s a dream come true for a golfer to be able to play with your child,” Sorenstam said. “Will has such a passion for the game. He wants to learn everyday. He wants to be a part of it, watch me play. He’s a tough critic, probably my toughest.”

Sorenstam will participate in the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links June 6-9 under a special exemption.

Away from the greens, Sorenstam’s numerous business ventures feature a clothing line and a vodka-based cocktail called Fizzy Beez. Fizzy Beez came about during the 2020 COVID lockdowns when Sorenstam and McGee started making drinks at home. Sorenstam said the company aims to fill the market’s need for a good-tasting cocktail with fewer calories.

Fizzy Beez is now sold in four states and sponsored the 2023 APP Cincinnati Open pickleball tournament. The four-pack, ready-to-drink vodka-based cocktails are sweetened with organic honey and other simple ingredients, according to the company’s website.

Sorenstam will sport the Fizzy Beez logo when playing golf or at events like the Executive Women’s Day luncheon. Sorenstam’s competitive nature has helped the company grow, but she knows more time is needed to learn the industry and expand Fizzy Beez’s distribution.

“I thought golf was a patient thing,” she said.” This is patience.”