Annika Reflects on her U.S. Senior Women's Open Debut
As I sit here in Tokyo for the women’s golf competition at the 2020 Olympic Games, I’ve been reflecting a bit on what happened last week at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open in Connecticut. I must admit, it still hasn’t sunk in yet – what a week! To give a little day-by-day glimpse into the experience, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts from the championship.
My hubby, Mike – who was also my caddie for the week – arrived with me on Monday. We had a nice dinner, just the two of us. It felt like a date night on the road. After that, we got settled with our friends in the house we were staying at for the week.
On Tuesday, the work week began. It would be our second time seeing the course as we had played a practice round a month earlier after we returned from our annual summer trip to Sweden. I was blown away by not just the condition of the course, but also by how much I liked it. Brooklawn just fit my eye – it is a classic A.W. Tillinghast-designed course where precision would be rewarded, especially on approach shots because the greens are quite tricky.
After lunch, my ANNIKA Foundation hosted one of our “Share My Passion” Girls Golf Clinics. We welcomed 40 young girls from the area who had written letters telling me why they love golf. The group was really fun and energetic. We do a few of these clinics a year, so it was great to do it at a USGA event.
That evening the USGA hosted a welcome reception, and it was very nice to catch up with fellow players. Veteran golf journalist Ron Sirak was the emcee and Mike Whan, the USGA’s new CEO, spoke and welcomed everyone to the championship.
I did a press conference on Wednesday morning. It had been a few years since I’d done one in a tournament setting, but I think I did OK. Once we finished up, we headed out for the final practice round. Again, the course played spectacularly. Mike and I took notes and talked strategy. We felt good about our game plan. That evening, we took it easy and went to Whole Foods to stock up on essentials.
Once Thursday arrived, I could feel the seriousness of the situation and my nerves began to creep up. I guess this should’ve been expected as it had been 13 years since I played in a national championship. My pairing with England’s Laura Davies and my fellow swede Liselotte Neumann could not have been better. They’re two easy going and friendly players and former European Solheim Cup teammates. Looking back, I feel that had a big part in the success of our week.
I was very pleased how I drove the ball off the tee and with my approach shots. I missed only two greens, so I was happy to sign for a 67, 5-under par, which put me tied for the lead after Day 1.
After a big storm rolled in Thursday afternoon, the players resumed the first round on Friday morning. My tee time was delayed to 3:55 pm. That’s a late tee time, so we relaxed a little at the house, swam in the pool to get loose and watched the Olympics to get inspired.
Our expectations were that we would not finish the round due to darkness that day, but somehow, we managed to play all 18 holes before they called it. Laura Davies tapped in our birdie and literally ran across the street to tee off on the 11th hole. The group in front of us was in the fairway, so she hit an iron to stay short of them. Now our group could finish in the dark. We said we owe her a beverage.
It was a relief to complete the round, as returning to finish up the second round early on Saturday morning would’ve made for a very long day. We left the course with a three-shot lead over Liselotte Neumann. To make the day even better, our kids arrived, so we got to spend time together that evening. I will always remember them sprinting down the hill at number eight to jump into our arms when they arrived at the course.
“Moving Day,” as Saturday is frequently called, didn’t turn out to be one for me. I didn’t hit it as well and just never really felt completely comfortable. I couldn’t get the ball to the hole all day. A mediocre round of even-par 72 put me two shots ahead of the pack going into the final round.
As athletes, we work so hard to be in the final group on Sunday. It’s undoubtedly a position that can be very nerve-wracking and uncomfortable, but that’s what we strive for! I remember hearing Paul Azinger say recently that we work our entire lives to get nervous and then it’s all about how we deal with it. So very true.
Being away from the game for years and having other priorities at this time in my life made this final-round situation a bit unique. Tournament golf hasn’t been a priority for me for many years; golf for me is now more about the journey and the memories. So how do I channel that in a positive and constructive way? It made me think about a conversation I had with a dear friend of mine who has a faith-based and spiritual background. She insists that everything has or had a purpose. I wanted to share this because it’s what drove me for the week.
“Try seeing the intentionality of each shot is a purpose larger than you winning. I want you to try this because you have already won and done it well. I am not saying don’t try to win but with each shot know these things:
· You are driving the ball for the girls who think they have no strength, till they sees you put it out there with the boys or way beyond other women.
· Your approach shot is for the girls who feel like giving up their goals, because they seem so far away.
· Your chips are for the girls who think they don’t have what it takes to show finesse and grace.
· And your putts are for the women who are too scared to accomplish their dreams.
Whether you like it or not, you are a warrior and have the heart of a warrior.”
I am incredibly thankful for these encouraging words as they capture my intentions and mission the last 13 years.
It all came together that final day, I felt calm and poised. Mike says I was my “vintage me.”
I had good control of my game and the feel around the greens was there, much better than it had been all week. Mike did great as my caddie. We work very well together and executed our game plan to perfection. To finish with a 68, 4- under par, to win this championship is something I’m very proud of.
But beyond winning, to be able to share this special week with Mike and the kids was so incredible. It was like a fairytale, to walk up the 18th hole together with them on the final day, knowing this was a family affair. I also know his Dad, Jerry was watching in the sky. Hoisting that trophy together was a dream come true.
It has come full circle now and, as my dad said to me at the beginning of my journey when I was a young girl, “there are no shortcuts to success.” My wish is that this win can serve as an inspiration for many others to pursue their dreams. Thank you to the USGA, Brooklawn and all the staff and volunteers for a memorable week. Also, thank you to all who of you who were pulling for me – it means so much to have your love and support.