A Rolex Spotlight on the Solheim Cup and an Interview with Annika Sorenstam
Leading up to the 2023 Solheim Cup in Spain, Rolex interviewed golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam for her thoughts on this year’s Cup storylines, her own Solheim history, and her enduring relationship with Rolex.
Q: What are your overall thoughts about Rolex’s longstanding support of golf?
Annika Sörenstam (AS): It is amazing what Rolex has achieved and done in terms of its support for the game of golf over fifty years. As a brand, Rolex has constantly supported all areas of the game, including both amateurs and professionals. They have grown the game and their brand has continued to grow along with it.
Rolex has especially elevated the women’s game – something that has been extremely important for many decades and I am truly appreciative of everything they have done.
Q: You became a Rolex Testimonee in 1994. Can you tell us about your relationship with Rolex? How it came about and what it means to you?
AS: My relationship blossomed with Rolex when I was selected as Rolex Rookie of the Year in 1994 when I joined the LPGA Tour. When I turned professional in 1993, I missed my LPGA Tour card at the final qualifying tournament by one shot and so began my professional career playing in Europe on the Ladies European Tour. After I received my award, I started to meet other Rolex Testimonees as well as the Rolex Golf team, and we developed a business working relationship which I feel has grown into a friendship and family type feel over the years.
Q: Can you describe the feeling of what it is like to be a part of the Rolex family and what it is like to feature amongst the game’s greats alongside Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods?
AS: I am truly proud of my association with such a prestigious and well-respected brand like Rolex. It is a great honour to be a part of the Rolex family, which features so many greats of the game. Rolex choose to become affiliated with a certain type of person – one who has a similar vision, work ethic and values as the brand. It is special to think that I am one of the select few who have been a Rolex Testimonee for so long.
It is more than one’s performance and skill on the golf course. Rolex carefully considers the person behind the professional athlete that you see on the course. For Rolex, it is important to be aligned with their values off the course. Many of the Rolex Testimonees are global figures and worldwide players. Throughout my career, I have always competed globally and this is another aspect that I feel Rolex values as important.
Q: Which Rolex watches hold the most significance for you?
AS: When I won Rookie of the Year in 1994, I was presented a Rolex Lady Oyster Perpetual which has a smaller dial due to mid-size watches being less popular for women back then. I have ‘Rookie of Year’ etched onto the back of the watch so, to this day, it holds a special significance.
Throughout my career, I have won several Player of the Year awards and as a result, I have been lucky enough to select a variety of Rolex’s ranging in size. This has allowed me to decide on a number of different engravings, varying from the number ‘59’ on one to ‘Player of the Year’ on another.
I have also bought myself Rolex watches to celebrate special occasions and milestones in my life. For my husband, Mike and my ten-year marriage anniversary, we decided to spoil ourselves by buying each other a Rolex. After much deliberation, we ended up by buying the same ones! The most recent Rolex watch that I selected for myself was the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Tiffany. This particular watch is very special as it serves as an important reminder and reflection of the success in last few years of my career.
All the Rolex watches that I have are definitely timeless pieces but they also allow me to revisit some amazing memories and are reminders of special moments in my career and personal life.
Q: 2023 promises to be an exciting year with the Solheim Cup in September. How much are you looking forward to this event? And how do you see the European team faring?
AS: For the last ten years, Team Europe have been incredibly successful at the Solheim Cup and hopefully their momentum will continue. I think that they have a very strong team and certainly, a strong and experienced leader in Suzann Pettersen. Suzann has a great record at the Solheim Cup. She is extremely fiery, energetic and enthusiastic. She is surrounded by a great team and I am sure that she will put her heart and soul into her captaincy.
It is exciting that the event will be held at Finca Cortesin in Spain. I am sure that it will be great fun to play there. Over the years, we have had some wonderful players representing Spain and it is a brilliant opportunity for us to visit that region. I can already imagine the atmosphere around the first tee with all the fans – it will be electric! There is something extremely special about the Solheim Cup and being provided with the opportunity to represent one’s country. It is definitely a highlight of the women’s golf calendar and we are going to witness some incredible matches.
Q: You have played and captained alongside fellow Rolex Testimonee Suzann Pettersen and know her quite well. What advice would you give her ahead of this year’s Solheim Cup in Spain?
AS: Suzann Pettersen has an incredible amount of experience and she has been in a lot of leadership positions such as being a vice captain at the Solheim Cup.
When I was captain, the most important lesson that I learned was that it is vital to listen to the players. You have twelve players and for most of the calendar year, they play as individuals but suddenly, they are placed in a team.
It is a fine line between respecting every player’s individual routine and then discovering a way to merge them all seamlessly into a team with one singular and shared goal. I believe that Team Europe has been extremely successful in doing this over the years and I have definitely observed this from first-hand experience at the Solheim Cups that I have attended.
It is also still important to provide players with freedom to adhere to what works best for them and to make the whole experience extremely enjoyable. The Solheim Cup is a stressful week with so much going on and every player’s agenda is packed from morning to evening. Where possible, it is important for the captains to alleviate some of the hard work from the players to allow them to focus on the aspects that surround the game of golf.
A captain must ultimately remain positive and try to create a positive atmosphere where players feel comfortable, relaxed and that they can enjoy the whole experience as these really are moments to savour.
Q: You represented Europe in the Solheim Cup on eight occasions (1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007) and are a three-time vice-captain, as well as featuring as a non-playing captain in 2017. Can you describe the feeling of what it means to represent Team Europe? And how much did you enjoy being involved in the Solheim Cup?
AS: Every experience at the Solheim Cup has been very different. My first Solheim Cup took place at The Greenbrier in West Virginia in the United States. It was my second year on the Ladies European Tour and I had just been named Rookie of the Year. It was incredible as I was selected to be part of a team featuring so many of the players that I had looked up to for years such as Liselotte Neumann, Laura Davies and Alison Nicholas. Suddenly, I was amongst all these great players and at first, it felt quite daunting and intimidating as I was still a rookie. I remember standing on the first green and a fellow player reminded me that it was important to breathe and not allow the nerves to take over.
Since then, I have played in eight Solheim Cups, been a vice-captain three times and had the opportunity to be captain which comes with greater responsibility and pressures. I really enjoyed being captain as it enabled me to transfer my passion to other players despite no longer actively playing on the LPGA Tour. As a captain, you are involved in all aspects of the game. You are vouching for all the players and want to be a part of every shot. There is no doubt that the leadership position results in a lot of stress but at the same time, it adds to the exhilarating and challenging experience.
The Solheim Cup is the pinnacle of team competitions in women’s golf where you are provided with the unique opportunity to take part in the team event as an individual athlete.
Q: Is there one particular Solheim Cup moment or playing experience that stands out for you?
AS: One of the Solheim Cup experiences that stands out was in 2003 when it was held at the Barsebäck Golf & Country Club in Loddekopinge, Skåne, Sweden and I was paired to play with Suzann Pettersen. Looking back now, the 2003 season could be seen as the peak in my career. I was World No.1 and as the Solheim Cup was being held in Sweden, it felt like a homecoming of sorts.
At one point during the tournament, Suzann and I were in fact four down and it was not looking positive. Despite this, we rallied and managed to turn the match around. I will never forget this as it was the best feeling ever. It was memorable to just to walk with Suzann. I remember it being a summer day which you do not always experience in Sweden in September and the whole atmosphere was electrifying. The noise amplified when we ended up winning. I will never forget how incredible that day was. It was truly an amazing feeling to achieve such a feat with the team.
Another memorable experience was when Team Europe won in 2000 at Loch Lomond in Scotland. There was so much going on that year and the conditions were not favourable at all due to all the rain. That made it very special to overcome the challenges and get the win.
Q: What is it about the team competition format that you particularly enjoy?
AS: I love the match play and team format that comes with the Solheim Cup. There is so much pride in being able to represent your country and in this case, the continent of Europe.
Growing up and watching The Ryder Cup and the first few editions of the Solheim Cup, I always aspired to play in one and it was such a dream come true to be part of the team in 1994 – my first Solheim Cup.
The Solheim Cup is the pinnacle of women’s golf and it provides a great global platform to showcase our sport and recognize the highest level of the women’s game. I truly love the competition, the format and the camaraderie within the teams. Every player enters the week as competitors but leaves with life-long friendships. Rolex has been a huge supporter from the start.
Q: How – if at all – does your preparation change when competing in team competitions like the Solheim Cup in comparison to individual competitions?
AS: The Solheim Cup is different to any other golf tournament. The whole week is unlike individual competitions. Timing and the many obligations are ever-changing and there are moments dedicated to team bonding. In terms of preparation, I personally always wanted to go into the week knowing that my game was in the best possible place so that I did not have to worry about or dedicate time to in figuring out my swing or any other technical aspects.
An important part of the Solheim Cup week is the networking opportunities and participating in the events as it allows us to learn about the different caddies and the different partners of other players. It is important to do this as you are all one big family for that week.
Another aspect that I considered important was for the team to discover and come to terms with the golf course as the chosen venue is one at which an LPGA has typically not been staged before. As captain, I felt it was important to be ready to step up to ensure that the rookies were made to feel comfortable and for the more experienced players on the team to share their knowledge with them. It is vital to ensure that the newcomers understand that their opinion and place in the team is equally as valid, important and appreciated as others.
Q: You were the captain of the 2021 European PING Junior Solheim Cup team. Can you describe what it was like to captain the team and be a part of the biggest comeback in history?
AS: It was a great experience to have been provided with the opportunity to captain the 2021 European PING Junior Solheim Cup team. It was an amazing outcome as well! The girls played fantastically, and the event was fun in a different way as all these players are upcoming golfers.
I knew some of the players before hand through the ANNIKA Foundation as I spent a lot of time with them and have seen their games develop. This allowed me to enter the competition with useful prior knowledge and hit the ground running.
The Junior Solheim Cup is a great tournament as it teaches young players about match play and allows them to learn about team dynamics as the majority of US players have never been exposed to this format before, whereas in Europe they play the team championships.
In addition to the coaching and efforts to inspire them, it was a great educational work. During the practice round, the focus was more around the course and technical aspects such as where to aim.
We were four down going into the last day and the team rallied for the win. It was the largest comeback in Junior Solheim Cup history, and Europe’s first win on US soil.
I am extremely proud of the outcome that week. We experienced all the emotions that week ranging from laughter to tears. It was a great opportunity to bond with the parents as well as the players. It was amazing to be able to set them on the correct trajectory in their careers by boosting their confidence and belief in their game. This will allow them to hone the skills that they developed during that week and go onto great things.
Q: If you could choose from any player past or present, who would be your ideal partner at the Solheim Cup?
AS: It is a difficult question to answer as I have been lucky enough to play with some great players and have enjoyed playing with every team member.
That being said, Suzann Pettersen and Catriona Matthew were the two of the players that I have played the most with and achieved a lot with. In particular, the dynamic playing with Suzann Pettersen worked extremely well.
Q: Who has been the biggest influence on your golf career?
AS: It has always been a team effort and I have been influenced by a variety of people. It started with my parents who were extremely supportive, loving and provided me with the resources to excel. My sister has played a role in this as we were playing together and challenging each other growing up. My swing coach, Henry Reis, who I have worked since fourteen years old and have been doing so since then.
Throughout my career, I have had two great caddies Cohen and Terry McNamara. My husband, Mike McGee, has been extremely supportive and loving throughout our marriage too. He is constantly encouraging me. I have had a great support system with my entourage cheering and encouraging me throughout my career and now it’s fun that our kids get to see me compete sometimes.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
AS: I have received several excellent pieces of advice from many different people. When I first started in professional golf, my dad emphasised that there are no shortcuts in achieving success and that was something that resonated with me. When I was captain at the Solheim Cup, every evening I would provide the girls with a bracelet that contained a different message. On one of them, there was a message stating “there are no shortcuts to success”. It was a great reminder for players to remember that during the week.
My mother provided me with another great piece of advice when I received my scholarship to attend college in America and she was dropping me off at the airport. She said that one’s roots will always be at home. This can translate to making big steps in your life or when trying out new things. The other piece of advice was to “face your fear.” Early on in my career, I was shy and I was placed in situations at tournaments which required me to overcome it.
Amy Alcott, a fellow LPGA Tour player, told me to “not forget to smell the roses along the way” – meaning it is important to enjoy the process and to celebrate your victories. Personally, I have a tendency to focus on the tournaments that are constantly coming up rather than enjoying the moment so it serves as a great reminder. This links to how short life really is and the importance to enjoy it I learned this through maturing and becoming a parent definitely changed my perspective on things.
Q: What would you tell your younger self back in 1994 when you first turned professional?
AS: There is a fine line between being focused, disciplined and motivated. Finding that balance in life is truly important. I remind my mentees that they should find their passion and happiness in their life, while remaining patient with their success. Success does not happen overnight. It takes time.
Q: You have achieved so much in your career, with over 90 worldwide victories including 72 on the LPGA Tour and 10 Major championships, and are widely regarded as one of the best female golfers in history. What do you consider to be your personal highlights? Is there one particular victory that stands out the most?
AS: I cannot pick one single moment as every victory remains specials. I am very lucky to have several milestones that I am incredibly proud of. Winning the U.S. Open in 1995, when I was at the start of my career and shooting a 59, remains very memorable. I am very proud of being the first woman to join the field of a PGA Tour event in 58 years when I played at the 2003 Colonial and then being inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame the same year. I remember when Rolex created the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, it was incredibly special and another example of how Rolex elevate the women’s game. To this day, I still have the original plaque.
Q: In 2014, the LPGA established the yearly Rolex Annika Major Award, named after yourself, to recognize the overall best performance in the LPGA majors. How special was it to receive this recognition?
AS: It is a great initiative that Rolex and the LPGA established in order to recognize and celebrate the players that performed the best in the Major championships. It is not uncommon for players to win tournaments but it is very difficult to win at Majors so it is important to celebrate those that do. The award highlights the great achievements of several players and it means a lot to be associated with it.
Since 2014, we have had several World No.1s, multiple winners and top players entering final tournaments being in contention for the award. Therefore, it feels like it has been a great addition to the other awards out there and hopefully, the players aim to win this award when the season starts.