Annika Sorenstam finds a way to remain close to women's golf

Annika Sorenstam greets fans before teeing off during Annika Sorenstam greets fans before teeing off during a skins match on the first day of the Swinging Skirts 2012 World Ladies Masters golf tournament in Taiwan. (Dec. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Annika Sorenstam will have you know she still is capable of shooting 59, even at age 42 and five years removed from the professional golf tour.

Well, OK, that's not technically true. She said Thursday that the 59 she shot over 18 holes in 2001 likely would be reached after 13 holes or so now -- a little retired-golfing-icon humor from the greatest female player in history.

In reality, Sorenstam said, she shoots around par these days when she does play, usually for fundraising events and corporate outings, but her game no longer is nearly the priority it once was.

"I'm focused on other things in my life," she said from her home in central Florida, by which she mostly meant her family, including a 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

"I left on my own terms. There was nothing really else that I wanted to prove. I am still there. I feel the same way. But that doesn't mean you don't want to be part of it. I do. I enjoy it."

Hence the three-time U.S. Open champ's visit to Sebonack next week for the first women's Open on Long Island. She has worked previously for Golf Channel and NBC, including at last season's Open, but this time she will be the lead NBC analyst for the event, her most high-profile TV assignment to date.

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Might this turn into a full-time post-playing career? "I'm dabbling a little bit, and that's fine with me," she said. "It's not something that I see myself doing on a full-time basis."

Mostly she is in it to help "grow the game" and keep herself near it. There is no questioning her golf bona fides, but it is difficult to imagine the soft-spoken, notoriously polite Sorenstam aiming the kind of prickly barbs made famous by her male counterpart, Johnny Miller.

"I get some heat for comments sometimes," she said. "You have to express your opinions, and I do have opinions . . . But they're not personal attacks. It's just the game or the way they approached the shot or the strategy they have."

She added, "Johnny is liked and also disliked. I think the best commentators and analysts are the ones who speak what they see. That's why we have dialogue. I think that's what we want."

Sorenstam has not seen Sebonack yet and won't until after a charity event in Rhode Island Monday and Tuesday. But she has begun to hear about it from golfers who have played it, and she is intrigued.

Might the general lack of familiarity with the course serve as a field-leveler? "I think a lot of times that's kind of the way it is for the U.S. Open," she said. "A lot of the courses are new for us . . . Nowadays, the players are so good, you can adjust quickly for the speed."

Sorenstam said she loves the seaside nature of the old -- and in this case new -- Long Island courses and appreciates the women's Open visiting such a historic golf neighborhood.

One of the biggest story lines will be Inbee Park's attempt to win her third major championship of 2013, a position Sorenstam found herself in at the Open in suburban Denver in 2005.

"I loved the golf course and I thought this was the perfect week for me, the perfect venue," she said. "I felt ready to play and was excited, but there was an underlying pressure to do it, knowing I had all the pieces in the bag."

She tied for 23rd. "I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I think that was pushing it too hard," she said.

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Park is 24, part of the "generation change" Sorenstam has observed since her retirement. She believes younger players know and respect her history, and she has gotten to know some of them, often offering advice.

"I just wouldn't want to do it myself again," she said. Not the way she used to do, anyway. Her Twitter profile does not reference golf at all, only, "Happy wife and proud Mom. Love spending time with family." (Her address? @ANNIKA59, naturally.)

"I'm not at the caliber that I was [as a player]," she said. "I'm fine with that. I can just accept it. I don't practice the way I did, six, eight hours a day, and then competed."

Sorenstam said she still can mostly hit fairways and greens but doesn't have the distance she once did. The drive is diminished -- literally and figuratively.

"It took me a little while [to adjust], because you still think you can hit all those terrific shots," she said. "I accept I'm getting old, and there's a new life ahead."

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