Annika Sorenstam is known as one of the most dominant female golfers of all time. During her prime—which lasted for over a decade from the mid ’90s to the late ’00s—she took no prisoners and instilled fear in her opponents as she conquered every major in women’s golf, won 93 professional titles and blew every LPGA Tour scoring record to smithereens. But as she reveals in an essay addressed to her 6-year-old daughter Ava on PlayersTribune.com, she wasn’t always so confident.
“I didn’t like to raise my hand in school to answer questions in case I was wrong. I always thought my classmates would turn around and laugh at me. And it was the same thing on the golf course. Coming down the stretch, if I thought I was about to win, I would miss on purpose — an extra putt, or a chip and two-putt, or something — so that I would only finish second or third and wouldn’t have to address the crowd and give a victory speech. That way I would still get a trophy, but wouldn’t have to speak to the crowd.”
Sorenstam goes deep in her letter, touching on all the insecurities she carried as a young player and advising her daughter to take her sweet time to find her own path.
“In case you do end up following Mama’s footsteps, in life or in golf, here’s some of what I know so far. (And to the young girls reading who want to be athletes, hopefully you learn something, too.) Keep painting and playing the piano. Keep swimming. Keep playing basketball and T-ball and riding horses, which we know how much you love. Golf will always be there, if you want it. Just be ready for whatever you want to do.
Just like you, I wasn’t so keen to get a club in my hands and thought golf was too slow and boring. I loved all other sports — soccer, tennis, skiing — which kept me busy for nine and half months of the year. But for the two or so months of summer holidays, Auntie Charlotta and I would be on the golf course.”
Her approach hits home especially hard in this age of helicopter sports parents who push hard to get their kids to an elite level at a very young age.
“Having fun is all I want you to do right now, Ava. Just keep playing and exploring and trying new things. I really didn’t start going to training camps until I was 12, which some parents today think is really late for starting any sport. Nowadays many of the best young girl golfers probably break par when they’re 12. (I’ll teach you what that means, eventually.)
Mama and Daddy will keep taking you to T-ball or any other activity until you tell us no more. Because if I had only specialized in my first love of tennis when I was your age, I never would’ve tried golf. And as good as I know you are at golf now, if you stop when you’re 17 or 18 because you’ve lost the desire or burnt out, what’s the point? Many kids get pushed for the wrong reasons. Grandma and Grandpa never pushed and were always very supportive. For me, it all came from the heart. I wanted to do it. So, Ava, Daddy and I aren’t going to push you either.
So keep dressing up like a princess and take the time to explore what you love. Take all the time you need.”
Sorenstam continues to talk about college golf and how it shaped both her game and her life, and goes on to share how she had to learn to be strong once she started playing on tour.
“Putting yourself first is not so easy. I learned that the hard way after I won my first U.S. Open in 1995. I decided not to play in the next tournament. I just wanted to take the trophy and run. And I kind of did. The LPGA didn’t like that because they wanted to showcase their newest champion.
Looking back, did I do the right thing by withdrawing from that tournament? Probably not. But, I did the right thing for me. Because you have to remember that if you start playing poorly, they forget you in a heartbeat. So I learned how to say no. And that was hard. But you know what? It didn’t cost me the future, it didn’t cost me money, and it didn’t cost me my reputation.
So, Ava, learn to say no. And I don’t mean when Mama and Daddy ask you to go to bed or pick up your toys — it doesn’t quite work like that. But be confident in what matters to you. Look at the big picture. There are going to be some things that you have to do, but with some others, it’s O.K. to say no.”
Full of sage advice and reflection, the essay is essentially a manual for sports parents across the world. Read the entire article here, and focus extra attention on the final words:
“You’ll hopefully want to become a mother someday, too. You’ll probably get questions — like I did — about how, and when, and whether you can have a career and be a mother. And here’s the secret: You can do both. And it’s O.K. to do both. We all have our different timelines and you’ve just got to find yours when you’re ready. But don’t sacrifice one for the other, there’s room for both.
But way before that, there’s still plenty of horseback riding and swimming, and painting and our girls-only golf trips in the evenings. Find your passions, be ready for them, work hard for them and appreciate them. And when the time comes, learn how to share your passion with others and inspire the next generation.”