Report by Tim Maitland
Annika Sorenstam Q&A
Everyone is getting really stoked about you and Lorena meeting in Singapore. How do you feel about it?
I think it's going to be great! I think you have a fantastic field (at the HSBC Women's Champions), you can't ask for any better and it's a privilege to be part of it. For me it's fun, whatever happens this week, to have had a good start and I'm ready to face everybody. I'm excited!
And you're ready to face Lorena?
Last year I wasn't a contender. Since she's been number one I haven't played well. I love head-to-head stuff and I'm ready. She's played fantastic golf and I know I have to elevate my game, but that's what this is all about.
It's delicious isn't it? No-one knows, not even you, who the best golfer is!
There's no doubt that Lorena is the best golfer now, then we'll see what happens the next few months. I don't want to take anything away from her. She's played some awesome golf and I'm just looking forward to playing some good golf myself.
But she hasn't played Annika when you're playing what you call "Annika Golf" has she?
Not yet! We'll see (Laughs).
What are the differences and similarities you see between yourself and Lorena, as golfers, sportswomen and competitors?
Personality-wise we're both very similar. We're both family people. You know, we're both close to our parents, close to our siblings. As a golfer she's a little bit more of a feel player and I might be a little bit more of a technical player. Distance-wise we're about the same. She might be a little bit longer with the driver, but other than that iron-wise we're very similar.
She has that Hispanic, Mexican more emotional side where I'm a bit more of a Viking; I'm a little cooler at least if you looked at my face. Those are our differences, but overall we're very similar.
How would the spectator on the course notice the difference between Lorena's "feel" game and your "technical" game?
If you look at our swings she's more flowing, a little "handsy". My swing's a little more compact. That's just the way we are really.
If you weren't Annika, would you be out there dying to see this as well?
Sure! I would! This is a good time for the LPGA. There are some other players - Suzann's playing some great golf, Paula (Creamer), Cristie (Kerr) as well – it's a good time for the LPGA and a great time to be a fan.
Is there a different mentality being number one in the world versus number two?**
You can't look at the rankings every day and decide what kind of day you're going to have if you're one or two or three or four. That's not how it works. When I was number one, I loved it. I was number one because I was obviously performing well for a longer period of time, and I loved it.
Now I'm in a different position. I'm in a position where I'm trying to get back to playing some good golf, and that's really what's on my mind right now. If you play well, things take care of themselves. But, again, don't forget, there are some great players out there and they're all hungry and they all want to be the best and they're all working hard. That's what makes this competition and the rivalry between everybody so great. It's fun to be a part of it. I haven't been there for a while, and it was nice to get off to a good start. That kind of gives me a little boost.**
**Note: This question and answer is from the 21/02/08 press conference. All other quotes are exclusive.
Chris Higgs, LPGA COO Q&A
What are your thoughts on the Annika-Lorena showdown?
We're now in the position where Annika's healthy. She's more like the Annika we knew in 2006 and Lorena coming into 2008 healthy, excited and ready to go. So this will be the first time that we see the two of them playing at their best, feeling at their best.
Sport likes intense, friendly rivalries - not acrimonious rivalries – because then you can root for someone. We don't all root for the same person. I'm sure men's golf would love Tiger to have a real rival, but he doesn't. We have two and could have more. It should be really interesting.
If Tiger does have a rival, it's Phil Mickelson, and those two don't get on well do they?
Could we even call him a rival? I don't know. I'm sure Phil considers himself a Tiger rival, but the way Tiger's playing with his percentage record I'm not sure he is. But if you took Annika's win record and top-10 record in 2006 and if you lined it up with Lorena's win percentage and her top-10 percentage in 2007 and put those two together then you'd say "Wow, this is really close". This could be real rivalry, and the fact that they're now one and two in the Rolex Rankings doesn't hurt either, although Annika's got some catching up to do for last year. But because of the numbers of events she has played if she continues to play well she'll gain ground quicker on Lorena because Lorena's played 50 events in the last two years (Compared to Annika's 38)**. So just the law of averages will help her catch up.
The earliest she could hope to overtake her if Lorena went in one direction and Annika went in the other would be mid to late-summer, although no-one is anticipating that. It's going to be very interesting.
I was going to ask you if you were personally excited by this, but the fact that you have given so much thought to these permutations seems to answer that question.
For women's golf it really is a great opportunity to showcase two very different people with very different backgrounds, different cultures that bring different fan sets. It's what we've always hoped for. But let's not leave out the others, who don't want to be left behind because they clearly don't think they're going to lag behind. All of those young guns will be nipping at the heels. I think they'd give due respect to Annika and Lorena as clearly the best two women golfers in the world at the moment, but if you asked Paula, Morgan, Natalie, Cristie, Momoko or anybody else they'd say "Hey! Don't write us out just yet!" because they're playing well too. That's what will create the intrigue. Whether you see on a consistent basis that head-to-head duel between Lorena and Annika only time will tell, but someone else will want that spot. They always do.
You'd expect them (the other players) to be winning at least one out of every three tournaments wouldn't you?
Oh, sure! When you see people like Morgan who is winning Majors at 18 and Paula who continues to win and is just 21, Momoko who is also 21. When you see that, you know the one thing they're not afraid of is whoever is supposed to be better than them. The issue of whether they are better than them is not a consideration for them. There is certainly healthy respect, but not a fear that on my day I can't be equal or better than them. That's good. That's good for golf because that elevates the performance level of everybody. When that happens you're seeing great golf by competitive people and there's nothing bad with that at all.
There have been great rivalries in women's golf, but has there ever been one where no-one actually knows what to expect?
When we had the Annika-Karrie Webb rivalry Karrie was definitely coming out of her really strong period of 99-2000-2001 and Annika was bout to become that mega-winner where she would win six, seven, eight times ever year. They sort of criss-crossed. I don't think we saw head-to-head, consistent for a couple of years, Annika at her very best and Karrie at her very best. We saw it on occasions, but we didn't reach a point where you would say "I don't know whose better".
Now, I know there's a 10-year difference between Annika and Lorena, but I think that by the middle of this year people will still be saying "I don't know" and that's good.
So has the LPGA ever had anything quite like this?
You'd have to go back a while to find two people who are this good, this talented, this dedicated that people are this interested in. There's a lot of LPGA history, but this is going to be a very, very fascinating period to watch.
And the HSBC Women's Champions is where it starts!
They're going to be the first, of hopefully, many duels. But without doubt they're going to be the first. They're going to be the first where she's healthy and she's healthy and everybody will be talking about it.
The fear is you hype something so much and then somebody has a breakout event - like Ai Miyazato, she finally finds everything she has been looking for and promising to do and all of a sudden she's like Julieta (Granada) was two years ago and finds lightning in a bottle and sees birdies all day long and three days into the tournament she has a seven-stroke lead. Meanwhile Annika and Lorena are not playing badly – three or four-under every day – but there's this person who just loves the course and knocks the lights out of it. That can always happen.
** Note: Rolex Rankings award points for the position a player finishes in each event and then divide those points by the number of events to produce the Average on which the Rankings are ordered. Because Annika has played fewer tournaments her average will increase faster compared to the rate that Lorena's would, for instance, if they both gained the same number of points from a tournament.
photo Dan Vernon
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level the playing field in terms of gender
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photo Dan Vernon