Sorenstam Gets Driver Training

Times Staff Writer

These are the three dates important to Annika Sorenstam: her LPGA season opener next Thursday at Phoenix, the first LPGA major of the year March 27 at Mission Hills and the PGA Tour's Colonial tournament May 22. Sorenstam says that getting ready for the last one is going to help her play the first two.

Sorenstam has been going through a strict training and practice regimen the last two weeks at her home course at Lake Nona, Fla., where she has been playing from the back tees, the ones she will use at the Colonial when she will play with the men at the PGA Tour event at Fort Worth.

"It's going to prepare me better for our [LPGA] tournaments," Sorenstam said. "The courses I play are going to seem much shorter for me."

Sorenstam, who won the Kraft Nabisco title as one of her 11 victories on the LPGA Tour last year, says hitting from the back tees means she is becoming more adept at using longer irons. She's also hitting her driver more often than her four-wood.

"That's all going to make me a better player," she said.

Sorenstam's long-time coach, Henri Reiss, has been helping tune up her swing, grip and setup, but she said not much has been changed, which is understandable after the success she had in 2002. The 31-year-old from Sweden won 13 times worldwide, matching Mickey Wright's record of 13 LPGA victories in 1963. Sorenstam's $2.86 million in prize money was a record and so was her scoring average of 68.7 -- the first LPGA player to crack 69.

"It's going to be very tough to beat 2002," she said. "I've set other goals, like I want to do well in majors. That's what I'm focusing on this year."

In addition to winning the Kraft Nabisco for the second year in a row, Sorenstam was second at the U.S. Open and third at the LPGA Championship. However, only four of her 42 LPGA victories are majors.

There is no major title at stake when she tees it up with the PGA Tour pros at the Colonial, but Sorenstam is working hard to be ready. She has played practice rounds with German pro Sven Struver and hopes to schedule a round with Tiger Woods, who is on vacation this week, scuba diving in the Caribbean. And she said she will play a practice round at Colonial sometime soon.

If she could fit it in, Sorenstam said she could end the Augusta National membership controversy, if asked to become the first female member.

"I'd love to," Sorenstam said. "That's a beautiful place, a wonderful golf club. Who wouldn't want to play there?"

As far as groundbreaking, Sorenstam will become the first woman to play a men's pro tournament since Babe Didrikson Zaharias nearly 60 years ago. She said she isn't worried about the Colonial Country Club course, but there are some concerns about the scrutiny and hoopla surrounding her appearance there.

"Everything else around it," Sorenstam said. "I don't think the course will be a problem for me. It'll be longer, tougher, but that's all right."

If she succeeds at Mission Hills and takes another victory plunge into the lake at the 18th, Sorenstam would become the first LPGA player to win a major three times in a row. Patty Berg won the Titleholders as an amateur from 1937 to '39.

"I'm really getting anxious," Sorenstam said. "Being the defending champion is a nice thing ... especially the water. It gets deeper and clearer every year."

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