On May 22, 2003, golfer Annika Sorenstam becomes the first woman to play in a PGA tour event since Babe Didrikson 58 years earlier, after receiving a sponsor’s exemption to compete in the Bank of America Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas.
Annika Sorenstam was born October 9, 1970, in Bro, Sweden, outside of Stockholm. She was a ranked junior tennis player before learning to golf at age 12. At 16, Sorenstam quit tennis, citing burnout, and switched her focus to golf. She improved her game by caddying for professionals in Sweden and eventually began to earn spots in pro events.
In 1990, Sorenstam moved to the United States to play for the University of Arizona, after the team’s coach spotted her at a tournament in Tokyo. She became the first non-American to win an individual NCAA national championship in 1991. After sharing NCAA Player of the Year honors in 1992, Sorenstam turned pro. Though she failed to win a title in her first year on the tour, she competed well enough to be named LPGA Rookie of the Year in 1994. She won her first LPGA title at the 1995 U.S. Women’s Open, which she won again in 1996.
Sorenstam was the LPGA money leader in 1995, 1997 and 1998, but her short game had holes, and up until 1999 missed putts often cost her tournaments. Karrie Webb replaced her as the money leader in 1999 and 2000, but Sorenstam focused on improving her game and in 2001 she roared back with a vengeance, setting a record for the lowest round in LPGA history at the Standard Register Ping tournament in Phoenix with a 59. That year, she won eight tournaments, effectively ending Karrie Webb’s challenge to her dominance on tour. Sorenstam led the LPGA in money earned every year from 2001 to 2005. In 2002, she joined Mickey Wright as the only women players ever to win 11 titles in a season.
At the 2003 Colonial in Fort Worth, Sorenstam measured herself against the best players on the men’s side for the first time. With the exception of Vijay Singh, who stirred controversy saying Sorenstam had “no business” on the course, she was a popular presence with players and fans alike. Her galleries were by far the biggest in the tournament, numbering 50,000 people at times. On her first day, Sorenstam shot a 71, just one over par, putting herself in contention to make the cut and play for the championship. On the second day, she shot a four-over 74, leaving her five-over for the first two days, and missing the cut by four shots. She left the course to a standing ovation.
For her career, Sorenstam has won $20 million in purses, $8 million more than her closest competitor, Karrie Webb. Coming into the 2007 season she had won 10 majors and 69 LPGA titles, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest female athletes of her generation.