OK., experiment time. What are the odds that I can spend an entire morning with the most dominant athlete in the country--in public, no disguises--without that athlete being hailed, photographed or bugged for a single signed napkin?
The athlete? Annika Sorenstam, of course, who is doing to women's golf what the boll weevil did to the South. She just tied Nancy Lopez's record of five straight LPGA wins with her eight-shot victory in the Nabisco Championship on Sunday. She just won her fifth major out of the last eight. She's won 36 times since the 2001 season began. Nobody's won that much since Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth beat fields full of P.E. instructors in the 1960s.
9:05 a.m. I greet Sorenstam in the coffee shop at the JW Marriott in Denver. Already done with her 1,000 crunches for the day, she's wearing her logo-laden golf hat and sweater. Yet the waiter doesn't even blink twice. In the lobby we meet one of her managers, David Livingston. People are everywhere, yet they walk by her as if she's Ms. Nadine Nobody.
9:32 a.m. We go to the headquarters of a huge grocery-store chain, where she'll do a meet-and-greet with company honchos. She is stopped on her way into the offices. "Ma'am," says the security guard, "do you have a visitor's badge?"
Sorenstam actually prefers her Annika-nymity. When she was a kid, she'd purposely finish second in tournaments to avoid having to make a speech. This winter, at her home in Lake Tahoe, a burly guy knocked at the door and Sorenstam answered.
"Oh, uh, hi," he said, startled. "Hey, does anyone ever tell you that you look a lot like Annika Sorenstam?"
"Who?" said Annika Sorenstam.
"It's a golfer who supposedly lives around here."
"Can I blow your roof?"
10:08 a.m. At a studio to record a radio ad, the engineer says over the intercom, "O.K., let's get Anna on the mike so I can get some levels. Anna? Anna?"
Anna? This woman has won 59 times on the LPGA tour and once shot a 59. Pal, you're an idiot anna moron.
"That's nothing," the Swedish-born Sorenstam says. "I was in Milwaukee the other day, and I was 'Anee.' I've also been Anita, A-nee-ka [it's pronounced AH-nih-kuh]. Sometimes I'm Monica. I'm also Soren-son a lot. I've been Soren-strum. One time I got, 'So, A-nee-ka, how do you pronounce your last name?'"
This is a golfer who has won 15 more times than Tiger Woods since the beginning of 2002. Can you imagine someone saying, "So, Teeger, how do you pronounce your last name?"
10:43 a.m. Starbucks is packed. If it were Phil Mickelson, people would be begging to lick the bottom of his peppermint mocha. But does Sorenstam get even a half shot of love? Nope.
Love is hard to come by lately. She just filed for divorce from her husband (and former caddie), David Esch. She won't talk about it, but she will talk about what's next.
"I can't see myself playing past 50," she says, keeping an eye on Livingston. She waits until he's distracted, then whispers to me, "Actually, 40."
Then she wants kids. "I don't know how many," says Sorenstam, who is 34. "But I can see myself going to a Little League game and screaming until my husband has to put a sock in my mouth."
How the hell Sorenstam will retire is a mystery, because she has the same disease Michael Jordan had--an addiction to winning. Golf, Ping-Pong, cards in a hat, doesn't matter. She is to a "friendly game" what a Doberman is to a bowl of sirloin. When she hits a tennis ball into the net, she looks as if she wants to break the racket. When she loses at chess, she sweeps the pieces off in a rage. "That's going to be my problem when I quit golf," she admits. "I get to the tee to play a relaxing game, and this little demon is inside my head screaming, 'You gotta win!'"
Of course, if Sorenstam really does want to retire at 40, she's going to have a hard time breaking the sexiest record in women's golf: Whitworth's alltime record for LPGA wins, 88. Then again, if she keeps averaging eight wins a year (her average the last four years), she'll reach 88 by the time she's 38. Then she could marry and get pregnant in the off-season, go win one more and be 10 centimeters dilated by 40.
Not to be pushy or anything.
12:30 p.m. Last event before lunch: a press conference at Cherry Hills, site of this year's U.S. Women's Open in June. Colorado governor Bill Owens's wife, Frances, reads a proclamation that ends grandly with, "Therefore, this day is hereby declared Annika Sorem-stum Day!"
Somebody needs to find this Sorem-stum lady. She's going to be thrilled. ‚ñ†
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She has won 15 more times than Tiger Woods since 2002 began, yet Annika Sorenstam actually prefers her Annika-nymity.
PETER READ MILLER