Two small kids acting up in the back seat couldn’t break Annika Sorenstam’s vaunted focus, the kind of laser concentration that made her the greatest female golfer in the world for the better part of a decade, one of the best ever.
She could still talk golf travel with us and be right on point.
These days, it’s Annika the business magnate who picks up the phone and imbues every conversation with a mix of hard-won knowledge and refreshing, youthful wonder. Not that golf isn’t still a major part of what she does: corporate gigs; visits to her permanent academy near her Orlando home as well as satellite clinics across the country; charity events (such as Notah Begay’s late-August get-together at Turning Stone near Syracuse, N.Y., where she teamed up with Rickie Fowler against the likes of Tiger and Natalie and Hunter and Cristie); and various other far-flung fetes. Clearly she still loves the game, but she’s diversified her reach — and her brand — and now, somehow, she’s more open and approachable.
She’s a dervish of activity across her many interests, from wine to fashion to fitness, all the while maintaining her No. 1 status as wife and mother. And just as she never gave up in competition, Annika never goes for second best in any endeavor, including vacations.
She plans. She arrives. She enjoys every moment, scripted or not. And she’s ready to tell us all about it while she and husband Mike McGee cart their kids around Central Florida.
You’ve been around the world, mostly to visit your office, which was the golf course. Are there places you’ve visited where you’ve thought to yourself, ‘Man, I’d like to come back her and just hang out?’
Yeah, Napa Valley is one of them. I love great food, I love great wine. When I played, I was cautious of what I ate and certainly very cautious of what I drank, when I drank and how much. But now my life is different, and I can enjoy the little luxuries. Going to Napa is something I just love. The climate is beautiful, the lifestyle. It’s my favorite.
Are there certain restaurants you like to visit when you’re there?
It really doesn’t matter where you go, the food is always excellent. I don’t necessarily need to go to one of the well-known ones. We can find a little one and it’s really, really good. I have my wine in the Livermore Valley and we enjoy going there, but as far as wineries, Napa has so many beautiful ones. Rombauer is a favorite of ours. We know the family. But you can just drive around on the main strip, stop left and right, and it’s nice.
How about the golf down there? Johnny Miller did a great job at Silverado updating the North Course.
Yes, we were just down there a few weeks ago. It’s a beautiful resort. Johnny hosted us. The whole area is amazing. You can’t go wrong.
And we’ve talked in the past about how much you love Lake Tahoe …
We’ve been spending almost two months there a year. We love it. We were there this summer; starting next year, we’re going to be out there more. One of the passions in my life is downhill skiing, and living at Tahoe is so amazing. I hope to bring out my little girl. She’s been a little too young to appreciate the snow. She’s more into rolling in it and eating it. I want to get her onto skis or a snowboard or something to show her how cool it is.
Going to school at the University of Arizona, then living in Phoenix and San Diego, I love it out West. I love it here in Orlando, too. Finding a happy balance would be ideal.
What about out your way in Florida — if someone was coming into the state, where would you direct them to play golf or just relax?
It depends on what you’re looking for. West Palm Beach is beautiful with the ocean, great food and climate. If you have kids, I can’t think of a better place than Orlando. It’s entertaining. Naples is becoming more of a family city, but it has a lot to offer as well.
Anywhere else in the United States you remember as being a cool place to visit?
Mike and I love New York. It’s very different. In two and a half hours we can fly up there, you get the city buzz — the fast pace, the Broadway shows, shopping. I love high-end meals, nice places to stay. You can certainly find them in New York. I wouldn’t want to live there, but to go there for three days, it’s perfect.
Even with the economy the way it is, people are always looking for new places to go overseas.
In all the years you traveled to Asia and Europe, what stands out?
Being a Swede, I love going home. There’s nothing like a crisp Swedish mid-summer day. It’s family time, the sun doesn’t go down until really late, so we’ll barbecue and sit in front of the lake around a firepit. Those are good times. But I also enjoy a big city like Paris, which is beautiful. Mike and I once drove down through the wine country, started in Monaco and drove all the way up to Paris. I speak a little French, but not a ton. It was an adventure. We stopped where the signs told us to stop.
So do you like to play it by ear, or plan out a trip?
I’m a planner, but I like to try different things. If we were to go to New York, I’d plan the trip, but once we’re there, there’s only a few things scheduled. Then we’ll see what mood we’re in and what we run into.
Is there a place people might not think of that’s a wonderful destination, domestically or overseas?
I’m designing a golf course in Turkey. That place is booming. It’s becoming a destination for Europeans with beautiful beaches, great golf courses, great food. When I was over there, it wasn’t what you’d think of Turkey, but it is international, and the resort was first-class, beautiful. It might not come to mind when people think about wanting to try something new, but Turkey is a great value.
You’re a savvy traveler. Are there two tips you’d give people as far as making a trip as comfortable or fun as possible?
One thing you’ve got to make sure of is that you’ve got extra clothes or toilet accessories. I have lost bags, and the worst is when you end up in the middle of the night somewhere, and you have no clean clothes or anything. It makes you realize how dependent you are on that suitcase. So put some extra clothes in your carry-on.
Also, something Mike and I have tried to do — it’s hard with kids — is take extra time. Don’t wait until the last minute to get to the airport. There’s always a surprise, more people than you thought, or whatever. Then you’re stressing, and the last thing you want is to get on the plane and you’re all sweaty. It takes all the fun out of it. So many airports have so much to offer nowadays. There’s shopping, restaurants — you can just take your time. Rushing is the worst.
Now that you’re pretty much retired from competitive golf, how much golf do you include in your travel these days?
It’s still work for me. I still travel for golf.
I was just in Syracuse, and I was in China a few days before that. But when I go on vacation, it’s not like I’m going to bring my clubs and book a tee time somewhere. That’s not what we do now.
How was Notah’s event?
It was a well-run tournament, and it’s all for the kids. Notah’s mission through his foundation is teaching kids about eating right, staying active. Diabetes is very common among Native American people. I played with Rickie Fowler, he such a good guy and he played very well.
How is the wine business going, with the holidays coming up?
It’s been a lot of fun, and a passion of mine. I partnered with Wente and they’re great people, and my wine, in my opinion, is outstanding. Of course you’re going to say that about your own wine, but if we have a special occasion, we’ll actually open my wine because we feel it’s that special. It’s been slow, I’m not going to deny that. But we feel that even in this economy, when a premium red might not be on everyone’s mind, we have a quality wine — it makes for a great gift.