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In Sweden, Annika is no Jesper

Published May 20, 2003|Updated Sep. 1, 2005

All she did was win 11 of 23 LPGA Tour events, 13 of the 25 tournaments she played last year. And Annika Sorenstam couldn't get nominated in her native Sweden for the country's highest sports honor, the Swedish Sports Academy Awards' "Idrottsgalan."

She won the award in 2001 after winning eight tournaments, but the group nominating candidates a year later somehow forgot about her.

Huh?

"The committee, of course, got a lot of criticism for that, especially when Annika was nominated for the title "Best Woman Athlete in the World,' " said Carl Magnus, a reporter for Svensk Golf, a magazine in Sweden. "So maybe she is bigger in the world than in her own country."

The award went to Kajsa Bergqvist, a high jumper who won the European Championship in Munich, Germany, last year and came close to the world record.

That said, Sorenstam's homeland has not forgotten her this week as she embarks on history. The world's best female golfer who has 43 LPGA Tour victories and already has qualified for the Hall of Fame will play on the PGA Tour at the Bank of America Colonial beginning Thursday at Colonial Country Club.

It's hard to imagine anyone in Sweden not knowing about it.

Svensk Golf, the largest golf magazine in Europe with a monthly circulation of 365,000, has Magnus and another editor covering the tournament.

The country's two major tabloids, Aftonbladet and Expressen, are here, as is the major Swedish news agency TT. The tournament also is to be broadcast on Viasat, a cable television channel.

They are part of a huge media contingent that is covering the tournament. Colonial officials said they have issued some 500 credentials, of which 188 went to newspapers. And 28 of those are foreign papers. There are another 50 magazine credentials, 50 for radio and some 200 for television.

Sorenstam showed up to hit balls Monday and has a news conference scheduled for this afternoon that is expected to be carried live by several cable networks.

Sweden's largest commercial television station, TV 4, recently sent a crew to Orlando to do a feature on Sorenstam for its Saturday morning show. They met Sorenstam at Lake Nona and filmed her cooking in the country club's kitchen.

"I would say she's in the media a lot," Magnus said.

But Sorenstam is not exactly on the level of Tiger Woods in her homeland, which has a population of 8.8-million, or slightly more than the state of Georgia. Much of that has to do with the fact she lives in the United States, has an American husband and achieved most of her fame on this side of the Atlantic.

"She is very well-regarded," said Stina Sternberg, a native of Sweden who works for Golf for Women magazine. "She's received most of the biggest honors you can get. But I think they would like to see more of her. I don't think they know her. They very much admire her and are proud of her. Compare her to Jesper Parnevik. He's the son of the Swedish version of Bob Hope (Bo Parnevik). He goes to premieres and parties, he's very visible even though he's not nearly as successful as Annika.

"Annika is very much adored. But she's not written about or talked about as much."

Parnevik, 38, who also is playing in the Colonial, is far more flamboyant than Sorenstam, and although he lives in Florida, too, he spends a good bit of time each year in Sweden. But he has just five PGA Tour victories and nine international titles.

Sorenstam, meanwhile, had not been home to Sweden for two years before she returned last summer to win the Compaq Open on the Women's European Tour.

"But when Annika does come home, every Swede wants to see her play," Magnus said. "During the Compaq Open last year, 61,000 people showed up to the golf course in the city of Helsingborg, in the southern part of Sweden. It was crazy. It was Annika fever. And of course, she won the event."

As for Sorenstam not visiting her native land more often, Magnus understands.

"She is so focused on her job on the LPGA and to be No. 1 in the world," he said. "It's really no time to go on vacation to Sweden."

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