Back-seat driver

Sweden's success machine is craving a quiet life away from the fairways
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The Independent Online
Annika Sorenstam, a shy Swede who does not much like the sound of her own voice, is 6-1 to win Europe's richest golf tournament for women,the pounds 500,000 Weetabix British Open, which starts on Thursday at Woburn. There are plenty who like the sound of that.

Colin Cann, a four-handicapper from West Byfleet, is one. He is Sorenstam's long-time caddie, and when he insists his "boss" will win it is prudent to take note. "Annika favours tough courses where you have to think your way around; that's why she has won the past two US Opens. Woburn falls into that category," he said.

This year's Weetabix line-up is outstanding. The top 20 ranked players in Europe will all be there, as will 15 of the leading 20 on the American Tour. Still, Cann only sees one winner. She is 25, has blonde hair, blue eyes, a charming manner and has been runner-up at Woburn for the past two years. "The golf course certainly suits my game," Sorenstam said last week. "I like to place my drives with a three wood and that is the right thing to do at Woburn, where it is too tight to hit driver."

She once said she thought only "superwomen" won the US Open, not "regular people" like her. Then she won it twice. She is both self-effacing and supremely ambitious - another Annika who loves a challenge. She wants to play perfect golf, to shatter the 18-hole world record of 59. Laugh, but remember how she defended her US Open title in June. Three shots clear going into the final round, she fired a 66 to win by six.

Yet the subsequent acclaim has not rested easily with her. "All of a sudden people have wanted to know everything about me and that has taken a while to get used to," she said. "I am naturally a private person but every day that passes I become more comfortable with my situation. I still do not go out and seek interviews but I know my responsibilities to ladies' golf. And people's expectation does not scare me as much now because I know I can get the job done."

Sorenstam lives with her fiance, David Esch, at Lake Tahoe. Where and when they will marry remains the best-kept secret in golf. "I can't tell you," Cann said. "She doesn't talk to anyone about it. She wants no publicity, just a private ceremony."

On the Tour, player and caddie occasionally take in a movie but that is an exception to the rule. Her preferred post-round routine is to practise for a couple of hours and then head for home and her computer. After each round she records the statistical detail: fairways hit, greens in regulation, sand saves, putts taken and so on.

By so doing she is able to pinpoint where work is required, and her stroke average has come down by half a shot each year: a colossal rate of improvement. At the US Open she compiled her eight under par aggregate by hitting 51 out of 56 fairways and 65 per cent of greens in regulation. No one else could live with her.

"Annika's philosophy is that she cannot control what others do, so she has to maximise that which she does have control over, namely herself," Cann explained. "She's a great practiser. She works very hard at her game. She is currently No 1 in America in scoring average and greens hit in regulation. Only three times in 13 events has she finished outside the top 10."

In only her fourth year as a professional, Sorenstam is alongside Laura Davies as the biggest name in the women's game. Last year she became the first European to top the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic. Her annual dollar income in endorsements threatens seven figures and her performances have, according to Terry Coates, the chairman and chief executive of the American Express Tour in Europe, had a "dramatic impact" in helping the Tour grow.

Next month in Wales Europe attempt to regain the Solheim Cup from the United States. With no American in the top-four on the world rankings and Sorenstam in the "home" side, Europe have a wonderful opportunity. She will certainly believe as much, but do not expect her to come out and say it.