|The final shot: Annika Sorenstam aims for the flagstick on the 18th hole. The ball ended up in the hole from 199 yards out. (John Mummert/USGA)
By Erica Goodman, USGA
Edina, Minn. Ė In victory or defeat, a certain awestruck splendor hovers among the gallery when a legend passes. The quiet whispers of "Itís Annika" from those walking the fairways are stifled by tumultuous applause as Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam passes.
No one can deny that Sorenstamís finish was the stuff of a legend.
Entering Sundayís round at Interlachen Country Club within reach of the championship trophy, she struggled in what could be her last 18 holes ever played in a U.S. Womenís Open. The day had been riddled with bogeys, although the cries from fans of "Annika, we love you!" and "Annika, you are gonna win!" proved that a bad day was not about to erase her celebrated mark.
Sorenstam was five over for the round when she stepped to the 72nd hole, her 1,026th of her career at the U.S. Womenís Open. The elusive championship nod was far outside of her reach. With 6-iron in hand, she rocketed the ball toward the green from 199 yards out. It took a big bounce before the green and then two more smaller bounces before it kept inching closer to the hole. Then it disappeared for an improbable eagle.
The gallery erupted. Her Open was over to the tune of 3-over 295.
"Thatís the best shot Iíve ever seen," smiled fellow competitor and defending Womenís Open champion Cristie Kerr, who walked the final round with Sorenstam.
As she passed the grandstand, Sorenstamís caddie, Terry McNamara, lifted her arm in salute to the standing ovation that greeted her. The crowdís tremendous applause never waned as she made her way to the green and Sorenstem clapped her arms in front of her, as if welcoming her fans into an embrace. She picked up the ball, and after a goodbye kiss, sent it soaring into the stands to one lucky fan.
"I was hoping for memories this week, but it was a different type of memory," said Sorenstam. "Iíve always loved this championship. To finish that was just, will stay on my mind forever."
If it was a fairy tale ending, Sorenstam would have gone home the victor but the U.S. Womenís Open is far from the Brothers Grimm.
"Maybe thatís what the tough championship is all about," said Sorenstam. "You go through good times and bad times. Itís just the ultimate challenge."
Sorenstam began the week signing autographs for hordes of fans, young and old. On Sunday, she gave them one last gift with a memorable finish. The crowd returned the favor right from her opening tee shot.
"It was amazing," said Sorenstam. "I didnít walk away with the trophy but to feel so supported and feel so loved with everybody here, itís just something that Iíll never forget."
Indeed, in the memories of her legion of supporters, Sorenstamís finale will not be forgotten.
Erica Goodman is a USGA Fellow whose work has previously appeared on usga.org. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.