BRASELTON, Ga. – Then 13-year-old Simin Feng walked off the 18th green, expecting to be in a playoff after the final round of the 2009 ANNIKA Invitational. As she walked to the scoring tent, the tournament host surprised Simin – both by her presence and by her news.
"Congratulations, you just won."
As a matter of fact, Annika Sorenstam spent the afternoon shaking each players' hands and congratulating them as they left the 18th green during the final round of her inaugural event.
Annika's commitment to junior golf extends well beyond the American Junior Golf Association's ANNIKA Invitational. Annika has been an ambassador of the game throughout her career, but her efforts reached a new level in 2007 when she opened the ANNIKA Academy at Reunion Resort in Reunion, Fla.
Since ending her 15-year professional golf career and retiring in 2008, Annika has gotten married, started a family and grown her personal business endeavors. Amidst all that, she has committed herself to developing young golfers through educational programs dedicated to not only golf, but fitness and nutrition as well.
"Most people think of a golf school and they just think of golf," Annika said. "At ANNIKA Academy, we share my passion for golf and fitness, along with my personal team of coaches that I have used for most of my career."
This team includes Director of Fitness Kai Fusser and lead instructor Henri Reis, Annika’s golf coach since 1987. Recognizing that childhood obesity is a growing problem worldwide, Annika's team is creating an ANNIKA Curriculum, which will include a golf-specific component and will be integrated with after-school programs in conjunction with the Florida Hospital.
Additionally, Annika remains close to her Swedish roots by supporting several other junior golf initiatives. Since 2003, Annika has partnered with the Swedish Golf Federation to give two scholarships each year that enable the recipients to visit American universities and meet with college golf coaches. Players who have received this scholarship include Anna Nordqvist, Caroline Hedwall, Pontus Widegren, Jesper Kenngard and Pernilla Lindberg.
Johanna Tillstrom, a 17-year-old from Taby, Sweden, earned one of these scholarships in 2009 and will travel to the United States in March to visit two prospective colleges.
“It is fantastic that Annika wants to give us the chance to visit colleges because many juniors in Sweden are interested of going to college in the U.S.,” Tillstrom said.
Annika also created the ANNIKA Cup in 2007, which features the top 12 Swedish amateur girls, ages 13-16, in a team match play event.
"Annika is and has always been a great role model for me," said Tillstrom, who first met Annika at the ANNIKA Cup. "She and all of her team took time to talk to us about their experiences and they really tried to teach us things that will be great to know in the future."
Perhaps the most prominent of her junior initiatives is the ANNIKA Team, which helps Sweden’s best female junior golfers transition from the amateur ranks to the professional ranks. Players on the ANNIKA Team include Anna Nordqvist, who posted four LPGA top 10s and a win at the McDonald's LPGA Championship presented by Coca-Cola in 2009.
"I have exceeded my wildest dreams in the game of golf, and I think the game has taught me tremendous life lessons. My goal is to help aspiring junior golfers follow their dreams too," Annika said. "Whether it is literally visiting colleges, providing media training, or teaching the importance of health and fitness in golf and life, I feel it’s important that the kids have balance."
Her Foundation's principles will return to the forefront of American junior golf over Presidents' Day weekend, as 72 players from 13 countries will again compete in the ANNIKA Invitational at Reunion Resort.
Like her Academy, Annika's tournament is more than just a 54-hole stroke play competition. As a hands-on contributor, she will lead educational activities throughout the event, such as the Annika Clinic sponsored by Rolex and the Florida Hospital Healthy 100 Athletes, which will feature media training, as well as fitness and nutrition tips.
Simin will be back to compete in the 2010 ANNIKA Invitational, and regardless of whether she successfully defends her title, she should expect to shake hands with Annika when she leaves the 18th green. And this time she won't be surprised.