Sorenstam's next step will be interesting. She won her tournament on a day when an immense number of golfers were glued to their tubes, remotes in hand, flicking between Tom Watson at Muirfield Village and Sorenstam at Pine Needles. The question in Ohio was, Can Watson hold up? The question in North Carolina was, How many can she win by? Now the question about Sorenstam is this: Will she be the next genuine star in women's golf? There hasn't been one, really, since 1978, when Nancy Lopez was launched as a telegenic, unassuming and nonthreatening heroine.
The launching is done by the men who market American golf—the presidents of the network sports divisions, the editors of the leading golf magazines, the executives at the equipment manufacturers—and they're a fickle bunch. They passed on Pat Bradley and Beth Daniel. Patty Sheehan and Betsy King had a decadelong rivalry, and nobody seemed to know about it. What they will do with Sorenstam is unknown. What Sorenstam wants is unknown too. She's happier hiking with a knapsack on her back than shopping at a mall. Her material needs are modest. She is modest. You can see it in the way she waves her hand in response to clapping spectators, a little, abrupt flash of the palm, not even shoulder-high, then quickly back down again. She doesn't like calling attention to herself. In Sweden she is a national figure; in August her face will appear on a postage stamp. But America doesn't have national figures, it has celebrities, and becoming a celebrity is not among Sorenstam's aspirations. "I'm just going to become a better player," she said Sunday evening. "That's my goal." Which means, as Hogan knew better than anybody, practice, practice and more practice.
For most players, golf exists in three places: on the course, on the practice tee and in the head. These distinctions are unknown to Sorenstam. Unlike most touring professionals, she does not seek to groove her swing on the practice tee and play the game on the course. For her, practice is playing and playing is practice. She does not have one level of concentration for a competitive round and another for a practice session. She has eliminated the boundaries. When she practices her chipping, she gives herself bad lies, the type you get on the course. She says if you can play the bad lies, you can play the good ones. Failure to make a certain putt on the practice green might result in a night without ice cream. She always has something at stake. It's almost as if every shot she plays is to win the U.S. Open.
The most ephemeral state of mind for the professional golfer is confidence. Last July on the morning of the final round of the U.S. Open, at the East Course of The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Sorenstam's confidence was soaring, even though she trailed the leader, Meg Mallon, by five strokes. "I could see myself at the prize ceremony," she says, recalling her dreams of the night before. "I was not afraid of anything." She closed with a 68, Mallon faltered and Sorenstam won by a shot.
This year, her confidence was soaring again. "My shots went straight, my putts went in. There was nothing in the way," she says. "I felt like I could close my eyes and hit." The result was more satisfying. "Last year, I think I won because Meg Mallon made mistakes. This year I won because I played well."
On the final hole of last year's Open, Mallon made a 20-foot putt to tie Sorenstam and force a playoff. While the unsuccessful putt was rolling, Sorenstam's underlying intensity emerged, and her eyes flared open with fright. This year, there was no fright. There were four days of extraordinary golf and cooped-up emotions. When it was all over, when she had done what Hogan had done in his prime—won two consecutive U.S. Opens—there were hugs from her parents and her fiancé and her caddie and her friends. And finally, in the end, there were tears, joyful tears.