PATTAYA, Thailand, Oct 26 (Reuters) Annika Sorenstam has won almost everything golf has to offer, but the 10-times major winner admits she did everything she could to avoid capturing titles as a timid youngster.
''I used to be shy and I'd lose tournaments on purpose to avoid making winner's speeches,'' Sorenstam told Reuters in an interview after a sweltering session slugging golf balls on the driving range at the Siam Country Club in Pattaya.
Sorenstam is in Pattaya to play in the Honda LPGA Thailand tournament.
''The speeches scared me so I'd miss important shots at the end because second place never had to say anything in public.'' Eventually, Sorenstam's coaches realised what was going on and found a way to transform the apparently unlucky Swede from a perennial loser to one of sport's most decorated winners.
''They figured something was going on so they made first place, runner up and third place give a speech too,'' she said with a laugh.
''It wasn't that difficult and right then I realised winning wasn't so bad.'' After that, winning became a habit.
Sorenstam went on to secure 69 LPGA victories and 15 other international tournaments. Now 37, she has won the LPGA Player of the Year award a record eight times, inclduing five in a row from 2001-2005, and is the only female golfer to shoot a round under 60.
After impressive junior performances in tennis, skiing and soccer, Sorenstam's decision to take up golf no doubt came as a relief to other sportswomen.
LOVED SPORTS ''I loved to ski, I was successful at tennis. I don't know how good I would have been had I tried to pursue a career,'' she said.
''I just loved sports, I hung out with guys and that made me tougher and more competitive.'' At the age of 12, Sorenstam started playing golf with her parents and shared a set of clubs with sister Charlotta, who used the odd numbered clubs leaving Annika with the even.
''Right then, I had no idea then that I would be where I am now,'' said Sorenstam, who made 16 top 10 finishes in 18 tournaments in the 2004 season. ''It was all tennis for me. I had a good handicap for a girl, so there and then, I made a switch.'' Having spent most of her career in the United States, Sorenstam says Sweden is still ''home sweet home'', even though she now speaks with an American accent.
Outside the sport, she keeps herself busy designing golf courses, playing the stock markets, taking cooking courses and raising money for the Make-A-Wish foundation, for which she was the US ambassador.
After 13 years at the top, Sorenstam admits golf can get tedious but says she has no plans to quit just yet.
''There are times I wake up and I don't want to play, but if I wasn't excited I wouldn't still be doing it,'' she said.
''There's no timeframe for me to retire. Every year, I have to see how I feel about it, but I'm competitive and I still have the drive. It has to come from the heart, from within you.'' She says she would be content if her career ended tomorrow and after winning over 20 million dollars in prize money, she no longer needs golf's riches.
She still has the passion to play and believes majors are still within her reach.
''I've won majors and I can still win them,'' she said.
''It's that feeling you get hitting that seven iron to two feet on the last hole with my heart is pumping.
''There's nothing better than coming down the stretch with chance to win the tournament. That's what it's all about.'' REUTERS BJR DS1245