By Chris Richards, AJGA Communications
The fifth-annual ANNIKA Invitational began Friday with a press conference that featured Annika, President of the AJGA Board Jim Nugent, AJGA Player Representative Nicole Morales, and ANNIKA Invitational Europe champion Linnea Ström.
The event’s first four champions have hailed from four countries, as China’s Simin Feng (2009), Argentina’s Victoria Tanco (2010), France’s Celine Boutier (2011) and the United States’ Alison Lee (2012) have helped embody the spirit of Annika’s vision.
“The purpose of this event is for me to give back to the game that’s been so great to me,” Annika said. “It wasn’t that long ago that I was in these girls’ shoes so I remember it very clearly.”
Annika’s support of the AJGA goes far beyond this week’s championship, as she is an AJGA National Chairman and has endowed an ACE Grant.
“We’re very proud that, through her Foundation, Annika has endowed an ACE Grant and that means a great deal to us as an organization and the kids that have benefitted from it,” Nugent said.
The American version of the ANNIKA Invitational began in 2009 and is one of Annika’s three invitationals worldwide, as the ANNIKA Invitational at Mission Hills (China) crowned its second champion in 2012, while Ström won the inaugural ANNIKA Invitational Europe in August.
“To start the ANNIKA Invitational in Europe and China really makes it a global game,” Annika said. “I want every little girl in the world to play this wonderful game and to have events on different levels to encourage them to follow their dreams.”
For Ström, her experiences playing in Annika events started when she played in the first of three ANNIKA Cups when she was 13 years old.
“ANNIKA Cup really took me to a new golf level and this is the first time I’ve played an AJGA tournament and this will give me the chance to maybe go to college in some years,” said Ström, who is now 16. “I’m really happy that Annika supports and inspires the future golfers.”
Morales will be one of Ström’s top competitors, as she is currently No. 6 in the Polo Golf Rankings and earned first-team Rolex Junior All-America honors in 2012.
“The fact that Annika is here makes the event so much more memorable,” said Morales, who finished T34 at this event in 2012. “To come back again this year means having the opportunity to be around that wealth of information and to be around such an amazing leader in the game of golf.”