It’s nearly 23 years since Annika Sorenstam, a quiet, studious Swede who became a superstar golfing brand, more or less knocked Tiger Woods off the cover of the golf magazines even though he’d just had his first win for months, beating Phil Mickelson by a single shot at the Bay Hill Invitational, Arnie’s tournament, in Orlando, Florida.

Across the country, in Phoenix, Arizona, Sorenstam managed to hog the headlines by becoming the first woman to score 59 in an official event, in the second round of the Standard Register Ping at Moon Valley.  She started with eight birdies in a row and even though there was an eight-hour time difference, I fought hard, begging and beseeching, to persuade The Times to give us top billing ahead of the men’s European Tour event.  I believe I managed it (no internet then), one of the few triumphs of my journalistic career.

A rare occurrence: Tiger downgraded to a supporting role.

It was, in fact, quite a golfing week, what with the 59, Tiger’s victory and Ireland’s own Des Smyth winning the Madeira Island Open, to become the oldest winner in European Tour history.  At 48 years 34 days old, Des was 36 days older than that sweet-swinging evergreen Neil Coles was when he won the Sanyo Open in 1982.

I’m indebted to the wonderful American weekly GolfWorld for the details – my copy, signed by Annika, is still in pristine condition and I knew exactly where to lay my hands on it because the much-delayed memorabilia sort out has begun at last.  Mind you, it’ll probably be another 23 years before that’s completed…

Zoom in to see how it was done.  My mate Lisa Mickey, who now devotes most of her time to wildlife conservation in Florida, was the reporter.

Annika, who started her round at the 10th, had 13 birdies and could have gone even lower because she had a 25-footer for eagle at the par 5 8th and a 9-footer, downhill as I remember, for another birdie at the 9th but two-putted both holes before leaping into the arms of her caddie Terry McNamara.  There were still 36 holes to play, though and they had to work hard to ensure that the 59 was not just a footnote, eventually winning by two shots from Se Ri Pak, the inspiration for all the South Koreans stars who flooded onto the world’s fairways in her wake.

Some more trivia from the week:  Annika’s playing partners were her sister Charlotta, the defending champion, who missed the cut and Meg Mallon, who marked the historic card;  Laura Davies, who’d won the Standard Register four years in a row from 1994, missed the cut; JoAnne Carner, a sprightly 61, made it; ESPN, who were televising the event, had no live coverage of the round because they were geared up to cover the second nine, not the first and had to scramble like mad to record their footage.

However, I’ll leave the last word to Kris Tschetter, who led the tournament after a first round of 63 and was out late on the second day:  “I didn’t think I’d be leading when I got to the golf course but I didn’t think I’d be eleven shots behind either….!”

Nobody really got close to Annika in that season of 2001 – apologies to the non-golfers but I rooted out the LPGA handbook for 2002, a weighty tome and this is what I found:  “Annika Sorenstam re-wrote the LPGA record book, tying or setting 30 LPGA records…”  Fear not, I’m not going to list all of them.  The 59 you know about.  Here are some more:  “Sorenstam went on to win eight times, establish a single-season scoring average record of 69.42 and become the first player to eclipse the $2 million mark in single-season earnings.

“The Swede won the Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy (for low scoring average) and money title…Her eight wins included a string of four consecutive victories and marked the most wins in one season since LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez [NB  you can now no longer say you’ve never heard of Nancy Lopez!!] won eight tournaments in 1979.”

Enough.  Suffice it to say that Annika was herself well on the way to the Hall of Fame.

And, finally, thanks to Sarah Schmelzel, the 29-year old American who triggered this reminiscing.  She had a 68 in the first round of the HSBC Women’s World Championship at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore, to lead by a shot from Lilia Vu, Linn Grant and Esther Henseleit and it turns out that Sorenstam’s 59 was Schmelzel’s inspiration.

She explained that her father Dennis, a golf nut, had hauled her out of school  to watch the last few holes of Annika’s history-making knock and she said, “That’s when I fell in love with the game.”

Schmelzel enjoying her moment in the limelight. [HSBC Women’s World Championship]

Schmelzel, who is ranked 107th in the world, has never led a tournament before, let alone one of this quality but seemed to be taking things calmly enough.  “There’s a first time for everything, I guess,” she said.  “It’s one round.  I think any of us can play really well on a given day but it’s an honour to play in this tournament.  You know when you qualify for it that it’s the best of the best in the world come to go play in one spot.  So it’s just an honour to play here.”

And one of the best things was that Annika was in Singapore too.

Happy St David’s Day everybody.