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Archive for Saturday, February 15, 2003

Sorenstam has earned her chance

February 15, 2003

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Now that Annika Sorenstam, the best female golfer in the world, has accepted an invitation to play a PGA Tour event -- against the best male golfers in the world -- a lot of people want to weigh in.

Some say, "Good for her." They feel if a woman is good enough to hold her own against the men, why not let her try?

Others say, "This is the end of the world. If a woman plays on the men's tour, then men should play on the women's tour -- and then where would we be?"

Well. We wouldn't be at Augusta, I can tell you that.

But outside of a creating publicity -- and scaring a lot of men on the lower end of the rankings -- I don't see what harm is being done here.

It's true. Sorenstam is breaking a traditional boy-girl line. But it's not like it hasn't been done before. Back in 1945, Babe Zaharias took on the men in the Los Angeles Open. Near as I can tell, the world did not come off its axis.

Nor did it send men running into women's locker rooms and women running into men's. The simple fact is, only the rare great females golfers like Sorenstam are likely to make decent showings in PGA events. And since Tiger Woods wins most of those, what's the problem?

"I'm curious as anybody to see how the best LPGA player will play against the men," said Phil Mickelson. He thinks Sorenstam will finish 20th.

When asked how he would do?

"I hope 19th or better," he said.

Woods, meanwhile, said that Sorenstam needed to do well against the men.

"If she puts up two high scores," he said, "it will be more detrimental than good."

I don't think so. I think simply by showing up, she wins. Let's face it. Most guys think duffers beat duffettes every day of the week. But Sorenstam is not some lucky hacker. She has dominated her end of the sport even more than Woods has dominated his. Something tells me she's not going to finish dead last at the Colonial -- a course well-suited to her shorter-driving game, because it relies more on accuracy.

And as long she doesn't finish last, she'll have done better than at least one man who made the tournament. And that says something.

Besides, anyone who thinks it's stupid for Sorenstam to try this need only remember Michael Jordan trying to play baseball. He belonged in the major leagues far less than Sorenstam belongs with the men. And we all watched him.

Now. For those of you who say, "If she plays, then men should play the LPGA Tour," remember a few things. 1) Sorenstam was invited to the Colonial. She didn't file a lawsuit. 2) She's not joining the PGA Tour, just playing in an event. 3) The PGA does not have any rules prohibiting women, but the LPGA does have rules prohibiting men.

You may think that unfair, and perhaps it is. But Sorenstam is just trying to do what most true athletes want to do: measure themselves against the best.

"I just want to see if I can compete," she said.

I'm all for it. It's not as if men and women have never played the same sport before (or did we forget mixed doubles tennis?).

Besides, it's hard to resist the hypocrisy that shadows this whole deal. In April, you'll have the Masters, where Sorenstam couldn't become a member. And in May you'll have the Colonial, where she may not only defeat some Masters competitors, she may take some of their money. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, Sorenstam will shock everyone and win the whole thing. If that happens, look for the folks at Augusta to break down and change their rules.

They'll let her caddie.

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