Archive for Wednesday, February 19, 2003

The world will be keeping score

Like it or not, Sorenstam will be making statement for women’s golf at Colonial

February 19, 2003


She teed it up against men on a course that became known as Hogan's Alley, and while she held her own, the world's best female golfer failed to make the final cut.

That was the 1945 Los Angeles Open, and it wound up as only a footnote among the amazing accomplishments of Babe Zaharias.

Annika Sorenstam might not be so lucky. No matter what happens when Sorenstam plays in the PGA Tour's Colonial in May, it could become the defining moment of her career.

That's one reason Tiger Woods offered his support with caution.

"I think it's great she's playing, but -- this is the 'but' part -- it will only be great for women's golf if she plays well," Woods said. "I think if she goes out there and posts two high scores, I think it's going to be more detrimental than it's going to be good."

Years from now, more people will remember what she did at Colonial -- whether she made the cut or missed it badly -- than how many LPGA Tour events Sorenstam won.

She is not trying to champion a cause. Sorenstam said to put women's golf entirely on her shoulders would be a heavy load, and that's not why she's playing.

"I'm not here to prove anything. I'm here to test myself," she said.

Still, the question was quick to arise when Sorenstam first mentioned Jan. 22 that she would say "yes in a heartbeat" if offered an invitation to play on the PGA Tour.

Does the perception of women's golf depend on her performance?

Sorenstam said women in the sport already face unfair comparisons with men, from the prize money to the size and setup of the golf courses they play.

"It would be more beneficial if I did well," she said. "If not, then I don't think it would change anything."

But there already is a precedent.

Go back two years to the "Battle at Bighorn," when Sorenstam and Woods played against David Duval and Karrie Webb in a made-for-TV exhibition designed to showcase the women in a format (mixed teams) where they couldn't fail.

Then, gusts up to 30 mph hit the California desert about 15 minutes before showtime, creating some of the toughest conditions all year.

Sorenstam made a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff that she and Woods won, but that's not what people remember. The lasting image was Sorenstam's knocking a 25-foot birdie putt off the green and into the fairway. Also, neither woman managed to hit the 18th fairway in regulation or the playoff.

Sorenstam received more attention for accepting an invitation to the Colonial than for anything she has ever done on the LPGA Tour, from her 59 to winning more tournaments last season (13) than any golfer in nearly 40 years.

Some major newspapers already plan to cover Sorenstam's first LPGA tournament in Phoenix. She will be in the spotlight in all six of the tournaments she plays before she gets to the Colonial.

Sorenstam might not want to carry women's golf on her broad shoulders, but it will be along for the ride.

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