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Archive for Friday, April 1, 2005

Sorenstam best, but men’s sports dominate

April 1, 2005

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Tiger Woods hasn't won 59 tournaments, or shot a 59 when it counted. Come to think of it, he never has jumped in a pond after winning, either.

Annika Sorenstam has, so maybe it wasn't such a stretch when LPGA great Nancy Lopez said over the weekend that Sorenstam "really, and truly" was better than Woods.

No, Lopez didn't mean Sorenstam could beat Woods on the golf course.

She knows that if you put the two on the course from the same tees, Woods wins easily every time. Let Annika play the women's tees, and Woods still wins most of the time.

What Lopez was arguing was that Sorenstam was better than Woods because she is more dominant among those of her own gender than Woods has been against men on the PGA Tour.

"Tiger, he was awesome," Lopez said. "He's won and played great golf, but I just don't think he dominated the way she has."

It's a reasonable enough argument, for those who believe women's golf is the equal of the men's tour. Sorenstam has done things never seen before on the LPGA Tour, where she now has won her last five tournaments and the first major championship of the year in a rout.

The problem, though, is that it's hard to find anyone not associated with the women's tour who really cares. Sorenstam's win in the Nabisco Championship on Sunday was the stuff legends are made of, but legends simply aren't made in women's golf anymore, at least since the days of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

Imagine, if you will, Woods coming into Augusta on a four-tournament winning streak and then blowing away the field in the Masters. Tigermania would sweep the country once again, and newspapers and sports shows would be filled with stories and talk about his deeds.

Sorenstam basically did the same thing over the weekend in the California desert, though hardly anyone noticed. She obliterated the field, didn't make a bogey in her last 39 holes, and won by eight shots over Rosie Jones.

It was an amazing run by an amazing player. In the end, though, it was just women's golf.

It's not Sorenstam's fault -- and it hurts her more than most -- but women's golf doesn't sell just like women's sports in general don't sell. That's largely because women aren't big sports fans, and most men don't want to watch women's sports.

That's why crowds were sparse at the Nabisco, the women's NCAA regionals played to thousands of empty seats and the WNBA teeters on the brink of extinction every year.

Quick. Name five prominent female athletes who aren't tennis players. Better yet, name four other women golfers whose last names aren't Sorenstam.

Done yet?

No wonder that, at the same time Sorenstam was rewriting record books, most golf fans were wondering when the storm delay would be over at the Player's Championship so they could watch Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and others try to hit the island green on No. 17.

A survey last year by New York-based Scarborough Research showed that only 6 percent of those asked said they followed the LPGA tour at all, compared to 17 percent for the men's tour. Surprisingly enough, more men identified themselves as LPGA fans than women, while more women said they were fans of the men's tour than the women's.

Sorenstam herself had to tee it up in the Colonial on the men's tour to get the kind of publicity her 59 wins haven't come close to matching.

Like Woods, Sorenstam is arguably the greatest player ever of her gender. Like Woods, she had gotten rich playing a game she loves.

Unlike Woods, she will likely end her career before ever getting the acclaim for her deeds. She won't even fully get it then because she's a woman in a sports world dominated by men.

Unfortunately for Sorenstam, that's just cold reality.

But it doesn't necessarily make it fair.

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