Colonial the Ultimate Challenge for Sorenstam

By Associated PressMay 18, 2003, 4:00 pm
FORT WORTH, Texas -- It started with a harmless question about taking her game to the highest level, against the men on the PGA Tour.
 
What about you, Annika?
 
Truth is, the idea had been festering all along.
 
Annika Sorenstam won 13 times in 25 tournaments around the world last year, a success rate that dwarfed even the best of Tiger Woods.
 
She shot 59 two years ago in Phoenix -- no other woman had done that. She set 30 records one year, then matched or broke 20 of them for an encore. Through it all, she worked harder, got stronger, and soon ran out of mountains to climb.
 
'My husband has always talked about, 'I wonder how you would play against the men on their golf course?'' Sorenstam said. 'I watched PGA tournaments on TV and I've thought about it for a quick second. Then the conversation would die, and I wouldn't even talk about it. But I had it in the back of my mind.'
 
The idea called out to her when Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley qualified for the Greater Hartford Open. Then, Michelle Wie tried to qualify for the Sony Open and shot a respectable 73, just six strokes off the mark.
 
What about you, Annika?
 
'I haven't thought about qualifying,' she replied on that landmark afternoon in January. 'But if I got an invite, I would say yes in a heartbeat.'
 
She didn't have to beg.
 
Within two weeks, Sorenstam settled on the Colonial as her Mount Everest.
 
The 32-year-old Swede will become the first player in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour when she tees it up Thursday against 123 men at Colonial, a tradition-rich tournament soon to be known as more than the place Ben Hogan won five times.
 
The Colonial comes one month after the Masters, where Martha Burk and the National Council of Women's Organizations mounted a fierce campaign to penetrate the all-male Augusta National Golf Club.
 
That was about social change.
 
This is about golf.
 
'I'm not putting the guys on test here, or men against women. I'm far from that,' Sorenstam said. 'This is a test for me personally. I don't want to put the guys on any defensive. I just want to play against the best and see what happens.'
 
Why bother?
 
Why put her considerable skills to such a test when success will be measured by the number on her scorecard, especially if she plays only two rounds?
 
'If Tiger had a place that had better players, he would challenge himself,' Juli Inkster said. 'What I respect about Annika is that she's never satisfied. You've got to give her credit for even going out there and trying.'
 
The challenge will be unlike anything Sorenstam has ever faced.
 
Colonial is longer than anything she has faced, a par 70 at 7,080 yards.
 
The rough will be thicker. The greens quicker. The pins tucked in perilous positions.
 
And that might be the easiest part of the equation.
 
Media credentials outnumber players by a 4-1 margin. Television plans to show every hole she plays. Sorenstam wants only to test her game, but she is naive to think the reputation of the LPGA Tour won't be standing with her over every putt.
 
'I think it's great she's playing, but ... 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.'
 
Woods played a practice round with her at Isleworth, his home course in Florida, and was said to have finished 10 strokes ahead. John Smoltz of the Atlanta Braves reportedly beat her, too.
 
The reception from PGA Tour players -- none was even born when Babe Zaharias qualified for the Los Angeles Open in 1945 -- has been lukewarm at best.
 
While fearful of the worst, Woods thinks she should play four or five events to get a feel for the PGA Tour. He will not be at the Colonial.
 
Phil Mickelson thinks she can finish in the top 20, adding quickly that he hopes he finishes '19th or better.' David Duval says Sorenstam is good enough to make the cut at Colonial, although he concedes the odds are high. 'Then again, we're talking about a lady that has been the most dominant player in her game for several years,' Duval said. 'She was far more dominant on the LPGA than Tiger was on our tour.'
 
The climate turned hostile when Vijay Singh, in an interview with The Associated Press, said, 'I hope she misses the cut. Why? Because she doesn't belong out here.'
 
Singh later said he was sorry if his comment came across as a personal attack.
 
Scott Hoch, who once played a mixed-team event with Sorenstam, wants her to play well so that 'what comes out of this is that she realizes she can't compete against the men.'
 
'What's the purpose?' Hoch said. 'If she wants to challenge herself, she can play against the boys at Isleworth. She already did that, and found out she's going to get drummed.'
 
Sorenstam is averaging about 275 yards off the tee this year, a vast improvement but still toward the bottom percentile of driving distance on the PGA Tour.
 
She chose Colonial because length isn't everything off the tee -- most men hit irons and fairway metals to keep from running through the doglegs.
 
Power still figures to be a problem, not so much off the tee, but hitting the ball with enough spin to get it close to the hole, and chipping out of the rough. PGA Tour players generate far more clubhead speed.
 
'I think it's like a featherweight going against a heavyweight,' David Toms said.
 
Add to that more pressure than perhaps any other golfer has felt. Even when Woods was going for his history-making fourth consecutive major at the 2001 Masters, he was playing for himself.
 
Sorenstam represents the best of the LPGA Tour.
 
'I hope to hell she plays well,' said Louise Suggs, an LPGA founder and member of the Hall of Fame. 'I hope they won't hold it against her if she plays poorly.'
 
Dow Finsterwald, a former PGA champion whose son is the head pro at Colonial, said two things will come out of Sorenstam playing at Colonial.
 
'Either she's going to embarrass herself or she'll embarrass a lot of guys,' he said.
 
Regardless of the outcome, Sorenstam already has brought enormous publicity to the LPGA Tour. The needle barely moved when she won 13 times last year, the best season by anyone in golf in nearly 40 years.
 
Her decision to play Colonial has resulted in more than 1,500 stories about her. Sorenstam has appeared on everything from 'Today' to the 'Tonight Show.'
 
LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw brought a folder the size of a phone book to a players' meeting in Phoenix to show them how much media attention Sorenstam has generated -- and this was before the first LPGA tournament has been played.
 
He isn't concerned about any backlash if Sorenstam struggles.
 
'Anybody waiting for her to do poorly just to say, 'I told you so,' isn't a fan of the LPGA Tour, anyway,' Votaw said. 'We're not going to lose them.
 
'If this is what captures the public's imagination, if this is what brings eyeballs to the LPGA, anyone who questions the good of this is being shortsighted.'
 
This isn't the first time Sorenstam has been under the spotlight.
 
She played with Woods against Duval and Karrie Webb in the 'Battle at Bighorn' two years ago. It was televised in prime time, with some 5,000 people scrambling along the fairways for a good view.
 
It was a fiasco at the end, in part because of high winds and a brutally tough golf course. The lasting image was Sorenstam knocking a putt off the green and into the fairway, and neither woman able to hit the final fairway in regulation and the playoff.
 
Sorenstam didn't view that as failure. She knocked in the pivotal putt. And as she left the California desert that day, her final words were, 'Hopefully, I'll get another chance.'
 
She never imagined it would lead her to the PGA Tour, at Colonial, without a partner, with the world watching.
 
'I'm not afraid of anything,' she said. 'I know I can play.'
 
Related Links:
  • ''Everything Annika'' Feature Page
  • Annika and the Colonial Timeline
  • Full Coverage of the Bank of America Colonial
     
    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.