In a League of Her Own
It may be more recognizable than ever, and even smile a little more than usual. But its owner, Annika Sorenstam, insists almost nothing else has changed.
'I've had a few days to reflect on the whole week and the more I think about it, the more I smile,' she said. 'It was incredible. I'm so glad I did it. The memories, the experience, the people, the fans -- you name it.
'I almost get goose bumps sitting here talking about it because it was so cool. But I'm happy to be here, and it's time to move on.'
Yet not everybody is ready. The lingering question from last week's gender-bender hangs over this week's LPGA Tour event: Will anybody other than Annika and her handful of sponsors benefit from it? And by how much?
The first real returns won't be in until Friday, when Sorenstam officially opens defense of her Kellogg-Keebler Classic title some 40 miles west of downtown Chicago. But even heading over to the course for Thursday's pro-am, Sorenstam created a stir.
She was on 'Oprah.' When she stopped off at Starbucks for her morning coffee, Sorenstam was accorded the star treatment. Where things get sticky is if her competition, already awed by her golf, wind up being intimidated by her newfound celebrity.
Ever since Nancy Lopez departed to raise her family, the women's tour has been waiting for someone made up of equal parts carbon steel and charm to audition for the role. Sorenstam always had the mettle, but that wasn't the only thing she proved once more by trading shots with the men.
She flashed more personality over the course of two days than she has over 10 seasons playing against women. Sorenstam was, by turns, insightful, funny, courageous and humble -- qualities that came in handy to meet the challenge at hand.
But she's taken this one-woman show as far as she wants.
'I've tested myself, I know what I can do,' Sorenstam said. 'And I don't need to do that again.'
And so maybe the only way she will be drawn out the next time is for a rival -- or several -- to emerge on the LPGA Tour.
'She won 11 times last year on our tour, 13 times internationally,' Kelli Kuehne said. 'Annika is without a doubt the most dominant player in our game right now, maybe the most dominant player ever. Or that we've seen in quite some time.
'She's in a league of her own, just like Tiger. ... Until the rest of the players can step their game up and learn how to play the game that she's playing, she's going to continue to be dominant. She's that good.
'And I'm not bashing the rest of our players. I'm giving her credit that she is that good.'
That much was apparent off the first tee on an otherwise cool late spring morning.
Almost 500 people turned out at Stonebridge Country Club to see Sorenstam blow her drive through the elbow of the fairway and beyond where a local radio host, Kellogg executive and two contest winners she was playing with hit their tee shots.
Still, that was 19,500 or so fewer spectators than turned up last week to see her do the same to PGA Tour pros Aaron Barber and Dean Wilson at Colonial Country Club.
Nobody would like to close that attendance gap faster than LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw. Advance ticket sales for this week are up 70 percent, and walk-up sales for practice rounds and the pro-am were four times larger than a year. Last year's tournament drew only 55,000. Sorenstam had that many spectators on just three holes last week.
And now it's Votaw's job -- as well as Sorenstam and her LPGA colleagues -- to bring part of that audience to their game.
'Because of last week, she's lapped by several times the amount of attention Nancy Lopez got when she first came out here in 1978,' he said, then paused to watch a gaggle of reporters and cameras follow Sorenstam down a narrow path toward the practice green.
'One of the big attractions in golf, in any sport, really is the chance to see the thing that everybody has been talking about. And right now, we've got her.'
But even that kind of fame comes with an expiration date.
If Sorenstam continues to dominate her tour the way she did before last week's flirtation with the PGA, most fans will think worse of the LPGA, not better, and change the channel soon enough in search of the next new thing.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.