Annika Passes on Canada Ames Passes on Controversy

By Ian HutchinsonAugust 16, 2007, 4:00 pm
CN Canadian WomenIt says something about the drastically different directions in which the career of Annika Sorenstam and the fortunes of the CN Canadian Women's Open are headed when one of the LPGA Tour's premier events gets underway and barely anybody notices that Sorenstam is absent.
Since coming close to extinction a couple of years ago, the Canadian event has turned it around and headed north, way north to Edmonton's Royal Mayfair, where a galaxy of tour stars including world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel teed off earlier today.
That stellar field is another reason to believe that the tournament's fortunes are also headed north due to a $2.25-million purse, a dedicated sponsor that just extended its commitment through 2010, a solid commitment to the communities in which it's played and loose talk that Canada may return to LPGA major status.
Meanwhile, Sorenstam's career is definitely going south, at least this year when she is without a win and has just three top-10 finishes in a season shortened by back problems that plagued her earlier in the season.
At least for now, times aren't what they used to be for the most dominant female ever to play the game, but her presence would have offered additional credibility and a touch of class to a tournament breaking into the upper tier of the LPGA.
Instead, Sorenstam chose to go south on that road too and continued blowing off a tournament that she won in 2001. She maintained that trend by using a loophole in the LPGA's one-in-four rule that ensures each player competes in a each event at least once every four years.
The one-in-four is a fan-friendly alternative to the PGA TOUR, which runs on the theory that its players are independent contractors and can't be forced to play. The LPGA Tour, on the other hand, wants its top players to regularly attend all events in support of outstanding sponsors such as CN.
However, there is a stipulation that allows each player a one-time waiver that lets her bypass a tournament she hasn't played in four years without penalty. Sorenstam used the Canadian Women's Open to play that card.
Injury was given as an excuse, but Sorenstam did take part in an event back home in Sweden last week and finished ninth. Canadians have been generally forgiving of Sorenstam wanting to play at home when the Swedish tournament conflicted with the Canadian event, but there are cynics this year.
Some have speculated that a gruelling flight from Sweden to Edmonton might be the reason for Sorenstam's absence in Edmonton. That's only a guess, but perception is everything and Sorenstam seemed to get that with the way she has made herself available to fans and media over the years.
She failed to see it this time around, the same way Davis Love III didn't get it when he took major cash for redesigning the Angus Glen North Course for the men's Canadian Open last month, then blew off the tournament.
Sorenstam's absence won't hurt the women's Open, with 45 of the top 50 players on the money list there, but her presence would have enhanced the tournament. Instead, she seemed to go out of her way to avoid it.
Royal Mayfair's loss is Ottawa Hunt's gain as Sorenstam, who will be in Toronto for a charity event next month, has no way of wiggling out of next year's Canadian tournament. It's too bad that it now seems like she will be dragged there kicking and screaming.
If history is any indication, it would be right about now that Stephen Ames exploded with controversial statements about not being picked to the International team for next month's Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal.
He'd have a surprising number of people agree with him too, as not all Canadians agree with Gary Player's decision to go with 2003 Masters champ Mike Weir as the lone Canadian. Ames has his supporters, whose main argument is that Ames was playing better than Weir leading up to the captain's picks.
Ames had the perfect opportunity to pop off on Tuesday, with media in attendance at the kickoff to the Stephen Ames Cup, a junior event featuring players from his native Trinidad and Tobago and his adopted home in Canada. He didn't take the bait.
Ames, to his credit, took the high road. While he thought he was a legitimate pick, he wished Weir, Player and the rest of the International team well in Montreal and said he planned to make it to the next Presidents Cup.
Huh? Who is that imposter? Bland is usually not an adjective used to describe Stephen Ames, but he was truly being a gentleman and his mood was upbeat in the conference and out on the golf course.
It would make no sense to rip into a decision that was good for Weir, the golden golfer of Canada since his Masters win, and that wouldn't have been Ames' intention anyway, despite his disappointment at not being picked. It could be taken that way, though.
Weir, despite his struggles, could very well be a great choice by Player with his experience of three Presidents Cups and an overall 8-6 record in that event, so any argument on Ames' behalf should not be taken as Weir-bashing, but that's how some people set it up.
He knows only too well how a seemingly innocent remark can leave the words '9-and-8' ringing in his ears, so why tempt fate? Diplomacy isn't an entirely foreign talent for him, after all.

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    Toronto Sun Editor's Note: Ian Hutchinson is golf columnist for the Toronto Sun and senior writer for Pro Shop Magazine, a Canadian golf trade publication, and Canadian Golfer Magazine. He is also a frequent contributor to Golf Scene and Golf Canada Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.
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