Women on the PGA Trend or Novelty

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Tim Herron was on the practice green at Colonial when Frank Lickliter walked by and asked a question that no longer seemed so absurd.
 
'Hey, Tim, is your sister playing this week?' Lickliter said.
 
Alissa Herron won the 1999 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur and is a three-time state amateur champion from Minnesota.
 
She just doesn't have a starting time at Colonial.
 
At least not yet.
 
When the PGA Tour season started, Suzy Whaley was an exception, not the norm.
 
By the time fall arrives, three women will have played against the men -- Annika Sorenstam this week at the Colonial, Whaley in July at the Greater Hartford Open and Michelle Wie in September on the Nationwide Tour.
 
Whaley, a Connecticut club pro, qualified by winning a PGA sectional tournament.
 
When she told her oldest daughter she was going to play on the PGA Tour, 8-year-old Jennifer Whaley replied, 'It's not the men's tournament anymore, because Mommy's playing there.'
 
Colonial still seems like a men's tournament, especially walking through the smoke stench of the grill room, with framed black-and-white photos of Ben Hogan hanging on the walls. Outside the locker room is a sign that reads, 'PGA Tour Players Only.'
 
'That excludes her,' Lee Janzen said of Sorenstam. 'Unless someone puts a big 'L' in front of it. And then we'd be out.'
 
Sorenstam has the ladies' locker room to herself.
 
Strange times, indeed.
 
In late February, two weeks after Sorenstam made good on her promise to 'say yes in a heartbeat' if offered a sponsor's exemption, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was asked if he was concerned that women playing against the men would become a habit.
 
'On my part? No,' Finchem said. 'Her stated objective is to see how she does on our golf course against our players. I think the novelty will probably wear off.'
 
Try getting some of his players to believe that.
 
Before the Sorenstam circus could crank into high gear, the Boise Open on the Nationwide Tour last week offered a sponsor's exemption to Wie, a 13-year-old from Hawaii who is about to enter the ninth grade.
 
'I was thinking that I'm glad this will be a one-time event,' Janzen said. 'Then the next day, I look in the paper and ...
 
'You wonder what will happen. You wonder whether someone will step up and say, 'Enough is enough.''
 
Nothing in the PGA Tour bylaws prohibits women from competing, nor should it. The PGA Tour is not for the men, but for the best players in the world -- which happen to be men because of physical differences, primarily how much more power they can generate.
 
There is nothing wrong with Sorenstam playing in the Colonial on a sponsor's exemption.
 
'Some people think she should have earned her way in by qualifying,' Kenny Perry said. 'I think she would have gotten more respect from the guys. It didn't make any difference to me. They give away 12 spots, and that's up to the tournament.'
 
Sorenstam's appearance doesn't compromise the integrity of the competition.
 
Rod Curl gets to play as a past champion, even though he won Colonial in 1974, the year before Tiger Woods was born. Curl shot 83 in the first round last year and withdrew.
 
If Hootie Johnson ran Colonial, he would have sent Curl a letter.
 
Sorenstam doesn't deserve a free pass to the PGA Tour because of two great seasons. Still, the 32-year-old Swede is the only woman who has dreamed this big, and the only woman who is bold enough to try. For that, she deserves enormous respect.
 
'She has a big heart, I'll give her that,' said Nick Price, the defending champion at Colonial who said her appearance 'reeks of publicity.'
 
'I don't think I would be able to do what she's going to do. I really don't.'
 
No one begrudged Whaley for deciding to play Hartford because she played her way into the tournament. The only fault lies with the PGA of America for not having the foresight to make everyone play from the same tees when only one spot on the PGA Tour was offered.
 
The real danger is Wie.
 
Already approaching 6 feet, she swings like a man and hits the ball a mile. Still, her biggest achievement was playing in the final group this year at the Nabisco Championship. Aree Wongluekiet did the same thing three years ago when she was 13.
 
Wie doesn't have the game or the experience of Sorenstam. And while these guys are good on the PGA Tour, they aren't slouches on the Nationwide Tour, a circuit that has produced the likes of Ernie Els, David Duval and David Toms.
 
If Sorenstam makes the cut, it might be a crack in the door for women to crash the PGA Tour more often, especially if someone better than Sorenstam comes along.
 
If all three women post high scores, the novelty indeed might wear off.
 
PGA Tour events in dire need of publicity should be careful. Playing the gender card for the sake of selling a few tickets might come at the expense of players who no longer want to take part in a side show.
 

Related Links:
  • ''Everything Annika'' Feature Page
  • Annika and the Colonial Timeline
  • Full Coverage of the Bank of America Colonial
     

     
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