Girl Watching

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The late Red Smith, arguably the best writer of sports in the 20th century, didn't win his Pulitzer Prize by accident. All those columns all those years for the New York Times never lost their perspective.

'I've always tried to remember,' Red said, 'and this is an old line--sports isn't Armageddon. These are just little games that little boys can play; and it isn't important to the future of civilization whether the Athletics or the Browns win.'

Smith had it right. That is for sure. It's just that he passed from the scene way too soon. These are games that little girls can play, too. And this week one of those grown up 'little girls,' Annika Sorenstam, will take her game to the U.S. Women's Open in Colorado where she will try golf her ball to within 72 holes of sports history.

Sorenstam has won the first two legs of the women's professional Grand Slam. A victory at Cherry Hills will leave her one week shy of golfing immortality.

What I like about Annika is her focus. I know that is a cliche. But she hasn't been shy about talking in public about her desire to win the Grand Slam, while all the while never forgetting to keep her eye on the ball inside the ropes.

(Actually, she takes her eye off the ball at impact. But she hits it straighter than she can point and never fails to lose sight of the immediate task at hand.)

AND....she still knows how to smile in the face of all the attendant fuss.

I believe Annika will win in Colorado this week. And at least one important reason will be the pressure on everybody else in the field. As two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen put it: The other players will feel Annika won't be making any mistakes and they will think they have to play perfect golf.

To be sure, the best rivalry in golf right now is the one between Sorenstam and Tiger Woods. When Sorenstam, who often plays and practices with Woods when both are home in Orlando, won her ninth major recently, she sent an E-mail to Woods that simply said: '9-9.'

Sorenstam was reminding Woods that she had caught up to him in the major championships count. I imagined Woods replying '10-9' last week at Pinehurst until his putter let him down late on the final day at the U.S. Open.

Now Sorenstam is poised to pass Woods. Woods struggled with his speed on the greens at Pinehurst which caused him to be unsure of his lines. It caught up to him just as he was about to catch up to Michael Campbell on the final nine holes. Woods bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes Sunday. Campbell won the championship.

Campbell, by the way, comes from a country--New Zealand--that gave us the first man--Sir Edmund Hillary--to scale Mt. Everest. Hillary's sport wasn't Armageddon either but it was definitely not for little boys or girls.

So as the Kiwis celebrate their new national hero this week in the pubs of Wellington, Auckland, Taupo and Hawkes Bay they will understand the magnitude of what their hero has achieved. They will keep it in its proper perspective.

The Swedes, meanwhile, will be keeping their eyes on their national treasure, Sorenstam. And maybe the best part of all of this is that Sorenstam, perhaps the most dominant woman athlete in the world at the moment, still plays the game with the insouciant joy of a girl.

I just wish Red Smith, who even Hemingway read on a regular basis, was still around to write about her. He would like her. And he would like her game.
 
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