When she shot 71-74 and left Friday night, it seemed the whole sporting world was deflated. Hastily scribbled on that banner was this plaintive afterthought: Please come back. We love you.
Everyone wishes she would come back. For a person who previously had refused to let her real self come out after 10 years worth of LPGA events, Sorenstam suddenly was a bundle of emotions - excited, chatty, funny, yet vulnerable. The crowds were delighted!
And what started out as a welcome with a few reservations - turned out to be a tidal wave of acceptance. The male pros, reserved at first, were won over by her quiet insistence that she was just here to play good golf. Jeff Sluman, in the end, even suggested that she make an annual appearance on the PGA Tour. Id like to see her come out once a year, he said.
Alas, Sorenstam gave no indication that she would ever come out again. She was adamant in her statement that she was making an appearance for one time and one time only. Even as she won over more and more fans, and more and more male pros, she still insisted that this was it ' there isnt going to be another Annika tournament.
Why? Well, thats an interesting question, and to answer it you would have to know why she made the move in the first place. If, as she said, she just did it to test herself, then you have to believe she really is serious. But if, as some people believe, there are underlying reasons to her appearance, then youve got to doubt the sincerity.
Anyone who heard her in person, though, has got to believe her. She left no room for the slightest hint of a recantation in the future. There was no dilly-dallying, no room for second-guessing, no nothing. Nothing except her genuine thanks for the wonderful reception, and her quiet insistence that this was it ' thanks, and goodbye.
On the one hand, that would be devastating to the people. Fans clamored to see her, and she put on a wonderful show. She proved that she can play with the men, could even make cuts.
She cant win, but there are a lot of men who cant win. There are a lot of men who can make $700,000 a year - a very comfortable living ' but who arent good enough to break through the win barrier. That may be ' what, one-third of the tour?
Sorenstam hit the ball far enough to reach the green comfortably with her second shot ' or third to the par-5s. What she didnt do well enough to contend for the title is putt ' but that fits several men. She cant spin the ball well enough from long distances to consistently get the ball close to the hole ' but there are men on the PGA Tour who will finish in the top 125 who cant do that, either.
Undoubtedly, she would putt better if she werent under such a microscopic glare as she was here.
Thats the way I react when Im nervous, she said. I lose feel in my hands. And I have hit thousands of putts, Ive hit thousands of chips. And I know how to react. And you would think I would learn from that.
The problem is, she wont ever learn how to putt in such an arena, what with the entire world hovering over her back. Thats something you just cant practice. And its something that Sorenstam will face every single time she plays a mens event ' now listen to me, assuming there is going to be another time.
The truth is, it was a wonderful scenario for Annika exactly as it played out. She played her two days, almost made the cut, and was able to leave Friday with the world witnessing her departure. It was a day totally made for her. If she had made the cut and hung around for two more days, it wouldnt have been the same. She would have had to share the time with the champion of the Colonial.
She wouldnt have minded in the least letting go of the adulation, not for the chance to play two more days. But the multitude of fans that she had cultivated would have been cheated a little. They got to tell her goodbye on a stage with no one else present, and surely that is preferable to the alternative. Not for Annika, but to the public - though they probably didnt realize it at the time.
Now she is gone, gone back to play the womens tour with the other women. There wont be another time quite like this one, when for two days we were on tenterhooks, wondering if she could do it, praying that somehow she would. But in the end, though her game might have suffered by not being on exhibit for four days, the moment certainly didnt. Friday was a time to shower Annika with hosannas, and that we did.
Now, its over. Shes not coming back. There were no sinister deals or plans, no backroom deals. Annika Sorenstam is gone, only a wonderful memory on the PGA Tour.
Unless - and this is certainly her prerogative, though it seems remote at the moment unless she changes her mind.