Norman was critical of women playing in a tour event, any tour that is primarily men-only, when he took promoters to task for inviting Laura Davies to play in a tournament on the Australia-New Zealand Tour. And, for that matter, Norman says he still is against women being handed an invitation to play in a full-scale tour event, be it in the U.S., Europe or the Pacific Rim. But he explains that he has never complained about a woman playing in other events with men.
I think I've been very consistent and public in some of my comments prior to this in believing that anybody that plays in a regular tour event should earn their stripes to go play it, Norman says. That's a full-field PGA TOUR event.
This Merrill Lynch Shootout (in Naples, Fla.) is a totally different event. Even though it is co-sanctioned by the PGA TOUR, it's still got that relaxed atmosphere that an individual like Annika Sorenstam will come and add a tremendous amount of value to it.
It seems theres a little problem here, though. Annika will have to play the regular tees at the Shootout, as she has when she played in previous exhibitions with the guys. But how does this sound ' how about setting up the course so Annika has a real chance to win?
Gregs event, as he says, is very informal. There are 24 players arranged in two-man ' er, two-person ' teams. So why not try something a little different and have Sorenstam tee off, say, 20-30 yards in front of the men? It would leave Annika with roughly the same distance into the pins, and she is a definite threat from there. Get her back on the tournament tees and she becomes, once again, a novelty and not much else.
Last year Annika averaged 263 yards a drive. That was No. 4 on the LPGA but would only have been No. 181 on the mens tour. Give her a 20-yard break and she puts it out there an average of 283, which is still just 131st on the PGA Tour.
Give her a 30-yard head start, though, and she is No. 52 amongst the men at 293. Suddenly, we have something. Put Annika 150 yards from the flag, the average male tour pro 150 yards away, and Ill put my money on Annika at least half the time. Put everyone at, say, 120, and Annika will put it inside the boys around 80 percent of the time, Ill bet.
As it is, she will be hitting a 4-iron or 5-wood while most guys are hitting 7- or 8-iron. And that is simply too much club to give up.
Norman, by the way, has been very kind in taking this step. And he says Annika is free to invite a partner ' and it can be a man OR a woman. Or, for that matter, Norman says he would gladly volunteer to be her partner if she so chooses.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for her, he said. I think her consistency basis of her performance on the game of golf is probably far greater than anybody else's I've ever seen. You can throw in Tiger Woods, you can throw in anybody.
When you see her performance week-in, week-out, the number of events she plays - she's still been beating the best of the best in her field. I don't care whether it's male or female, youve still got to get up there and win. To do that on a consistent basis is almost impossible.
Of course, it might be a little embarrassing if Annika were allowed to tee off from a forward tee and yet chose Norman to be her partner. Norman, you see, controls just about everything concerned with the event and its rules, and if he permitted Sorenstam the tee box favor, it might be construed by some to be unfair. But Norman could counter the charge by refusing to take any money he might win in the event ' or earmarking it all for charity.
At any rate, its an extremely thoughtful gesture, coming from a man considered by many to be the ultimate macho male.
The way she's handled herself, I've been very, very impressed with that, he said. She answers the questions the right way. She's very, very humble about her golf. One thing that really impresses me - golf, she doesn't put herself ahead of the game of golf. Golf is far, far, far ahead of where she thinks she is.
That really is important to me, too, because she loves the game, she plays it with passion, she practices hard. All she wants to do is just pile on the victories, and her performance, the best way she can. You respect somebody for that because the hardest thing in the world is to be successful. Harder than that is to be the best at what you can be. She's done that on a consistent basis. She's sacrificed a lot. She's committed a lot. She deserves everything she has.
Norman, incidentally, isn't nearly so critical of women playing in a historically male event as one might imagine. 'It's that I'm against anyone of either gender being granted an exemption purely as a publicity stunt,' he once wrote in an article published in Travel Magazine. 'I want what's best for golf, and I don't think these gimmicks are doing one bit of good to promote the game that we all love.
'The bottom line - and let me be very clear about this - is that if a woman wants to go out and earn her way into an event or onto the PGA TOUR by way of its established qualifying criteria, and she does so successfully, I'm all for it. If Michelle Wie pulls it off, for example, I will welcome her - as I would anyone else.'
Norman has given Annika the invitation, and that is most accommodating. Now, he needs to do one more thing ' arrange it so that she has a chance to really have an impact on the event.
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