Suzy Whaley will only have a 90-minute drive to the tournament of her lifetime, the Greater Hartford Open.
The 36-year-old club pro from Avon, Conn., qualified for the PGA Tour event last September, and she will be using the Big Apple Classic, which starts Thursday at Wykagyl Country Club, as a final tuneup.
'This week is about playing the best competitive golf I can against the best female golfers in the world, and next week I'll take on the challenge of the best men in the world,' Whaley said Wednesday.
The mother of two young daughters hasn't had many opportunities against LPGA players. This is her fourth tournament of the year on the tour, and she has missed two cuts and tied for 50th at the Giant Eagle Classic last month.
Still, Whaley, who is playing here on a sponsor's exemption, exudes confidence as her date with the men approaches.
'I played in a Futures event last week and had the lowest nine of my career, a 30. This is the best my game has been since last September,' she said. 'For me, this week is all about remaining composed on each shot, staying in my preshot routine. I'm really working hard this week on my concentration.'
When Annika Sorenstam played in the Colonial on the PGA Tour in May, she didn't have much to fall back on as she was the first woman to play in a PGA event in 58 years. Whaley joins that exclusive club about 58 days after Sorenstam missed the cut.
'What I would take the most from her experience is how she handled herself. She looked calm. She didn't look rushed,' said Whaley, who played on the tour for two years in the early 1990s. 'I can learn a lot from her demeanor, her charisma. She looked like she was enjoying herself and I hope to do the same.'
The LPGA field Whaley faces this week isn't star-studded because of many players are getting ready for the Evian Masters in France next week and then the Women's British Open, the last of the tour's four majors.
Sorenstam, a two-time champion here and the tour's leading money-winner, is skipping this week. Three of the top 10 players on the earnings list are in the field: Grace Park (2nd), Angela Stanford (8th) and Rachel Teske (10th).
Beth Daniel, No. 11 on the money list and fresh off last week's historic win at the Canadian Women's Open, is second to Whaley in drawing pre-tournament attention.
Daniel's victory in Vancouver, British Columbia, was her first on tour in eight years and it made her the oldest LPGA champion ever. Daniel, 46, won the Big Apple in 1994, one of 33 victories in her Hall of Fame career.
'It's been a while since I felt like this, and once you do it you want to do it again,' Daniel said. 'Really, to do it this late in my career is pretty neat. That will always be a special win.'
Last year's Big Apple was a special win for Gloria Park. She beat fellow South Korea native Hee-Won Han on the first playoff hole for her second career win. This year has been a struggle for the 23-year-old. Her best finish was a tie for 14th and she has missed the cut the last three weeks.
'Last year, I didn't want to come to this tournament and then I won,' she said. 'I changed my caddie earlier this year and since then I have lost my confidence. I feel because I won last year, I feel more confident and hopefully I'll play a little better this week.'
LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw announced Wednesday that Sybase will continue as the tournament's sponsor for the next three years. However, the name, date and purse will change for 2004.
The tournament, to be known as the Sybase Classic, will be held May 20-23, 2004, with a purse of $1.25 million, up from $950,000 the last two years.
Divots: There are six former champions in the field: Betsy King (1990, 1991), Hiromi Kobayashi (1993), Daniel, Michele Redman (1997), Sherri Steinhauer (1999) and Park. ... Sorenstam, who missed last year's playoff by one stroke, and Karrie Webb, who finished fourth, are the only players from last year's top 11 finishers not here this week. ... Daniel changed caddies in May and Ralph Scarinzi, a native of New Rochelle, is now on her bag. Scarinzi, 47, is staying this week with his 80-year-old aunt who lives near the course.
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