All About Annika

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Shes a great woman player, blah, blah, blah. But I dont walk around being nine months pregnant.
 
Thats how Fulton Allem (You would think a man with two daughters would be a bit more enlightened.) represented himself, and unfortunately a certain segment of the male population, when asked about Annika Sorenstams participation in the Bank of America Colonial.
 
Sorenstam didnt make the cut. She didnt finish better than Allem. She showed her short game is woefully inadequate. And she may never again be seen on the PGA Tour.
 
She also showed that her accuracy was everything we knew it to be, and her power that much more. She showed that her machinations are not personal. That this isn't the robotic Swede were used to seeing on the LPGA Tour. That she has more light in her eyes than the brilliant Texas sun, and a smile equally as radiant. That her bulked-up frame can shoulder immeasurable amounts of pressure. And that victory sometimes lies in the shades of gray between black and white.
 
Did she justify her appearance? To some that was an impossible task. Her presence alone was without justification.
 
But cut through the mesh of cynicism and hyperbolic praise and you discover what this week was really all about. It was never male vs. female. It was never a threat to male exclusivity on the PGA Tour. It wasnt one woman representing her gender.
 
It was all about one woman. It was all about Annika.
 
It was Sorenstam testing herself, trying to discover the depths of her talent. Trying to expose herself to the masses. Trying to make herself a better player. Trying to make herself stronger.
 
If some were offended by her presence, so be it. If others were inspired by it, then that was a wonderful side effect, but not the primary intention.
 
Make no mistake; this was about Annika, and Annika alone. She didn't do it for you, or me, or millions of little girls. She did it for herself. And that's just fine. Because she's the one that took the chance. She's the one that had to live with the success or the failure.
 
She deserved this opportunity to be selfish. And in the end, she didnt want it to end. Yet she said shed never do it again.
 
And why should she? What does she have to prove that she hasnt already proven to herself? What more would there be to accomplish other than to simply make the cut ' even if she was welcomed back by a locker-room-whining lot?
 
We cant play on their tour, why should they play on ours?
 
She didnt qualify.
 
Shes taking up a spot in the field from a legitimate player.
 
These were just some of the excuses ' at least of those that were made public ' some of the PGA Tour players used in rationalizing why the worlds clear-cut No. 1 female player should have played this past week in Corning, N.Y. instead of Ft. Worth, Texas.
 
And yet to each of those rationales there was an obvious ifying counter-point. All you had to do was open your mind.
 
The objective in sport is to compete on the highest possible level. A woman competing against men is a test of limits on the extreme high end ' progression. A man competing exclusively against women ' at least on this professional level ' is regression.
 
No one woman could destroy the competitive fabric of the PGA Tour, but the opposite could rip apart the LPGA.
 
A man, even one without PGA Tour credentials, could dominate players inferior in mass and might ' on courses up to 1,000 yards inferior in accustomed length.
 
Even the greatest female in the game today couldnt so much as make the cut ' on a handpicked course ' despite displaying her obvious brilliance.
 
As for the fact that she was given a sponsors exemption to play instead of qualifying, thats the purpose of a sponsors exemption: To allow a player otherwise ineligible the chance to compete.
 
Invitational tournaments, like Colonial, are allotted more sponsors exemptions than regular full-field events, which get eight. A sponsor can invite any certified professional or amateur with a verified handicap of 2 or less. Using that criterion, they can invite anyone at their discretion ' from journeyman pros to past champions to local favorites to gate attractions.
 
Bank of America gave out a dozen exemptions this week. Of those 11 not named Annika, five missed the cut, and none were within five shots of the lead through 36 holes.
 
Who receives a sponsors exemption shouldnt be a topic of debate anyway ' at least for those already in the field. David Gossett was the last sponsors invitee to win a tour event, at the 2001 John Deere Classic. Its happened only three times in the last seven years.
 
And in talking about taking up a spot in the field, look no further than Allem himself to void that lack of logic.
 
Allem, who hasnt so much as made a top-10 since 1998, is still living off the 10-year exemption he earned via his 1993 NEC World Series of Golf victory.
 
His exemption will run out in 2004, leaving the now 46-year-old South African dependant upon sponsors exemptions in order to continue displaying his ever-increasing dead weight on the PGA Tour.
 
There are several players every week 'taking up a spot' with no potential of challenging.
 
Allem may have made it to the weekend, but at least Annika roasted the pig in one round. He opened in 75, four shots higher than the lady he mocked. Perhaps buoyed by ego and trying to avoid the ignominy of being beaten by a girl over two days, he shot 66 Friday, birdieing his final hole to make the cut on the number.
 
Players today tend to forget the entertainment aspect of their job. The million-dollar paydays theyre afforded come courtesy of fans and sponsors. The sponsor wanted Annika to play ' in fact, nearly 10 offered her an exemption into their tournament ' and the fans loved watching every one of her 145 swings. She provided an economic boost to the tournament, and an extensive supply of memories to the viewers ' both falling in that wonderful side-effect category.
 
All in all, Annikas early exit left one major question to be answered: Was her venture a successful one? Most would say yes, Annika among them. And thats the ultimate justification ' at least for one.
 
Because this week was all about Annika.