Feel the Pressure


2005 U.S. WomenWhen the LPGA Tour says, These Girls Rock! they really mean it. The message itself is subjective. But what really jumps out is the subject of the message.
In the end, it wasnt a girl who won this week, but a young woman. Still, it was girls, not women, who dominated the landscape of the 60th U.S. Womens Open.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam could feel the pressure in her bid to win the third leg of the Grand Slam.
There were 18 teenagers in the field at Cherry Hills. By comparison, there were none at Pinehurst for the men's Open. Such a discrepancy can only lead to one question: Why do kids, or young adults, fare so very well in womens professional golf as opposed to mens professional golf?
That one question can produce a variety of answers. It could be biological ' that girls physically develop faster than boys. It could be that the depth of talent in the mens game is far greater than it is on the womens side.
Maybe its a bit of both. Maybe its something altogether different. Whatever the reason, or reasons, Im probably not qualified to debate the social and professional well-beings between boys and girls.
But there is one thing I do know. One thing that was as much a storyline this week as was the teeny-bopper explosion. That one thing would be: pressure.
We all know pressure. Weve all experienced it on some level, to some degree.
I feel it just writing this, trying to make a self-imposed deadline. The mind starts to shut down a little, the muscles tighten, the words dont flow as freely.
Pressure is a parasite. It needs us to exist. It is entirely self-induced. We determine how long it lives and on how much of us it feeds.
Others can try and apply pressure to us, but it only attaches if we allow it to do so. If you dont care, it doesnt matter; hence no pressure.
But when you do care, you cant avoid it. Theres no way to deny it. When you want something so badly, you feel the pressure. It just means so much to you.
No one wanted to win this week more than Annika Sorenstam. And because of that, she dealt with the most pressure.
She just wanted it so damn much.
If golf was won week-to-week on ability alone, Sorenstam would never, ever lose an LPGA event. But there are other factors; and none of those factors factor more heavily in a major championship than pressure.
You think youre ready for it? 1973 U.S. Open champion Johnny Miller rhetorically questioned during the telecast. The Sunday of the U.S. Open is unlike any other (round). Its the ultimate gut-check.
And ' pardon the visual, but those figurative insides were strewn across the first few holes this Sunday.
Eight players led or were within two strokes of the lead to start the final round. Only two of them parred (Morgan Pressel and Angela Stanford) the opening hole. Karen Stupples, Birdie Kim and Young Jo bogeyed the first. Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer and Young Kim made double bogey.
Sorenstam started bogey-bogey, and in a dire effort to save her Slam, she just kept making more and more. The dream died in 296 strokes; 77 of which came on Sunday.
Lorena Ochoa entered the final round on the same number as Sorenstam (five back at 6 over), but was in a dissimilar situation.
After a stagnate start, Ochoa played the back nine nearly stress free. Nearly.
Well off the pace and without the burden of pressure, Ochoa birdied four holes from 10-16. That brought her to 3 over, and within one of the lead at the time. That also brought her a terrible amount of tension.
A birdie might have won her the tournament; so, too, just a par. But with all that pressure having jumped her all at once on the tee box, she took a divot the size of Guadalajara with her 3-wood and popped her tee shot into the lake.
I hate to use the word choke, Miller said soon thereafter. But thats what that was.
Ochoa made an ocho. It was just too much.
The pressure was too much for most everyone, not just Lorena and Annika.
Natalie Gulbis had a chance to post the clubhouse number at 5 over, but bogeyed the last. Brittany Lang, a 19-year-old amateur, had a chance to post 4 over, but did the same. The pressure of closing out a major championship ' and a very difficult finishing hole ' got the best of them.
Pressure reduced Michelle Wie from amateur superstar to a 15-year-old who couldnt make a 3-foot putt. The 54-hole co-leader turned in 42 and finished with an 82.
It got the better of Wie on Sunday. But not her playing companion.
No way should Birdie Kim have been able to handle this situation. She made three cuts in 20 starts in her rookie season in 2004. She had only one top-10 in 13 starts this year leading up to the Open.
Her name, which she recently changed from Ju-Yun Kim, was her only distinguishing feature.
Until now. Now, because of how very well she handled the pressure, she is more than just a girl ' young woman ' with a peculiar name. Shes forever a U.S. Open champion.
Pressel was the only other player to handle the pressure equally as admirably as Kim.
It looked like it was going to get the better of her, too. The tempestuous ' and ber-confident ' 17-year-old appeared ready to implode after bogeys on 4, 5 and 6 (she slapped her putter so hard after a poor shot at the fifth, it almost recoiled into her face).
But somehow she composed herself and made only two more bogeys the rest of the round.
She didnt win, but Pressel, the Annika Sorenstam of junior golf, handled the self-examination ' and the pressure ' better than did everyone else not named Birdie Kim. And that includes Michelle Wie. That will only give ammunition to those who feel Wie must first learn how to win before she wins.
But weve already touched on two topics; well save that one for another time.
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