Remembering Sorenstam's experience at Colonial

By Randall MellMay 20, 2013, 12:15 pm

Annika Sorenstam’s missed cut at Colonial remains the defining moment of her career.

That’s because of the profound way the experience redefined her and the way she will be remembered.

Looking back this week on the 10th anniversary of her PGA Tour appearance at Colonial, Sorenstam is still moved at how those two rounds in Fort Worth, Texas, did more to shape her game and how she carried herself than any of the 72 LPGA titles and 10 major championships she won.

“It was a turning point for me,” Sorenstam told “It’s one of the highlights of my career.”

When she makes public appearances today, Sorenstam, 42, is asked more about missing the cut at Colonial than any other aspect of her Hall of Fame career.

“Ten years later, I still hear new stories surfacing from people who drove from everywhere to be a part of it, who say they were inspired by it,” Sorenstam said. “I hear from parents with daughters who say it really showed them that if they have a dream, they need to follow it. I think people connected with it because they could see themselves, that if they wanted to achieve something, they have to face their fears and take the opportunities that are there for them.”

Annika Sorenstam: Articles, videos and photos

Colonial was Sorenstam’s Mount Everest.

In that respect, even as a missed cut, it was a conquest, but not in the way you might think.

It was never Sorenstam’s ambition to conquer the men’s game. This was all about conquering fear, pressure, doubt and all the other obstacles that stood in the way of taking her game to greater heights.

It wasn’t about making the cut. It wasn’t about making history. It wasn’t about showing the men anything.

Sorenstam says it was about climbing beyond what she dreamed possible.

“It was a time of my life where I was No. 1 for a while, and I was looking for ways to get better because I knew inside I could get better,” Sorenstam said. “I wanted a little extra spark to get me there.”

So, at 32, Sorenstam accepted a sponsor exemption to play the event at Colonial Country Club, the course known as Hogan’s Alley. The decision didn’t come without risk. She would, after all, become the first woman in six decades to tee it up in a PGA Tour event, the first since Babe Didrikson Zaharias played in the Tucson Open in 1945. Predictably, a small furor followed Sorenstam’s decision to play. There was backlash over the idea that a woman was competing against men.

Vijay Singh led the vitriol.

“She doesn’t belong out here,” Singh said at the time. “If I’m drawn with her, which I won’t be, I won’t play.”

Singh did withdraw, even though he wasn’t paired with Sorenstam. Defending champ Nick Price called Sorenstam’s appearance a publicity stunt. Even some of Sorenstam’s LPGA colleagues questioned the wisdom of playing.

“Her quest puts the LPGA in a tough spot,” American tour pro Angela Stanford wrote in a first-person piece in Sports Illustrated at the time. “We have more to lose as an organization than Annika has to gain as an individual.”

Stanford was right. If Sorenstam flopped, it would be a black eye for the entire women’s game.

Annika Sorenstam at Colonial in 2003

Click here or on picture above for photos of Sorenstam at Colonial in 2003.

Looking back today, Sorenstam said she expected some push-back.

“It didn’t faze me a bit,” Sorenstam said. “This was a very unusual situation. It was something no other woman had done in 58 years. I think when there is something new, some people will embrace it, some people will question it, and that’s what happened with some of the players. I wasn’t worried about that.”

Tiger Woods, who occasionally practiced with Sorenstam when they both lived in Orlando, was impressed at the way she handled herself under the kind of scrutiny few players outside Woods experience.

“She was playing so well at the time,” Woods said. “She was winning everything. Her confidence was high, and I thought what she was doing for the sport of golf and for women was absolutely incredible. It took a lot of courage to do that, and to put herself out there on the limb like that, and put herself out there in front of the world to critique, criticize and anything in between. She did it, and she played fantastic.”

Back in Sweden, where Sorenstam grew up, a 16-year-old girl named Anna Nordqvist was riveted watching the Colonial. Nordqvist was still relatively new to the game, having picked up a golf club only three years earlier.

“It was a huge deal,” said Nordqvist, a two-time LPGA winner. “Growing up in Sweden, we didn’t get to see many tournaments on TV, but I remember watching Annika hit her first tee shot and thinking, `Wow, a female athlete from Sweden is conquering the world, dominating the women’s game and playing against the men.’ She was a huge inspiration for me.”

For young women around the world, too.

“I remember thinking how really cool it was,” said Brittany Lincicome, a five-time LPGA winner who also was 16 when she watched Sorenstam play Colonial. “I idolized Annika, and she was inspiring to watch. To have the courage to compete against the men spoke volumes about what a great athlete she was.”

Aaron Barber and Dean Wilson, a pair of PGA Tour rookies, were randomly paired with Sorenstam at Colonial by a computer.

Sorenstam said Barber and Wilson became like brothers to her in those two days. They could still feel the bond when they were recently reunited at Colonial to film a Golf Channel special commemorating the 10-year anniversary. “Go Annika” will air Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.

Looking back today, Barber says Sorenstam’s motivation was misconstrued.

“Everything was so misunderstood right away,” Barber said. “It wasn’t a publicity stunt. I think the people who didn’t rush to judgment and stood back and listened to what she was saying, they understood she was playing for the right reasons. She was just so much better than everyone else in the women’s game, and she just wanted to challenge herself, test herself.”

Barber knew there was no baloney to her stated purpose after she birdied the fourth hole in the first round they played together. She was 1 under and actually on the leaderboard. Barber told her he believed she could compete on the PGA Tour.

“She said, `No, no, no, there’s no chance I’ll play more, no matter what happens this week,’” Barber said. “She said she totally underestimated the kind of circus it would be. When you heard her say that, you knew she wasn’t doing it for the publicity.”

But there was so much publicity.

Sorenstam’s popularity soared. She would make appearances on 'The Tonight Show' with Jay Leno, NBC’s 'Today Show' and CBS’ '60 Minutes.' She was in People magazine and threw out the first pitch at a Mets game.

Barber said the publicity was good for him, too. As soon as word hit that he was going to be paired with Sorenstam, Barber picked up a hat, shirt and bag endorsement deal.

“When we met, Annika apologized for bringing us into this,” Barber said. “I told her she shouldn’t feel sorry for me. I made more money in endorsements because of that pairing than I made the rest of my career.”

Barber played one more year on the PGA Tour after being paired with Sorenstam. Today, he’s a financial planner for Ascend Advisory Group. He’s married with three children ages 10, 6 and 3. Wilson lost his PGA Tour and Tour status but is still working to make his way back.

Sorenstam shot 71 and 74 at Colonial and missed the cut by four shots, but she made it interesting. She got herself on the cut line in the second round before her putter started failing her on her final nine. She tied for 96th, besting 11 men.

Looking back, Sorenstam has more vivid memories of how the tournament began than how it ended. She will never forget the circus that greeted her before her first tee shot (No. 10) in the first round at Colonial.

USA Network went on the air at the crack of dawn to televise her round. Media from around the world were there to document it. Record crowds poured onto Colonial’s grounds.

“I remember all the people,” Sorenstam said. “Rows and rows and rows of people. There were people hanging in the trees, and there were so many cameras.”

And more pressure than Sorenstam ever felt before.

“I knew I was going to give it my best, but I was nervous I might not get my ball on the tee,” Sorenstam said. “I was shaking.”

Waiting to play, Sorenstam turned to her caddie at the time, Terry McNamara, confiding just how nervous she was.

“I have never felt like this,” she told him. “I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into.”

Moments later, she was striping her first tee shot straight down the middle.

“I can still see it,” Sorenstam said. “There was so much adrenalin, I hit it a mile all week.”

Walking off that first tee, Sorenstam playfully let herself go for a moment, intentionally acting as if her knees were buckling with nerves. The galleries in golf had never seen Sorenstam letting go like that before. They loved it. They loved her all week.

That wasn’t lost on Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, who watched on TV. She still remembers Sorenstam’s wobbly walk and smile off the first tee. Lopez saw it as the beginning of a transformation of Sorenstam’s persona.

Shy and almost ruthlessly cold as a competitor, Sorenstam was different at Colonial. She opened herself to fans in a way that she never did before. They embraced her, and she embraced them back.

“Before Annika went to Colonial, she didn’t have the same connection with the fans that she had after Colonial,” Lopez said. “I think a lot of players believe they can’t let go of the moment when they’re playing, that they have to stay focused for 4 1/2 hours. I think Annika was like that, but at Colonial, when she hit that first shot, the crowd reacted to her, and she reacted back.

“And then when she got to the next shot, she was able to concentrate and focus. She saw she didn’t have to be focused every moment on the course. I think she left Colonial with a different attitude.”

Sorenstam left feeling more confident opening herself to the public.

“I learned a lot about myself,” Sorenstam said. “When I first joined the LPGA, and I won the U.S. Women’s Open, the tour was starving for somebody to fill Nancy Lopez’s shoes. I found that very hard. I don’t think anyone can fill Nancy Lopez’s shoes.”

But after Colonial, Sorenstam became more comfortable letting people see who she was.

She also felt a resolve she never felt so fully before.

“I felt like if I could handle this pressure, I could handle any pressure,” Sorenstam said.

After leaving Colonial, Sorenstam won 23 times in 30 months. As a player, she was stronger, and as a personality, she was never more fully developed and sure of herself.

“I talk about the event when I do public speaking,” Sorenstam said. “I talk about how we all come to crossroads in our lives. It might be a career-changing path, or marriage plans, or some difficult medical decision. Whatever it is, it’s easy to fear something will go wrong, but you have to look at the positives and forge ahead. What happened at Colonial made me stronger.”

In that regard, missing the cut didn’t ultimately matter. Sorenstam walked away with what she really wanted in the experience. She left Colonial with immeasurable strength gained.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.