From The Back Tees After the heated, and often silly, debate over her playing the Colonial, Annika Sorenstam is at last ready to test herself against the men

May 25, 2003

When Annika Sorenstam arrived at Colonial Country Club this week,
she found a greeting card waiting for her inside locker number
116. The card was put there by the locker's owner, Jeanette
Widmer, a member of the club since 1942 who is lending the space
to Sorenstam while she plays in the PGA Tour's Bank of America
Colonial. "I don't use the locker much, so I figured Annika
should have it," says Widmer, who hasn't played golf since she
fell off a ladder and injured her back five years ago. Widmer
also figured that the locker's location--back row by the
showers--would provide Sorenstam with a modicum of privacy. As
for the card, Widmer says, "I wanted to try to make her feel
wanted."

Seeing as how her life has been devoid of greeting cards and
welcome mats lately, Sorenstam undoubtedly appreciated the
gesture. She knew she was bucking convention when she announced
on Feb. 12 that she had accepted a sponsor's exemption into the
Colonial, making her the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event
in 58 years. But could she have guessed that her decision would
unleash so much small-mindedness?

For instance, Vijay Singh sparked a firestorm last week with a
wholly specious threat: that he would withdraw from the Colonial
if he were paired with Sorenstam during the first two rounds.
Singh, who after winning the EDS Byron Nelson Championship on
Sunday abruptly withdrew from the Colonial, citing fatigue, knew
that as a two-time major winner, he is classified as a Category 1
player by the Tour and would be paired only with other Category 1
players for the first two rounds. Sorenstam, on the other hand,
falls in the lowest class, Category 3, and would be assigned
partners and tee times accordingly. Asked if Sorenstam's LPGA
credentials might elevate her to a higher level, a PGA Tour
official said flatly, "No. She has no status on our Tour."

Sorenstam wanted to play at Colonial because the par-70 course is
shorter and tighter than most PGA Tour venues. (However, at 7,054
yards it's 496 yards longer than the longest LPGA course.) If she
plays well, Colonial might forever be known as the course that's
strong enough for a man but made for a woman. And if she makes
the cut (over the last 10 years, the cut at Colonial has averaged
2 1/2 strokes over par), she'll run the risk of overstaying her
welcome. "The members are excited she's coming, but when it gets
down to it, a lot of them don't want to see her play on the
weekend," says Jeff Elliott, the course superintendent.

There has been grumbling by the club's male membership--"The best
thing about this is that it will all be over soon," says Bill
Hanley, a member of the board of directors--but the female
members are excited. "We're all thrilled she's coming," says
Widmer. "The only reason those men [players] don't want her here
is that she might beat them." Sorenstam generated more goodwill
among the female membership when she played a practice round at
Colonial on March 16. As she was autographing a hat for member
Donna Thompson, someone told her that Thompson had won the
women's club championship 14 times. "You should be signing my
hat," Sorenstam said. Says Thompson, "She was very kind and
gracious to everyone."

If nothing else, Sorenstam is giving the PGA Tour a rare
opportunity to invoke its no-skirts rule. (No shorts, either;
Sorenstam will have to slog through the Texas heat and humidity
in slacks like everyone else.) She'll have around-the-clock
security from Danny Coulson, the Tour's director of security, who
usually provides the same service for Tiger Woods when he plays.
While reporters will technically have the same access to the
women's locker room as they do to the men's, they'll be asked to
leave if Sorenstam doesn't want to answer their questions. The
only other person allowed access is locker room attendant Rose
Howard, whose good humor and attention to detail have made her a
popular figure at the club since she started working there in
1991. Howard has arranged to have a fruit basket prepared for
Sorenstam's arrival and will have fresh-cut flowers brought in
daily. "Annika won't want for anything while she's here," Howard
says. "She's in good hands with Rose."

Sorenstam's participation is viewed as a boon to Fort Worth,
largely because it affords the residents a rare opportunity to
stick it to nearby Dallas. Not only does Dallas usually get top
billing in these parts, but also most years the Colonial is
upstaged by the Nelson. That hasn't been the case this year. "I
go into Dallas all the time for work, and those folks have bad
attitudes," says Clayton Baker, 41, a Fort Worth resident and a
field service manager for Southwest Office System. "They want
things to happen fast over there. Fort Worth people are nicer,
more laid-back."

Many of the people who run the Nelson look down their noses at
the Colonial. "If what they wanted to do was to generate some
interest in their tournament, then they achieved their
intention," says Frank Houseman, a former president of the
Salesmanship Club, which runs the Nelson. "We're not jealous
because it's not something we would have done."

If there's one group in golf from which Sorenstam might have
expected support, it would be the LPGA tour--but she hasn't
gotten universal backing from that quarter either. "I don't see
how this will help the women's tour," says LPGA player Kelli
Kuehne. "If she doesn't make the cut, then people will say, 'See?
She couldn't even compete with a mediocre men's field.' Then
we'll have to deal with the backlash." Beth Daniel, who played in
a few events for the men's team at Furman, calls Sorenstam's
decision "good for golf" but adds, "I'm a big believer in letting
the men play with the men and letting the women play with the
women."

In fact, Sorenstam's PGA Tour plunge isn't likely to change much.
The only other LPGA tour player who has said she would consider
teeing it up against the men is four-time major winner Se Ri Pak
of South Korea. Pak has received no invitations, so the next
domino might not fall until Michelle Wie, the 13-year-old phenom
from Hawaii, is old enough to pursue her stated goal of playing
on the PGA Tour. (Last Thursday, Wie accepted a sponsor's
exemption into the Sept. 18-21 Albertsons Boise Open, a stop on
the Nationwide tour, a feeder circuit for the PGA Tour.) Asked if
he believes Sorenstam's Colonial appearance will start a trend,
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem says, "I don't know. All I know
is that we have one woman playing one tournament one time."

How, then, will this one woman play? Most of the speculation has
focused on Sorenstam's length, and she will probably be at the
greatest disadvantage on her approach shots. Unlike the longer
PGA Tour players, who can get close to Colonial's tucked pins by
hitting short irons with a high trajectory and plenty of spin,
Sorenstam will have to hit a lot of long irons and fairway
metals, which means her approaches will have a lower flight and
less spin. She therefore figures to aim for the middle of the
greens, which are smaller and firmer than the ones she is
accustomed to playing. David Frost, the 1997 Colonial champ, who
played with Sorenstam during the March practice round, says she
will have to play "flawlessly" to make the cut. Judy Rankin, the
LPGA Hall of Famer who covers both men's and women's tournaments
for ABC, is also skeptical. "If she were playing one guy, anybody
can beat anybody," Rankin says. "Playing the field is another
story."

For a truer test of her abilities, Sorenstam would be better off
playing in more than one event. (The PGA Tour allows a player to
accept seven sponsor's exemptions per year.) But she knows she
would be subjected to even more criticism from the PGA Tour
players and be accused of abandoning the LPGA. Sorenstam says she
has no plans to play in any more men's events. "I don't think
people grasp that this is a personal test for Annika," says her
agent, Mark Steinberg. "For anyone to say she's doing this for
publicity is comical, because everyone knows that Annika doesn't
love publicity."

As for how he believes Sorenstam will do, Steinberg says, "I
don't think Annika is dead set on having her score be the
definitive answer on that." But if Sorenstam has learned anything
over the last few weeks, it is this: While she may look at the
Colonial as a personal test, she won't be the only one deciding
whether she passed or failed.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO [COVER INSET] ANNIKA SORENSTAM Fearless NEXT TARGET THE MEN AT COLONIAL COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK PUMPED UP Sorenstam has dominated the LPGA tour, but the Colonial layout presents a tougher set of challenges. COLOR PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES/ICON SMI (DUVAL) COLOR PHOTO: CRAIG AMBROSIO/ICON SMI (NICKLAUS) COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES (NORMAN) COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (WOODS)

WHO SAID IT?

1
"If [Tour players] think she can't make the cut, that's one less
person to beat, isn't it?"

2
"I don't care what your race or gender is. Bring your golf clubs
and go play. I can't imagine five years ago, if Annika had said
she wanted to play on the regular Tour, that she'd be welcome.
Today, I think she is very welcome."

3
"I think she'll definitely make the cut and finish around 20th.
How will I do? I hope 19th or better."

4
"You can't mix oil and water. She's a woman. I'm a man. She's a
great women's player. Blah, blah, blah. But I don't walk around
being nine months pregnant."

5
"I don't think there's a whole lot of shame in getting beat by
the best player on the LPGA tour, but I don't want it to happen
to me."

6
"It will only be great for women's golf if she plays well. If she
puts up two high scores, it will be more detrimental than
good."

7
"If I say she should play, then I look like I have no backbone.
If I say I don't want her to play on my Tour, I sound like a
caveman."

8
"I'm not threatened. Who cares if it's a girl, a little kid or an
old man beating me?"

9
"Maybe we should put men's in front of it and call it the Men's
PGA Tour. I think this should be supported as a men's tour."

10
"[Colonial officials] have made it into a media circus. It reeks
of self-promotion."

____ A. FULTON ALLEM

____ B. JONATHAN BYRD

____ C. CHRIS DIMARCO

____ D. DAVID DUVAL

____ E. MATT GOGEL

____ F. PHIL MICKELSON

____ G. JACK NICKLAUS

____ H. GREG NORMAN

____ I. NICK PRICE

____ J. TIGER WOODS

Answers: 1-d; 2-g; 3-f; 4-a; 5-e; 6-j; 7-c; 8-b; 9-h; 10-i

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)