- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

For the first time in decades, the best female player in golf won't be hitting from the ladies' tees.
Annika Sorenstam yesterday accepted an invitation to play in the Colonial, a hallmark PGA Tour event, and become the first woman in 58 years to compete on the men's tour.
Sorenstam, a 32-year-old Swede, said of why she decided to play against the men: "For all the well-wishers who want to see why I would accept such a challenge the answer is simple: I am curious to see if I can compete in a PGA Tour event," Sorenstam said.
The Colonial will be held May22 to 25 at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, the home course of golf great Ben Hogan and one of the oldest on the tour. Sorenstam will receive one of 12 sponsor's exemptions to enter the event.
Sorenstam is not a household name, but she has dominated women's golf in recent years.
She won 13 tournaments last year, the most by any player in 40 years, and set an LPGA Tour scoring record. She holds 39 LPGA records and is the tour's all-time money winner, with career earnings of more than $11.2million. She has won more tournaments in the past two years than any player, including Tiger Woods. Her record in major tournaments is more modest, however: two wins in six years and four overall.
Sorenstam will not be the only woman to play a PGA event this year. Suzy Whaley, a part-time LPGA player, qualified to compete in the Greater Hartford Open in July by playing tournaments from closer sets of tees. Whaley will be required to play from the longer men's tees at the Greater Hartford Open, as will Sorenstam at the Colonial.
However, the narrow Colonial course, at 7,080 yards, is one of the shortest on the PGA Tour. It rewards accuracy Sorenstam's strength rather than long drives, giving her a better chance at least to be competitive. The longest course on the LPGA Tour this year measures 6,519 yards.
Phil Mickelson, one of the PGA Tour's most prominent players, said he "definitely" expects Sorenstam to make the cut after 36 holes at the Colonial and said a top-20 finish is within reason.
"I'm as curious as anybody to see how the best LPGA player of today, and possibly all time, will play against the men," Mickelson said. "Colonial is a wonderful course for her to do it on."
Woods, the reigning king of the sport, was more cautious.
"I think it's great she's playing, but it will only be great for women's golf if she plays well," Woods said. "If she puts up two high scores, it will be more detrimental than good."
Several other PGA Tour events, including the B.C. Open in Endicott, N.Y., and the Chrysler Classic of Tucson, Ariz., also offered Sorenstam sponsor's exemptions.
"We do not want to make this a sideshow or contribute to a circus atmosphere," tournament chairman Dee Finley said. "We're very excited about this. This should be a real boon for not only us, but all of Fort Worth. She doesn't hit it long by men's standards, but she doesn't need to. She needs to hit it straight, deal with a lot of wind and putt on very fast greens."
Attendance at the Colonial, which averages about 42,000, will not be able to increase much because of the tight confines of the course property. However, a significant spike in TV ratings is likely.
Sorenstam's appearance in the Colonial represents a rare meeting of men and women in sports with a truly competitive and equitable backdrop. Many well-publicized past battles between the sexes, such as the celebrated match in which in-her-prime tennis star Billie Jean King defeated 55-year-old Bobby Riggs in 1973, were publicity-driven exhibitions or had rules modifications designed to aid the women.
Goalie Manon Rheaume played for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning in a 1992 preseason game.
Sorenstam's feat most closely resembles that of Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the last woman to play on the PGA Tour. Zaharias played the 1945 Los Angeles Open and made the 36-hole cut before a final-round 79 eliminated her from contention.
"Regardless of what may be written in the weeks and months to come, this is Annika vs. Annika," said LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw. "It's about Annika challenging herself and breaking down barriers. This sends an empowering and inspiring message to young women and girls everywhere."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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