- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

The golf world is setting up Annika Sorenstam for a fall.
It's unquestionably good for the game that the world's No.1 female player plans to tee it up at the Colonial in May. Sorenstam, 32, has earned the right to swap shots and share the stage with the big boys by virtue of her play over the last two years.
Like Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs and Mickey Wright before her, Sorenstam has effectively conquered the shorts and skirts circuit, collecting 18 victories on the LPGA Tour over the last two seasons. During that same span, Tiger Woods amassed a comparatively modest 10 PGA Tour victories. And Sorenstam's 2002 was statistically trans-Tiger in nearly every respect, as she recorded 19 top-five finishes and 11 victories in 23 LPGA starts.
That's right domination is a 5-foot-6 Swede, not a 6-2 Cablinasian.
Thanks to that status as the planet's hottest player, Sorenstam deserves this measuring stick foray into the world of the Y chromosomes.
"If you climb mountains, you want to climb the highest. That's all this is," Sorenstam told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. "This is something I will get one time in my career."
But therein lies the reason why we shouldn't expect a sexual revolution in Dallas. Sorenstam has never experienced anything close to what awaits her at Colonial Country Club, which is why expectations like Phil Mickelson's prediction that she will "definitely" make the cut are both uninformed and unfairly optimistic.
Now, it's certainly true that relative to most sports, perhaps golf provides the best forum for women to compete with men. You can't play defense in golf. And it's clear that finesse and intellect are at least the equals of power on the golf course. Throw in Colonial's bunt-friendly dimensions (7,080 yards with a profusion of sharp doglegs) and conventional wisdom holds that Sorenstam has chosen the perfect site for success.
After all, the last three multiple winners at Colonial, Ben Crenshaw (1977, '90), Corey Pavin (1986, '96) and Nick Price (1994, '02), all are notoriously short off the tee. In the seasons of their most recent victories at Colonial, that trio averaged 259.9 yards. Sorenstam's average driving distance was 265.6 yards last season.
But stopping with that Sorenstam-plugging stat oversimplifies the situation. Colonial might be short by PGA Tour standards, but it's still nearly 700 yards longer than the average LPGA layout. As the fourth-longest hitter on the LPGA Tour last season, Sorenstam has spent her career playing driver-wedge golf. At Colonial, the average par-4 measures 425 yards. A little simple math tells you she'll be forced to play driver-6-iron golf at Colonial.
While nobody would argue that Sorenstam isn't capable of hitting medium irons, even she would concede that she's not accustomed to a steady diet of 165-yard approaches. Unlike Crenshaw, Pavin or Price, for instance, it's simply not her usual game. Switching to a different approach for one tournament is difficult for even the world's best golfers. Consider what happened to Woods when he decided to leave his driver in the bag and attack recent U.S. Open tracks Congressional and Southern Hills with 2-irons off the tees and medium-iron approaches: He wasn't a factor in either major.
Given longer approaches and harder, faster greens than anything on the LPGA Tour, it simply stands to reason that Sorenstam is going to miss some greens. And that's when the real trouble is likely to start for the Swede. Because unlike Crenshaw or Pavin, Sorenstam hasn't staked her career on her short game. She's shoved her share of 5-footers. And despite last season's glories, she finished the year ranked outside the LPGA's top 35 in putting and sand saves.
Asked at last year's Masters if he thought Sorenstam could make a PGA Tour cut, countryman Jesper Parnevik replied, "I really don't think she has the short game for it. Nobody hits 80 percent of the greens out here; you have to be able to scramble. That's not really her strength because it's never had to be. Honestly, I think she might make one cut out here if she played a full season."
Fact is, she isn't going to play a full season. She won't have several months to acclimate to longer, tighter, faster, harder courses and a mid-iron-centric style of play. She'll only have one week to adjust to life on golf's ultimate stage. And thanks to the novelty of her situation, much of that week will be consumed dealing with what will undoubtedly be a Tigeresque media tsunami.
"The real battle for Annika will be getting over the hoopla," Hall of Famer Carol Mann told GolfWeb earlier this week. "It's going to be double, maybe triple, anything she's ever seen."
That is, of course, exactly what Colonial organizers are hoping will happen. It's no coincidence that the Colonial made the most aggressive pitch for Sorenstam's sortie. Every season, the Colonial falls the week after another PGA Tour stop in Dallas, the Byron Nelson Classic. Woods has played the Byron Nelson every season since 1997, winning the event as a rookie and placing no worse than 12th in five appearances since. He hasn't played the Colonial since 1997, unquestionably reducing the event to second-class status in Big D.
For one week at least, Sorenstam's presence should change that perception. Some will whine cynically that she is simply being used as a publicity pawn. But at least the Colonial should put the subject of women and golf back on course after months of Martha Burk-driven nonsense.
As for expectations for Sorenstam, simply understand the obstacles, applaud her attendance and marvel at her daring. Here's an athlete so committed to excellence that she's willing to risk her reputation and expose her ego for little more than competitive curiosity.

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