Sorenstam to play in PGA Tour's Colonial

She'll be first woman in men's circuit event since Zaharias in 1945

February 13, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The most dominant player in professional golf last season has accepted an invitation to the PGA Tour's Bank of America Colonial in May.

That might be big news if Tiger Woods were going back to the Texas tour stop after being absent since 1997. It's bigger news because Annika Sorenstam will be coming to play on Ben Hogan's old stomping grounds.

Sorenstam, the 32-year-old Swede who won 11 events on the LPGA Tour last year and 13 worldwide, yesterday accepted a sponsor's exemption to Colonial and will become the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event since 1945.

The choice from among a number of tournaments offering Sorenstam a spot in their fields was not surprising, considering that the 7,080-yard course at venerable Fort Worth club is one of the shortest on the PGA Tour.

Sorenstam was reportedly offered an exemption into the Chrysler Classic of Tucson later this month and also has been approached about playing in the B.C. Open in July and the Bell Canadian Open in September.

"There were many invitations, but the golf course and schedule of the Colonial were ideal," Sorenstam said in a statement. "For all the well-wishers who want to know 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."

Said Jim Thigpen, president of Colonial Country Club, "Our course has provided a great platform to showcase the world's best players for more than 50 years, and we look forward to having a future Hall of Famer such as Annika compete at the Colonial."

LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw, whose organization has been hungry for headline-grabbing news the past few years, realizes that Sorenstam playing in a PGA Tour event should generate more attention for the LPGA than anything in recent memory, including the 59 that Sorenstam shot at Phoenix in 2001.

"It is wonderful that the Bank of America Colonial wants to also showcase Annika's immense talent, to share with fans, sponsors and players alike how very special her game and drive to succeed are," Votaw said in a statement.

"We completely support Annika's decision to accept an invitation to compete at the Bank of America Colonial."

Sorenstam's appearance on the PGA Tour in late May means she won't play in the LPGA's Tour stop that week in Corning, N.Y., an event that is celebrating its 25th anniversary but one in which she hasn't played since her rookie year.

Votaw understood why Sorenstam has decided to possibly risk her reputation as one of the world's greatest players - male or female - for a chance to compete against PGA Tour players on their turf.

"It's about Annika challenging herself and breaking down barriers, never stopping in her quest to improve and test her abilities," said Votaw.

In an interview yesterday with The Los Angeles Times at her home club in Orlando, Fla., where she lives, Sorenstam said, "This is something I will get one time in my career. I'm someone who loves challenges, and an opportunity arose for me.

"If you climb mountains, you want to climb the highest. That's all this is."

Sorenstam will be the first female player to compete in a PGA Tour event since the legendary Babe Zaharias made the cut in the 1945 Los Angeles Open. A third-round 79 knocked Zaharias out of the tournament.

Michelle Wie, a 13-year-old from Hawaii, failed in her attempt to qualify for this year's Sony Hawaiian Open. Suzy Whaley, a club pro from Avon, Conn., qualified for the Greater Hartford Open in July by winning a PGA sectional event last fall.

"I would certainly advise her that if that's what she wants to do, she should go ahead and do it," Whaley recently told The Miami Herald when asked about the possibility of Sorenstam also playing in a PGA Tour event. "And I'd like to talk to her when she's done and say, `How was it?' "

Tiger Woods, who has not played at Colonial since his rookie year, had encouraged Sorenstam to try playing in a PGA Tour event on a course that will not make her distance off the tee such a disadvantage.

"If she takes the right course, maybe Colonial or Milwaukee or courses like that, she's got a great chance of playing well," Woods said earlier this month. "The only downside is if she plays poorly, and that's one reason I think if she's going to do it, she's got to be committed to playing more than one.

"She can't just have one and she's out because there's too much pressure on her if she fails. If she plays well, then it will obviously be an overwhelming success, but the downside can be pretty great, as well."

There has been a decidedly mixed reaction from her peers on the LPGA Tour as well as those on the PGA Tour leading to yesterday's announcement.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see her do well," said David Duval. "She hits it farther than people imagine, straighter than I've ever seen. I wish I could hit the ball that straight. It's impressive."

Said Kelly Kuehne, a Texas native familiar with Colonial: "I think there is more for her to lose than there is for her to gain. If Annika plays well, do I think she can contend and win? No, I do not. Do I think she can make the cut? Absolutely.

"But I don't think anyone is going to remember who finished 30th or 50th. If Annika goes and finishes 50th, people are going to say, `Annika's not that good. She can't even finish Top 10 with the big boys.' That's my worry."

Sorenstam doesn't seem concerned.

"I'm just going to have a good time," she said yesterday in Orlando. "People are always going to say, `Why are you doing this?' I'm not trying to put women's golf on some stage. I'm not trying to beat anybody else to the punch. That's not the point.

"This is my career. It's going to make me practice harder and hopefully elevate my game to another level."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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