Expectations no match for champ and teen

June 13, 2005|By David Steele

GO FIGURE. The golfer who should have felt the least pressure yesterday felt a ton of it. The golfer who, it appears, did feel the least, was the teenager, the one so many thought didn't belong there.

Pressure makes you do and say crazy things, especially during major championships. It also tells you a lot about yourself. What it said about Annika Sorenstam this weekend at the LPGA Championship, is that she has a different definition for the word than everybody else.

What it said about Michelle Wie is that she sort of knows what it means, but that it applies to others, not to her.

In light of this, it shouldn't have been a surprise to see Sorenstam and Wie out ahead of everybody at tournament's end. No other player at Bulle Rock Golf Course this weekend had a greater weight of expectations on her than those two. But they had brought those expectations on themselves, and they proved they were worthy of them, and more.

Sorenstam had to confess to pre-round butterflies before anyone suspected she had them. "I can probably name 10 things I was nervous about," she said. She named a few. None was very convincing.

"I think it's more that there's a reality that you might win, the fact that it could be yours," she said.

Crazy. She's the one who had said, out loud for all to hear and scoff at, that she wanted to win the Grand Slam, which explains why the pressure she felt "was not just from myself, but from everyone." Putting the idea out there and then living up to it is a risk most would never even try.

Yet the hard work already had been done: As all this torment was going on inside her, she was building a five-shot lead, and the so-called contenders were already shriveling up in her wake. By the time she hit the final nine holes of the tournament, her lead was eight. She could have kicked the ball the rest of the way and still won.

Everybody in her vicinity over the weekend - Natalie Gulbis, Laura Diaz, Laura Davies, yesterday's playing partner Young Kim - gradually faded from view amidst the broiling heat, the baked greens and the numbing truth of Sorenstam's superiority.

As legit competitors, none was a match, in Sorenstam's mind, for the enormity of her accomplishment: a third straight LPGA, the halfway mark of the Slam quest, a ninth career major title.

But at least she wasn't feeling the pressure of her own fellow players wishing she'd stayed home and acted her age and left the LPGA Championship to the grown-ups.

Come to think of it, though, Wie didn't feel that either.

"I'm pretty used to people not wanting me at tournaments by now," she said, without even the junior high giggle that accompanies much of what she says publicly. "I really don't want to prove anything to anyone."

OK, but she must have felt some nerves, with the extra scrutiny and the whole business of being The Next One. Didn't she spend much of Round 1 nauseous?

Yeah, Wie said, but insisted it really was just too much of her mom's cooking and too much of that choice Maryland humidity. "My energy level was back up to normal [yesterday]," she said.

While sick, she shot a 69 Thursday. With a more settled stomach, she shot another 69 yesterday. Over the last 16 holes yesterday, she was bogey-free, and she was the only player to shoot under par all four rounds.

More important, she made up ground on the runaway leader, something none of her wiser, more envious elders could. The 15-year-old with the upset tummy showed more heart and composure than the rest of the field, with one exception.

"I was trying to make a run for her money," Wie said.

About time somebody did, even if the gesture was futile from the start. Apparently a few colleagues did better running their mouths about where Wie belonged than they did running down Sorenstam.

Naturally, when Sorenstam saw the young heir apparent sneaking up the board - and, the champ admitted, she did far more scoreboard-watching than usual - she didn't feel any more nerves than she already had. It was more like pride in what she called "the future." (That included Paula Creamer, another teenager, who also upstaged her older peers with a 67 to share third place.)

But Sorenstam was quite clear in separating what she felt from what Wie experienced.

"I'm not going to compare my results to hers," she said. "I think I was under totally different pressure. This is what I wanted. I came here and I won."

And she wasn't going to let some baby-faced upstart, full of "you-knows" and "likes" as well as monster drives and steely nerves, get in her way.

Then again, Wie would love to feel whatever Sorenstam was feeling as she stood on the precipice of history.

"Her goals are really high, and that's something I admire," she said. "But, you know, I'm trying to go for one major, too. So maybe she can win three."

And she giggled.

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