Mark Kreidler

SPORT SECTIONS
Tuesday, February 11, 2003
Updated: February 12, 5:39 PM ET
Sorenstam's bid an exception, not a precedent-setter




Annika Sorenstam says she has "nothing to lose" by playing in a PGA Tour event, and I couldn't agree with her more.

Annika Sorenstam thinks it would be fun to see how she fares against the guys, so what's wrong with that?

You know what? No one else has anything to lose either. And this time, you don't need Hootie and Martha to debate the fine points. History will serve just fine.

Sorenstam will enter the Colonial in May as a genuine attraction, a very mild sideshow, the source of a fair amount of interest and curiosity and a guaranteed ratings booster for USA and CBS, which will broadcast the event. But it's what Sorenstam won't be that stands tallest in the conversation today.

She won't be a groundbreaker. She won't be the end of the men's tour. She won't be the clarion call that signals a sea change for women competing in men's sporting events.

She'll be exactly what you'd expect Sorenstam to be: A very fine golfer competing against a very tough field, in a good men's tournament, with some fairly long odds against her doing anything overtly historic.

And thanks for coming, folks! That's the entire show, right there.

You'll find no shortage of people over the next few weeks who get their undies in a bunch at the thought of Sorenstam's attempt at a cross-over move, and it's going to be the most misdirected bunch of twaddle to come down the pike in some time. Understand: We're repeating the past here, not inventing a future.

More than 50 years ago, a woman named Babe Didrikson Zaharias made the 36-hole cut at a men's tournament called the Los Angeles Open. It was a pretty big deal at the time, in part because Zaharias was such an incredible all-around athlete -- an Olympian in track and field who also mastered a pool cue, was a top swimmer, basketball, baseball and tennis player. She could place a 7-iron pretty much anywhere around the green she wished, and generally lived the kind of freewheeling, I'll-decide-for-myself life to which only men (at the time) were supposed to be allowed.

And not to point out the readily apparent, but that was 1945. This is 2003. No woman has played in a men's golf tour event in between.

Not exactly the Berlin Wall coming down, was it?

Sorenstam isn't going to do any of what the Babe did, with the possible exception of making the cut in the Colonial. I would hope she would play brilliantly; but even if she did, she wouldn't be out there proving something, nor opening the floodgates to anything, and for a very specific reason: There aren't just a hell of a lot of Annikas out there waiting to break through.

The golf world generally has a difficult enough time learning lessons, let alone remembering them. Some of its most famous denizens fought tooth and nail against permitting Casey Martin to ride a cart during a PGA Tour event, worrying pointlessly over "precedent" while overlooking the prevalent fact of the entire case: Martin was the million-to-one long shot, the player physically afflicted enough to be considered disabled yet great enough as a golfer to reach the cusp of PGA Tour qualification.

It's the same with Sorenstam. She doesn't represent the LPGA, she absolutely dominates it. She won 11 tournaments in the United States last year and finished with the lowest average score per round (68.70) in LPGA history. She's the elite among the elite, not one of the massing hordes.

With all that said, you're still talking about a curiosity here, not an integration. Sorenstam, one of the fiercest competitors I've witnessed on the sports scene in years, thinks it would be "a challenge" to try to take her game against the top male players -- but she's also sensible enough to want to bring that challenge to a place like Colonial Country Club, which is a narrow but comparatively short (7,080 yards) course for a PGA Tour event.

That's Annika's very frank admission that she can't compete on a longer men's course, and what is important here is how little she cares about the implications of that -- and how little anyone else ought to, either. The woman is an awesome golfer who thinks it'd be fun to mix it up with the guys on a shorter track that would give her more equal footing, and that's it. She isn't trying to carve herself out a second career. There just ain't much controversial about it.

There are whispers around golf that the Colonial extended Sorenstam one of its 12 "sponsor's exemptions" to play not because the club members want to, but because the tournament's sponsor, Bank of America, pressured them to do so. If so, this merely points out the screamingly obvious: The major sports continue to be dictated to by their corporate money mills. The B of A may or may not want its name attached to the Sorenstam issue, but even if this is a pure power move by the sponsor, it is fully within its rights to do so.

Sorenstam will be a very interesting diversion from the normal routine on the men's tour, and a great talking point for anyone who loves and appreciates the rigors of the sport.

What Sorenstam won't be is historic, because it's already been done. She's 100 percent right, she has nothing to lose. You'd hope the golf universe spinning around her would come to the same enlightened realization.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com


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