She's not trying to be one of the boys
Perhaps the single most compelling thing about the anticipated rush to martyrdom for Annika Sorenstam -- anticipated, of course, because of the coming to pass of the previously anticipated rush to double-horn demonize Sorenstam by the He Man Woman Hater's Club of the PGA Tour -- is how close to zero percent interest the golfer herself has in the cause.
And it explains, almost entirely, why there is no threat here to the golfin' way of life.
Just to repeat, for Vijay Singh and the clubby chums who've got his back: No ... threat ... exists.
Resume napping. The fairway's still yours.
No threat exists because, no matter what alarmist, sky-is-falling words come flying out of PGA pie-holes over the next few days, Annika Sorenstam doesn't give a fig about fashioning a competitive life on the men's tour. She doesn't care even slightly about breaking down a door. She perceives, with utter clarity, that there is no door.
She is attempting neither to sexually integrate the PGA Tour nor, long-term, to profit by it. She isn't likely to be playing there again anytime soon; she may never play there again. This isn't Erin Brockovich in spikes, storming the gates of the men's game and demanding reform under threat of action. Heck, she isn't even Casey Martin.
What Sorenstam, the finest female golfer on the planet, does care about, and all she has ever cared about, is her own curiosity. What she wondered, at the beginning, when this was only a notion, was how she'd fare against the men, since she's pretty much on the record as having lapped the women's field altogether.
And that's it. That's the whole deal. At age 32, having conquered the LPGA challenge once placed before her, Annika Sorenstam is wondering about the limits of her talent and her physiology. She is, as noted in this cyberspace before, one of the most intensely competitive people in sports. She wants to take it up a notch, if only to find out whether there really is another notch.
Anyone tells you differently about Sorenstam's motivation, he's lying through his tees. That includes Nick Price, who declared the whole thing a publicity stunt (it may be, but not on Sorenstam's part), and it especially includes Singh, who, among his many pellets of widsom sprinkled on the lawn this week, noted, "We have our tour for men, and they have their tour. She's taking a spot from someone in the field."
Well, no. First, it's the PGA Tour, the Professional Golfers Association. Second, Sorenstam is taking one of a dozen sponsor's exemptions from Colonial, an exemption that otherwise would have gone to a tourney non-qualifier, or J.P. Moneybags' errant nephew, or one of the college buddies of one of the stars who'll be playing there next week. The same golfers who oppose Sorenstam's exemption never seem to raise their voices over any of the genuine frauds who occasionally are invited to "round out" the field at these tour stops.
It's interesting that Singh, a dark-skinned, Fijian-born player of Indian descent, fails to grasp the essential irony of his argument that someone else should be excluded from the Tour. Take this discussion back a few decades, and that could be Singh they're talking about, not Sorenstam. But Singh will find reams of support from his fellow men, even if few of them have the guts, or perhaps the pure bad sense, to say so publicly.
Sorenstam isn't completely guileless here, just enough so to win my vote. She can be accused of calculation in one specific area: She accepted the exemption to play a course, Colonial, that is short enough and narrow enough to minimize the damage from her relatively short drives and to reward her consistency in the fairways.
In other words, she's a competitive golfer trying to give herself every chance to play well. If that doesn't qualify her for inclusion for a couple of rounds with the sharks and grinders of the PGA Tour, nothing will.
Sorenstam didn't help herself with that pointless photo spread in Sports Illustrated, the one in which she showed off an athlete's body in much of its glory. (Allen Iverson shows up wearing nothing but his shorts, that's cool. A woman dresses down, that's sexploitation.) But on this subject, she has maintained a remarkably even keel.
And in the end, you have to ask the basic question as it relates to motivation: What's in it for Sorenstam? She is preparing to fly to Texas to play in a tournament in which many, if not a strong majority, of the men in the field do not want her included. She certainly risks public humiliation. She cannot do anything historic, since Babe Didrickson Zaharias walked this road more than half a century ago. And there's always the chance Sorenstam could succumb to pressure, play horribly, miss the cut and walk away from Fort Worth to the sound of barely muffled guffaws.
In other words, she's got the tournament right where she wants it. "I am curious to see if I can compete in a PGA Tour event," Sorenstam said. Get right down to it and that's the only pure story here.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com
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