This week, the golf world revolves around Annika

Originally Published: May 20, 2003
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- This is life on the Annika Tour: Dean Wilson and Aaron Barber, the two PGA Tour rookies whom a computer picked to play with Annika Sorenstam in the first two rounds of the Bank of America Colonial, held their own press conference Tuesday morning.

Annika Sorenstam
APAnnika Sorenstam needs Tigeresque muscle just to make her way through the media pack that follows her wherever she goes.

This is life on the Annika Tour: Ten minutes after Sorenstam concluded her press conference in a room so crowded you could hear the fire marshal sweat, defending champion Nick Price sat down in the same chair and began his press conference. Three-quarters of the chairs were empty.

This, too, is life on the Annika Tour: She hit driver on the 246-yard fourth hole and came up short. She hit driver and 7-wood on the 470-yard par-4 fifth hole and came up short again. Because of her club selections, she will be playing a much different golf course than her competitors.

From the time she arrived at Colonial at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and registered, through the thunderstorm that closed the course for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, until the early evening hours when she completed her practice, all eyes followed Sorenstam.

She is aware of the interest and is trying to cope with it. "Mentally, this is -- I like to compare myself maybe with a mountain climber. This will be Mount Everest for me and I believe I have practiced for this for years. And now I'm here, and I personally feel like I've got nothing to lose. Nobody expects anything from me."

Sorenstam handled the press conference, which she estimated to be two or three times bigger than anything she had seen, with aplomb, a couple of girlish giggles and a dash of dry humor.

"My wedding was not even this big," she said, and then, a little later, added, "I must say I'm a little more nervous this week than I was at my wedding."

Sorenstam reiterated her stance that she came to Colonial to test herself. Asked how she would measure her success this week, Sorenstam said, "In my mind, a successful week is if I can play the best golf that I know how. Under normal circumstance or good conditions on this course, I can shoot level par. Whatever that would place me, I have no idea."

A par score of 140 would make the cut, and Sorenstam initially sounded as if making the cut was her goal.

"Hopefully, I can play the best golf I can on Thursday and Friday, and we'll see what happens," she said.

Later, however, Sorenstam's competitive juices began to percolate. "When I leave here on Sunday," she said, sounding as if she expected to make the cut, "I will know what I've got to work on and I will do that."

Though the complaints against her appearance out here have been well noted, several players went out of their way to make her feel welcome. Sorenstam said she had breakfast with Jeff Sluman, and noted a generous offer of help from Tom Pernice, Jr. for anything she needed.

After she thinned a sand wedge out of the front-right bunker over the seventh green, one of her practice partners, Sergio Garcia, stood with her on the green and explained a bunker shot to her, then walked down into the bunker and hit one himself. Tim Clark and Jesper Parnevik also played the practice round with her.

Wilson, 32, whose only claim to fame before Tuesday may have been as a teammate of Mike Weir at BYU, wore a "Go Annika" button on his shirt at his press conference Tuesday. The lime green button, which he bought in the pro shop -- "Three bucks," Wilson reported -- looked quite sporty on his light blue shirt.

"I think it's great," Wilson said of Sorenstam's appearance at Colonial. "I think having her be here to test her skills against the players on the PGA Tour is a great opportunity for her. I'm excited to be a part of it."

Her most vocal critic, Vijay Singh, decided not to play this week after winning the Byron Nelson Classic on Sunday. Singh said he promised his wife that he would take this week off if he won. Before this season, Singh had won eight times since the beginning of 1997, and played the week after every time except one -- he won the last event of last year, the Tour Championship. This year, he took the week off after he won the Phoenix Open, and again this week.

"I was sad that he is not here," Sorenstam said. "I think that he is such a great player, top seven in the world. I think it's bad for Colonial."

Price, who has been outspoken in his criticism of Sorenstam getting a sponsor's invitation, tried to skirt the issue in his press conference.

"They made a decision to include her in the tournament," Price said, running his hand over his hair as he said it. "And they feel it's the right decision. So my hat's off to them."

Price did wish Sorenstam luck, and estimated that par for her will be 74. "If she shoots what would normally be six, seven, eight under (a "par" 148), she could probably make the cut," Price said. "It will be interesting to see. I'm as interested as anyone to see how well she does."

So is everyone else. Sorenstam has the Tigeresque muscle surrounding her -- a couple of uniformed Fort Worth police, and a couple of PGA Tour security men in black rainsuits, one with a white earpiece. She's not used to having her own security guards, if her solicitous attitude is any measure.

When she finished putting on the practice green adjacent to the first tee Tuesday afternoon, Sorenstam turned to one of the security personnel, told him she wanted to go to the chipping area, and asked, "Is that OK?"

This week, Sorenstam can go wherever she likes. The rest of the golf world will tag along.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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