What did Annika prove? Depends on your perspective

Originally Published: May 25, 2003
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- By now, perhaps, she is coming down from the clouds, catching up on her sleep, thinking about new goals. Annika Sorenstam doesn't have much time to let the love-fest from Colonial linger. She's got an LPGA tournament title to defend this weekend.

Annika Sorenstam
AP PhotoAnnika Sorenstam had her moments, but what did she prove at the Colonial this week?

No doubt, however, she will have a hard time putting the historic week behind her. Not matter your take on the subject, even the most narrow-minded of thinkers would have to admit that Sorenstam showed us something, and should be commended.

Her rounds of 71-74 gained her considerable respect and admiration, if not a spot in the weekend field.

Does that prove anything?

It depends on your perspective. Some believe it was a huge victory for women's sports, and a shot in the arm for women in general. Others will point out that on a course she hand-picked, Sorenstam missed the cut by four shots and finished ahead of just 11 players.

With a controversial sponsor's exemption used so that she could test herself against the best, Sorenstam missed nary a shot during Thursday's opening round and still couldn't break par. Nonetheless, she shattered a widespread perception that she would be embarrassed. She showed an amazing resolve and an ability to perform under extreme duress. Hitting a golf ball with the eyes of the world watching is difficult enough; doing so with such precision was the stuff of legend.

Yet it likely wasn't enough to cause a slew of women to start pitching for invites on the PGA Tour. The courses are too long, the games too divergent for this to become a trend. There might be an occasional player, such as 13-year-old phenom Michelle Wie, who comes along. But it will be rare.

As good as Sorenstam is, she finished last in the field in driving distance and putting. And one leads to the other. Because she was not in position to have short iron shots to the flags, she could never get close enough to have makeable birdie putts. That led to a lot of lag putting, and several three-putt bogeys.

And that meant a rare missed cut for Sorenstam, 32, who has missed just eight in her 10-year career on the LPGA Tour, and only four since her rookie season.

"She's a great player and I'm not taking anything away from what she's done,'' said former Colonial champion Fulton Allem. "But sometimes you've got to dream with your feet on the ground. For any woman to think that she's going to compete against the guys on this tour playing the yardages, the kind of conditions and the golf courses we play, she'll have to pump a lot of iron.''

"
I think most of the guys -- like myself -- when she announced this, there was a little skepticism in how she was going to play. She won me over 110 percent like I think she did almost everybody on our tour.
"
-- Jeff Sluman

Allem was among those critical of Sorenstam's invitation, and although he held an opinion shared by many, some of his comments bordered on asinine, including this absurd assessment: "(If) you're a man ... what would you think if somebody said, 'We're going to give your spot to a woman?' I'm taking nothing away from her. She's a great women's player, blah, blah, blah. But I don't walk around being nine months pregnant.''

Good thing he cleared that up, because Allem sure has a healthy gut obscuring the view of his belt buckle.

Nonetheless, his fears and the fears of many that escalated her appearance into a national debate were unfounded. A sponsor used an exemption as it saw fit, and the best female player in the world benefited. Nobody was hurt, and golf enjoyed widespread attention.

Sorenstam, meanwhile, picked up a slew of fans and received more acclaim for two rounds of golf than she did for winning 11 times on the LPGA Tour last year. PGA Tour veteran Jeff Sluman was among those impressed, and told her so Friday night after she finally completed the last of her interviews.

"It's important to tell her my opinion,'' Sluman said. "I think most of the guys -- like myself -- when she announced this, there was a little skepticism in how she was going to play. She won me over 110 percent like I think she did almost everybody on our tour.''

Two rounds of golf probably aren't enough to prove anything, and Sorenstam insists there will not be another attempt at the PGA Tour. So take it for what it was: an accomplished champion golfer taking on the ultimate challenge, and acquitting herself quite well.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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