Like Sorenstam, Patrick did well, regardless of gender

Updated: May 31, 2005, 3:06 PM ET
By Ron Sirak | Golf World

The novelist Herman Wouk once wrote: "Every time I forget I'm Jewish there is an anti-Semite around to remind me."

And so it is with women in the world of athletics. Whether it is Annika or Danica, Paula or Pat, remarkable deeds are predictably greeted by those who try to devalue the deed by reminding us they were accomplished by women. We saw it again last week at the Indianapolis 500. The temptation would be to say Robby Gordon had been breathing too many exhaust fumes, but the fact is his bizarre behavior regarding Danica Patrick's appearance in the 500 is totally in keeping with the knee-jerk reaction of many when women accomplish something in sports.

In case you missed it, Gordon says Patrick has an unfair advantage because she weighs only 100 pounds and thus her car's total weight is less than those driven by heavier men. But it seems that it would be a detriment to be that small when you're trying to control a 1,500-pound car going 200 miles per hour.

And why didn't the issue of weight disparity among drivers come up until it involved a woman? If having a slender person behind the wheel were that important, why haven't team owners been lining up jockeys to drive their supercharged cars?P

We've been down this road before. When Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt got career victory No. 880 to top the all-time NCAA list, some said it didn't count because she won against women. Never mind that Dean Smith beat some patsies while setting the old record of 879 at North Carolina.

When Annika Sorenstam bulked up, some whispered "steroids." But when Tiger Woods put on 45 pounds of muscle he was praised for his work ethic in the gym.

When 18-year-old Paula Creamer won the Sybase Classic just days before her high school graduation, critics said it indicated a lack of talent on the LPGA. But when Sergio Garcia nearly won the 1999 PGA Championship at 19 he was regarded as a gifted burst of fresh air.

How about looking at it this way? Maybe Summitt is a really good basketball coach. Maybe Sorenstam works as hard as any athlete in any sport. Maybe Creamer is a special talent. And maybe Patrick, a rookie who finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500 after leading with eight laps to go, can flat-out drive.

When Gordon says, "I won't race against her until [the governing body] does something to take that [weight] advantage away," he sounds a little like a guy pleading for a gimme. Maybe what Gordon is saying is he needs help to defeat Patrick.

This is not an issue that will go away until mind-sets change. Women will continue to narrow the gap against men in many sports, and golf is probably prime among them. There is no reason why the PGA Tour can't become a truly gender-integrated sports league. That day might be five or 10 years down the road, but there is no reason why men and women won't go head-to-head on the golf course someday.

Michelle Wie, whose next PGA Tour event is the John Deere Classic in July, says she wants to play full time against the men. Even if it takes her 10 years to achieve that goal, she still would be only 25.

Last week at the LPGA Corning Classic, Sorenstam averaged 300.5 yards off the tee. While she makes it clear she has no interest in playing on the PGA Tour again, the great leap in her game since the Colonial (17 wins and seven seconds in 36 events) makes you wonder if Annika could become golf's Danica – and scare the guys into looking for excuses.

Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine

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Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.

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