Sorenstam's story waiting to unfold

Updated: July 5, 2005, 11:34 AM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

True, you can't make up the Michael Campbell story, which is why it is so delightful.

But on the women's tour, going into the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, you don't want to.

That is, unless you're really open-minded.

There are, of course, lots of stories on the LPGA Tour, many of them either under-told or not told at all. Paula Creamer jumps immediately to mind, and so does Lorena Ochoa, and Dorothy Delasin, and Rosie Jones, and on and on.

But given that this is America's year to catch up to Annika Sorenstam, a Michael Campbell story just won't play as well for the casual fan.

Which is probably fine. I mean, why not celebrate the golfer who comes out of nowhere and is so overwhelmed by victory that she can barely describe it?

But given that Sorenstam is the LPGA Tour's prime directive, and given that she is having the year that made Tiger Woods Tiger Woods, the greater sentiment is to see if she can Slam, and codify for all time – for people who normally don't pay attention to such things – her singular gifts.

I mean, Tiger was Tiger before the Tiger Slam, but the Tiger Slam put him out of reach for even Tiger. And here, on the women's side, is where we find Sorenstam today.

She is such the dominant player that one is drawn to the chase for ultra-Annika in the same way casual fans were drawn to the 72-win Chicago Bulls, or the 125-win New York Yankees, only without the ancillary loathing for Jerry Krause or George Steinbrenner.

You want to care about Michelle Wie, Creamer and the rest of the field playing on the kind of course that punishes all the most precise players, but in the back of your web-encrusted brain, what you really want to see is just how high Sorenstam can fly, just how long she can laugh at the gravity of big-time golf.

And how long the rest of the tour has to wait.

The PGA Tour didn't wait all that long. Woods scared the rest of the tour for awhile, maybe through the middle of 2001, until Phil Mickelson stopped trying to draw gutshot straights on every hole, until Vijay Singh became an even more fanatical preparation junkie, until the rest of the tour realized that there is still room at the top.

And every once in a while, as a result of the tour's trying to catch up to the tiny speck on the horizon, you get Michael Campbell.

The LPGA is not there yet, at least not so anyone can tell. The tour has been divided into Sorenstam events, and non-Sorenstam events. In fact, few people refer to her as Sorenstam any more. Just Annika, as in, "Did you see Annika shot 66 again today?"

There is still room for her to rise, you see. She has her Grand Slam goal in sight, and there is no foil for her – yet. She is still determining how much distance there is between her and the field.

Which is why she is the tale du jour at the Open this week in Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

People love the underdog, when you ask them. But when confronted by peerless talent, skill and perfection, those same people want to see just how high is high. They want to see if Sorenstam has the Slam in her, and if not, whether the person who beats her has the staying power to make the LPGA a two-woman show, or a three-woman show.

In other words, if they can't have Sorenstam alone, they want to see who the women's Singh is, or the women's Mickelson. But first, they want to see Sorenstam run her course, or run the course she's on.

Thus, the Open will help provide us a more tempered metal template for Sorenstam. She may be playing against the field, and then against herself, but she is also playing against the nation's expectations for her. She has hyped her game by playing it at such a preposterous level that she stands breathtakingly alone. She is Tiger 2K, and everyone wants to see just how long, and far she can go.

Because one day, there will be a women's Michael Campbell, and it will be a delightful tale – especially when placed against the legend of Annika Sorenstam, The Woman Who Owned The Field.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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