While Singh spouted, fellow pros stuck to silence

Updated: May 14, 2003, 1:55 PM ET
By Jim Litke | Associated Press

Two questions immediately came to mind after reading Vijay Singh's ''she-doesn't-belong-out-here'' rant about Annika Sorenstam.

No. 1, how long was Singh's mouth running before he realized his brain wasn't engaged; and No. 2, how long would it take his lodge brothers, many of whom had been saying the same things in private for weeks, to step forward in a show of solidarity?

The answer to the first question is one day.

The answer to the second is never.

Given a chance to think things over, Singh tried a slightly different tack Tuesday. No matter how his words a day earlier sounded, he insisted his objection was mostly a matter of principle. He didn't mind Sorenstam playing next week's PGA Tour stop at Colonial because she was a woman as much as her entry into the field coming through a sponsor's exemption instead of qualifying.

Given that same chance to reflect, however, all but a few of his fellow pros stuck to their vows of silence.

Some surprise.

Golfers, generally speaking, are a cautious, contented lot. Most think change is good only insofar as it applies to their woods and irons, and that asking a tournament sponsor to upgrade a courtesy car qualifies as a political statement. Too many would rather count the grains of sand in a bunker rather than answer a question about anything other than club selection, especially one that might cost them an endorsement.

''You'd better measure your words,'' five-time tour winner Rocco Mediate said on ESPN, ''or you'll get smoked.''

Several other veterans interviewed last week for the same Outside The Lines show estimated that resistance to Sorenstam bending the gender barrier was running as high as 70 percent. Getting most of those objections on the record was another matter.

Defending champion Nick Price, who previously said the LPGA star's participation ''reeks of publicity,'' was quoted as saying that the legendary Ben Hogan, around who much of tradition at Colonial swirls, ''would be rolling over in his grave.''

Acid-tongued Scott Hoch predicted again that Sorenstam's scores would prove how wide the gap between the sexes was. In terms of criticism, that was about it.

The list of those voting yea -- at least publicly -- wasn't much longer. David Duval said her presence among the boys would be ''spectacular.'' Fellow Swede Jesper Parnevik said if she kicked his butt, ''fine.''

Fred Funk laid out his fellow pros' worst nightmare: ''The most pressure ever would be if you got into a playoff against her and you lost.''

Chances are slim Sorenstam will be around that long.

She played a practice round in March over the 7,080-yard, par-70 Colonial layout and reportedly made only one birdie. CBS Sports, which will televise the tournament, said it will devote an extra hour to Saturday's telecast to show Sorenstam playing the third round -- or highlights of her missing the cut.

Las Vegas oddsmakers left little doubt which they thought it would be. The over-under for each of her first two rounds was set at 76.5. That would put Sorenstam at 153 -- 10 strokes worse than last year's 36-hole cut of 3-over-par 143.

Besides, soon after accepting the exemption, Sorenstam said this was likely a one-and-done deal. Colonial was one of very few tour stops she would even consider playing against PGA pros.

''On 95 percent of the courses where they play, I'd have no chance, where strength and power is so important,'' she said.

All that makes you wonder what the men are so afraid of. Instead of worrying about Sorenstam butting into their club, Singh & Co., should welcome her for the week -- or however long she sticks around. Sorenstam will put more money in everyone's pockets by juicing the ratings and selling more tickets, even if it means sacrificing somebody's spot for this one tournament.

If they're so upset about how she got in, then let the boys raise their voices and lobby to end sponsor exemptions altogether. Make everybody qualify -- and then only qualified golfers would get in.

The Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, is an invitational with a limited field.

Shaking things up isn't always bad.

PGA Tour rules never stipulated that only men could play, but as late as 1961, those same rules contained a Caucasians-only clause, which meant that guys like Singh and Tiger Woods, no matter how qualified, wouldn't ever have had a shot at playing, let alone winning.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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