Skip to comments.Annika Meets the Boys at Colonial [Finishes Day +1]
Posted on 05/22/2003 6:33:00 AM PDT by ewing
LPGA player Annika Sorenstam will be teeing off shortly in a men's PGA event at the Colonial Country Club [the first time in 60 years this has happened]
Live shot for shot coverage as long as she is in contention to make the cut on USA Networks, PGA Radio is free today for those cubicle bound and wanting live update (link included)
TOM FOX / DMN
Driven: How Sorenstam rose to the occasion
FORT WORTH David Esch was working at Phoenix's Moon Valley Country Club in 1994 when he noticed Annika Sorenstam, a year out of college, hitting practice balls on the driving range.
With the LPGA in town, Esch was not particularly impressed with the young pro's swing, or overwhelmed by how far she hit the golf ball.
"Just a cute gal on the end of the range," Esch said.
Seven years later, Sorenstam, now Esch's wife, became the first woman to shoot a 59 in competition. And she pulled off the historic round at the same Moon Valley course. These days, Sorenstam's popularity is ascending to global proportions. The "cute gal on the end of the range" begins her swing at history Thursday at Colonial Country Club, the world watching the first woman in 58 years play a PGA Tour event.
That she will compete against the men at the Bank of America Colonial has created waves of interest and debate. She has appeared on 60 Minutes, the Today show and The Tonight Show. Her face has appeared on the cover of news, sports and fashion magazines, newspapers and even the supermarket tabloids.
The shy Swede who used to intentionally finish second in amateur events to avoid making victory speeches finds herself swirling in the center of the sports universe. Inquiring minds want to know everything about Annika, whose first-name recognition almost rivals that of the most famous male golfer.
"I'm in an environment I'm not really used to," she said. "I'm still overwhelmed. I can't believe all the attention, and it's funny that suddenly everybody is an expert on my game, and some of them have never seen me play."
Sorenstam's quest has transformed the quaint course along the Trinity River into a hotbed of activity. Hogan's Alley is practically drowning in a sea of mini-cams and sound bites. The tournament has issued 603 media credentials, up from 178 last year. Not even Tiger Woods garners this much attention.
With 43 LPGA victories, Sorenstam has made headlines throughout her career but never anything resembling what she has generated since February, when she accepted a sponsor's invitation to Colonial.
Last year, she became the first player man or woman in 46 years to win 11 tour events in one season, also winning twice overseas. Her dominance left Sorenstam ready for a new challenge.
After Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley qualified for the PGA Tour's Greater Hartford Open, which will be played in July, Sorenstam was asked by a reporter in January if she would ever consider playing against the men. She said she would jump at the chance.
A cause, only for others
Sorenstam's quest has been portrayed as a social cause. But she downplays its significance on those terms. She maintains she is not doing this to bolster the LPGA, or to shine a light on women, but wants only to see how she measures against the world's best.
Still, she has received more attention for this one week than for all her LPGA accomplishments.
"I'm looking for ways to get better," she said. "I believe inside that I can still be a better player. I figured this was really pushing me to work harder, to see if I can play my best game under really tough circumstances."
In becoming the first woman to compete in a PGA Tour event since Babe Didrikson Zaharias at the 1945 Los Angeles Open, Sorenstam has received support and criticism.
PGA Tour player Vijay Singh has been the most outspoken against her, saying he would withdraw if he got paired with her and that he hoped she missed the cut. Singh softened his stance last week, but then announced after winning the EDS Byron Nelson Championship in Irving that he would not play Colonial. He and other players said Sorenstam was taking a spot away from a man.
Knowing that some players do not want her here adds to Sorenstam's challenge. It seems daunting enough that Colonial's 7,080-yard, par-70 layout measures about 600 yards longer than most courses she plays.
"I'm proud of Annika for wanting to do that," said Patty Sheehan, a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame. "It's great for golf. It's great for little girls, that they can look up to Annika and strive to be as good as she is, to have the guts to do something like that. I mean, that takes a lot of guts."
It took a lot more than guts for Sorenstam to reach this stage. While growing up in Bro, Sweden, outside Stockholm, she excelled in tennis for eight years, downhill ski racing, volleyball and even badminton. Her younger sister, Charlotta, also plays on the LPGA.
Sorenstam swung to golf at age 12, playing amateur events and joining the Swedish national team in 1987. In 1992, she was the World Amateur champion, runner-up at the U.S. Women's Amateur and the second-best amateur at the U.S. Women's Open.
"I've slowly gotten used to her determination," said Pia Nilsson, former Swedish national team coach. "She was one of a group of maybe six junior girls in Sweden. All were promising, but she wasn't normal. When she was around 20 or so, something in her was even stronger, more stubborn, more disciplined. She has worked at nurturing her motivation."
Answering the challenge
Sorenstam was good enough to become the LPGA's top-ranked player, taking two U.S. Women's Open titles after winning LPGA rookie of the year in 1994. But even though she kept winning, rival Karrie Webb, with 13 victories over two seasons, replaced her as No. 1 in the LPGA rankings in 1999 and 2000.
After the 2000 season, Sorenstam decided to do everything she could to regain her throne.
She began a rigorous fitness program, adding muscle and agility to her 5-6 frame and gaining 20 to 25 yards off the tee. Soon, Sorenstam was overpowering her peers. She set or tied 30 LPGA records while winning eight times in 2001, becoming the first woman to surpass $2 million in single-season earnings. She followed with an 11-win season last year.
"She sets such high goals for herself, she just believes that anything is possible," said Liselotte Neumann, who took over from Nilsson in blazing the trail for Swedish golfers with 10 LPGA victories from 1988 to 1996. "She's not afraid of anything."
Sorenstam's intense drive separates her from others. Esch sensed that stubborn determination early in their relationship.
"Over the years, I've seen the commitment," he said. "When we first started dating, she told me I would have to understand that golf is No. 1 and if I was going to be her partner in life, I would be No. 2. A few years later, she changed that one for me."
Her workouts on the road sometimes draw a crowd, with people asking Esch why she doesn't do less during tournament week.
She became so interested in cooking that she spent six weeks last off-season working as a volunteer chef at her home course, Lake Nona Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. Going to culinary school is a dream of hers, something she plans to pursue when her playing days are over.
If they are snowboarding, Sorenstam wants to beat Esch. If they are playing a friendly game of golf, she wants to beat her husband. Cards and chess matches are hotly contested.
"We don't play chess anymore," Sorenstam said, laughing. "I lost the last time we played, and I don't know if we can find all the pieces. I don't like to lose."
Some fun on the side
Sorenstam's shyness and narrow-focused dedication often make her appear standoffish, even robotic.
But she also has fun donning the apron and creating Italian dishes from scratch, finding recipes for sauces and taking special care with the presentation.
"We have fun here and there," Esch said. "Practice and golf are fun to her, and since we've been going to the gym together, that's fun for us, too. Yeah, we're working, but we're enjoying it. It's not like we're committing to that and sacrificing everything else."
With the Hall of Fame selection already in her pocket, and little else left to prove on the LPGA, Sorenstam gives herself about two more years of fulltime playing. She and Esch would like to start a family.
Until then, she is working on things she can tell her grandchildren.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. "I know it's going to be an historical week."
Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/latestnews/stories/052203dnspoannikasider.16999.html
Also read that Anika and Tiger have the same agent so his touting her is based on something less than pure....LOL....it is a business after all!
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