2003: Newsmakers - Sorenstam squarely in the spotlight

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Orlando, Fla.

Annika Sorenstam won 13 tournaments around the globe last season – 42 times in her nine-year LPGA career – and barely anyone blinked. She announced she’d like to play in a single PGA Tour event, and suddenly the lights are turned up real high and the world is at her doorstep.

Sorenstam’s quest to play against the men has transcended the game of golf since she accepted an invitation to the PGA Tour’s Bank of America Colonial May 22-25.

Sorenstam and her husband, David Esch, were busily tidying up their home at the tony Lake Nona Club in anticipation of visits from “60 Minutes” (Feb. 26) and NBC “Today” co-host Matt Lauer (Feb. 28), who will tape segments for upcoming shows. Time and BusinessWeek also are working on stories.

“It’s exciting,” said Sorenstam, taking a brief mid-day break from a Girl Power Golf Club clinic she and fellow LPGA player and Lake Nona resident Emilee Klein staged for 80 youths Feb. 23. “I think this is good for golf in general. You put golf on ‘60 Minutes’ . . . I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman. It’s golf.”

Esch said that even IMG’s Mark Steinberg, agent for Sorenstam and Tiger Woods, has been overwhelmed by the amount of attention Sorenstam has received.

“It’s really a great thing for women’s golf,” said Klein. “It’s amazing the hype that’s been brought up.”

A year ago, Sorenstam won 11 LPGA tournaments and two more titles on other continents. So how can she possibly improve upon arguably the best season in LPGA history? By gunning for the Grand Slam. To get there, the best player in women’s golf says her pending start at 7,080-yard Colonial Country Club provides the impetus to become a better player.

“I have goals to win all the majors, and you may say, ‘Isn’t that a tough enough step?’ ” asked Sorenstam, who will become the first woman since Babe Zaharias (1945 L.A. Open) to compete in a PGA Tour event. “Well, here (at Colonial), you’re playing with the best. I can see it. It’s something you can feel. . . . It’s another goal, and obviously a much tougher challenge. I’m going to be playing in a different league for one week. It gives me a chance to practice harder. I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to find ways to get better.”

As part of her master plan gearing up for Colonial, Sorenstam will start playing from the back tees on courses such as Lake Nona, which plays more than 7,000 yards from the tips as opposed to about 6,500 yards from the men’s tees she normally plays. She will fly to Texas to play Colonial before tournament week to get an advance look at the course. Back home, she plans to play practice rounds with PGA Tour player Frank Nobilo and Woods. She actually looks forward to the opportunity to break from her mundane driver/8-iron norm on 6,300-yard courses to hit longer irons into greens.

“Those are irons I never use, and that (hitting long irons) is part of the game,” she said. “I don’t know how (Colonial) is going to set up, but even though the (par-4) holes are 450 (yards) and so forth, I’m hitting 4-iron and 5-iron in. It’s not that I can’t reach it.”

Though her PGA Tour focus is solely on Colonial, Sorenstam also told Golfweek she’d like the option of a Plan B if she doesn’t perform up to her standards.

“I know if I play my game, that will be a true test,” she said. “If I go there and I’m nervous and I don’t play the way I can, it’s not going to be a true test. If I don’t play well, I’d like to get another chance.”

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