2001: Perspective - True fans say ‘Bollocks!’ to Bighorn

Sunningdale, England

This game never ceases to confuse and amaze. I turned up at Sunningdale for the Weetabix Women’s British Open to watch what I thought was the game’s newest major championship, only to find out that the tournament ranks fifth in status behind the U.S. Women’s Open, The Nabisco Championship, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and something called the Battle at Bighorn.

Golf has been seeking a fifth major championship for years. Seems the Women’s British Open is it. At least it is in the eyes of Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb. They placed more importance on taking part in the Battle at Bighorn than they did on taking part in the game’s newest major.

Of course the Battle at Bighorn included Tiger Woods and David Duval. Webb teamed with Duval and Sorenstam paired with Woods in a foursomes match at Palm Springs. Woods and Sorenstam earned $600,000 each. Duval and Webb won $250,000 each.

The Battle at Bighorn must be a major championship. Sorenstam’s check was $80,000 more than Webb won for lifting the U.S. Women’s Open. It was nearly $380,000 more than Se Ri Pak earned for winning the Women’s British Open. Just don’t look for the result in any future golf record book. It won’t make even a line, and rightly so.

Since when did a meaningless exhibition match take precedence over a major?

Palm Desert, Calif., is 6,000 miles away from Sunningdale, England. The match finished in darkness and Webb and Sorenstam then hopped on a plane and took a 12-hour flight to London, including a fuel stop in Maine, and arrived in Sunningdale at 7:30 Tuesday evening. Throw in eight hours of jet lag, the fact the match was played in strong winds on a desert course miles from Sunningdale’s classic heathland layout, and presto, you’ve got the ideal preparation to try to win a major.

Can you imagine Woods or Duval agreeing to such a match the week of a major?

No way. There is no chance of Woods or Duval agreeing to play even if it was on a course next door to the major.

Sorenstam and Webb were like zombies Wednesday morning at Sunningdale.

“Where am I?” asked Sorenstam at her pretournament news conference. “I’m very tired. It’s been a long flight, a long day. I need some rest, a proper meal, some proper sleep.” She should have added “and a proper practice round.”

Webb’s response: “I don’t know how to feel. I just know the sun’s up so I’ve got to be awake and play golf.”

Both played in the pro-am. That constituted their only practice round. Do you think Woods or Duval would turn up for a major and only play one practice round, and a pro-am at that? No way.

“Normally I come early, especially when I’m coming overseas, just to get adjusted to the time, the weather and so forth,” said Sorenstam, who finished tied for 32nd. “I’m not getting here until the last minute, and I’m going from different weather and to a totally different golf course. So no, it’s not the best preparation.”

“I’d say that’s a pretty fair statement,” agreed Webb.

Nevertheless, both steadfastly defended their decision to play in Palm Springs.

“It was well worth it,” said Sorenstam. “I had a great time on Monday. I don’t regret it at all.”

Webb had a similar take.

“I knew it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play on Monday,” said the Australian, who tied for 15th. “I feel like I’ve got plenty of British Opens ahead of me. I won here in 1997, so I feel good about playing here. I wasn’t going to give up the opportunity to do what I did.”

Bollocks! as we like to say on this side of the pond. Absolute bollocks! The thing about major championships is that there are only four a year. There will be plenty more opportunities to play in meaningless exhibition matches. We’ve still have the whole silly season ahead of us, for goodness sake.

The two women should have told the organizers to get lost as soon as they found out the dates and the logistics of getting from Palm Springs to Sunningdale. After all, Sorenstam was going for her second major of the year, while Webb had a chance for her third consecutive major – how many chances do you get to do that during a career?

To be fair to Webb, she was in contention, while Sorenstam was never in the hunt. We can only wonder how they would have performed if they had given the Women’s British Open the respect it deserved. The tournament deserved at least that from the two top players in the women’s game.

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