2003: Perspective - Sorenstam all set to ‘step right up’

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The nationally ranked Fort Worth Zoo is across University Boulevard from nationally ranked Colonial Country Club. The zoo is home to thousands of native and exotic animals. The country club is home to Ben Hogan’s medals, scores of red plaid jackets and one of the most historic tournaments in golf.

This May will be different, though. This May the zoo goes up against the circus. Lions and tigers and Sorenstams.

Oh, my.

Annika Sorenstam is coming to town. That means Colonial turns into a big top. For the week of May 19-25, it will be P.T. Barnum’s PGA Tour, not T.W. Finchem’s. “Step right up! See the little lady slug it out against the men! Don’t miss a minute of it! Get your snake oil and tattoos right over there!”

For years guys have gone to the Colonial tournament to drink margaritas and check out the senoritas, many of them dressed like Daisy Duke, heels included. This time they’ll pour in to check out a soft-spoken Swedish female dressed in a polo shirt and khaki slacks and golf spikes. This time they’ll look inside the ropes at the chick of the moment.

This won’t be Rico Suave’s Colonial.

This is a good thing, of course. It is good because golf is buzzing again, back on the front page, back on the evening news, back with a development that transcends the game and overshadows Phil Mickelson’s backpedals.

Buzzes are good. Golf buzzes, beer buzzes, wine buzzes, high-on-life buzzes, romantic buzzes, spiritual buzzes, food buzzes, entertainment buzzes, music buzzes – they keep us from boredom. Even zoo buzzes. Here’s to buzzes, any that are legal and don’t involve bees, alarm clocks and emergency alerts.

This spring, of course, will be big for golf electricity. First the Masters circus, then the Colonial circus. The megaphone and soapbox are golf’s new symbols. To think these green and plaid jacket events used to be known as invitationals. To think these tournaments used to focus on men, not two women.

The last six years golf has leaned on Tigermania. Now he shares the marquee, which is good for everyone. Variety is healthy.

After the Hootie-Martha-Tiger-Jesse Masters passes in April, curiosity over how Sorenstam will fare at Colonial will heighten. This will be nothing if not the Curiosity Colonial. That’s the beauty of this exercise.

Will she make the cut, as Babe Zaharias did at the 1945 Los Angeles Open, the last time a woman played in a Tour event? Will she contend? How will she handle all the pressure and fuss? Will she make a positive or negative statement for women’s golf? Will her short game measure up?

“I don’t think anybody really knows,” Sorenstam said after receiving one of Colonial’s 12 sponsor exemptions. “That’s what makes this exciting.”

Some or all of those answers will come May 22-23. Maybe more will come May 24-25. Until then, speculation will run rampant, if it hasn’t already.

Mickelson predicted she’ll finish about 20th. Jack Nicklaus said she’ll make the cut and, if she’s on, place in the top 20. Those two forecasts might be a stretch, but for sure they are high praise of Sorenstam.

To make the cut in the field of about 120 players, she will have to beat about 50 guys. Last year, 3-over-par 143 qualified for the weekend. That would seem do-able for someone who once shot 59 at Moon Valley in Phoenix, who averaged 68.70 on shorter LPGA courses last year, who won 13 times around the world in 2003.

Answer this: How many PGA Tour players would have won 13 women’s tournaments last year from her tees? Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Mickelson, but how many more? If your answer is less than 70, then perhaps you are figuring she’ll make the Colonial cut.

Sorenstam already has taken a step to enhance her chances of success. She picked the right course, the one that best suits her game. As she said, she wouldn’t have a chance on 90 percent of PGA Tour courses.

That is not to incur the wrath of macho Fort Worth and label 7,080-yard Colonial as the “course the girl can play.” Rather, that is to say Colonial is more about ball-striking than ball-bombing because it is firm, fast, tight and doglegging. Hogan’s Colonial is about maneuvering and controlling a golf ball, and accuracy is the strength of Sorenstam’s game. And one more thing: It might be wise to view Sorenstam as a world-class, once-in-a-generation golfer, not as “the girl.”

Corey Pavin, a master shaper, has won Colonial twice. It so happens statistics say a bulked-up Sorenstam averaged about 7 more yards off the tee last year than Pavin. Draw your own conclusions.

She’s long enough. Her best drives go 280-290 yards. Her success or failure will be linked more to how she deals with extreme pressure and outside influences than the length. Though she doesn’t view this as carrying a torch for women, she will be.

“I’m doing this solely as a test for me,” Sorenstam said. “I love the challenge. I’m not afraid. I hope to concentrate on what I’m doing and not get too nervous.”

She might want to use her wrap-around sunglasses as blinders, too. Not all PGA Tour players are enamored of her Colonial exemption. Some lower-rung pros see it as a spot being taken away from them. “A travesty,” one veteran Tour player said.

So this will be a test for the men, too. Will they beat her? Will they rise above schoolyard banter and welcome her in a polite way? Will the male public react in an evolved way? Will a Bubba redneck factor in the gallery infect her environment?

Answers come in May – across the street from the zoo.

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