Annika Sorenstam swings across a gender barrier
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Beating them is not the point, according to Sorenstam, nor is self-promotion or even drawing attention to women's golf, which LPGA officials say is a welcome byproduct. Sorenstam says she simply wants to "take her game to a different level" by playing with bigger, stronger golfers under higher media pressure.Skip to next paragraph
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"I had no idea this would cause such a commotion," she told the press at the Takefuji Classic. "I started playing golf when I was 12 and we played against boys, some younger, some older. That's how we got better - playing with the guys from the same tees."
She says she accepted the invitation by Colonial because the tight course - thinner fairways, more doglegs - favors her precision game and minimizes the advantage of longer drivers. Although she averages 265 yards off the tee, she would rank 172nd on the PGA tour.
Despite that, Tiger Woods, who has played alongside Sorenstam in exhibition tournaments, told reporters at this year's Buick Open, "There's no doubt about it, that she can handle [the Colonial], with her game."
The first question is whether Sorenstam will make the cut to continue playing after two days. For all her wins, she has not done well in major tournaments, winning only four over all. Analysts say she can get off her game when the stakes get higher.
"Everything will come down to her short game and chipping and how well she can scramble to save pars when she's left herself a long putt," says Jimmy Burch, golf writer for the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth where the tournament is being held. "She is known for getting behind in putting under the pressure of big tournaments."
Whereas other famous women golfers present and past are known for specialized strengths in putting, driving with woods, or fairway irons, most analysts say Sorenstam's game, when she is clicking, has no weaknesses.
"She's got the complete game," says LPGA hall of famer Patty Shehan. "She just has the entirely complete game. A lot of players these days have parts of that, but they don't have everything Annika has."
Born in Stockholm in 1970, Annika wanted to be a protennis player but says she didn't have the right kind of strength and coordination. She took up golf instead, entering tournaments in her teen years. It was at a tournament in Japan that she was offered a scholarship to the University of Arizona.
She grew to only 5'6", but has made up for her height with rigorous cross-training, with visible results from broad muscular shoulders, to powerful biceps and forearms.
Because even the best golfers have their good days and bad, Mr. Burch and others say too much may be made of the final outcome.
"The great unwashed are in love with this as battle of the sexes angle, which is understandable," says Burch. "But I say it will be unfortunate to generalize too much from this whether or not she does well or poorly. If she misses the cut it doesn't make her a bad golfer, and if she finishes in the top 10 it won't mean she's better than all the men she beat."
However well she does, the exposure is expected to be good for the women's tour, which does not get nearly the coverage or attention that the men's does.
"This challenge to the men is giving us coverage and exposure we would never have dreamed of," says LPGA spokeswoman Dana Von Louda. "We think it will draw even more followers onto the women's tour after they see what Annika can do."