May 25, 2003

The End of My Colonial Preoccupation: Review of the Colonial's first two days

The Colonial was officially over for me Friday afternoon. My apologies to Kenny Perry, Dan Forsman and anyone else who should roll into contention over the weekend, I won’t be watching; if Annika goes, I go. I won’t watch another hole, probably won’t follow the leader board, and will barely footnote the eventual champion. But I leave impressed - with Annika, that is, not too mention her supporting cast. Taking nothing away from Sorenstam’s wondrous Thursday round, it was not so much her golf that impressed me, rather it was her as focus - amazing focus - competitive spirit and the fact she was utterly and disarmingly charming. From the weak-kneed walk after her first drive on Thursday to when she tossed her ball into the crowd late Friday afternoon, she conducted herself with professional grace and humor I wish more (all would be too much to wish for) athletes could display. Nearly everyone was a winner in this. Sorenstam wanted to test herself and a test it was. Can she play with the boys? You bet. Although beating them may be a little ways off. The LPGA gets a nice boost – Annika’s success here surely translates into a few more eyeballs for the LPGA Championship in two weeks. And guess what? Turns out the majority of PGA players aren’t card-carrying members of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club. Pro’s like Colonial leader Kenny Perry, as well as Steve Elkington, David Toms and Phil Michelson, were falling all over themselves to compliment Sorenstam. The two who faced the gale force of hurricane Annika – playing partners Aaron Barber and Dean Wilson – were as gracious and friendly as the LPGA career money leader herself. When Wilson was asked if he’d watched Annika play at all, he responded that in fact, he’d watched every shot she took (how’s that for honesty?) and yet he still managed to make the cut, finishing two under. Even Vijay Singh, who’s put so much backspin on his recent comments the White House is considering him as a replacement for Ari Fleischer, had the good sense to stay away. The crowd was almost boisterous in its support of Annika. There were no “Annika Who?” caps or t-shirts spotted, no one challenged her to play Texas Rules and mercifully there was only one reported shouting of, “You Da Women!” And I’d make fun of the jumping bean of a kid who caught Annika’s ball on Friday except all I could think of while watching was, “Dang, wish I’d been there to catch that.” Her actual play was about as I expected. I new she’d have some eye-opening holes, I just didn’t think they would all come on Thursday. This was one event where a sharp gambler could make up some serious ground on the Vegas money-changers. At the Imperial Palace you got even money for betting last years LPGA low scoring leader (an LPGA record 68.70) would shoot a round in the 80’s. The 80’s? Gentlemen, take off the green visors and pay attention. The Colonial was handpicked not just because it doesn’t play 9,000 yards but because it’s not target golf; there are no 280 yard carries over water or desert to a two foot landing area; and no lily-pad greens. But the course isn’t a gimme either. Annika’s wheelhouse is solid driving and shotmaking – she should name her first child, “Greensinreg” - her weakness is her short game. The Colonial doesn’t give up a lot of doubles or triples, but when the course heats up (and this is Texas after all) you better be able to chip and putt. So when the course dried up a little it was not tough to predict a slightly tougher Friday was ahead. Dry greens mean approach shots don’t stick (especially if you have to approach with longer irons); eight foot puts for birdie turn into 20 foot lags. Unfortunately, Annika struggled with both. But even when the putts didn’t fall she was composed; frequently smiling to a crowd whose support never wavered. Contrast that with Billy Andrade who, after sinking a long, difficult putt to birdie 18 and pull into some semblance of contention, looked as disgusted as if he’d just posted a snowman. (Note to Andrade: Touch base with Annika for her trainer’s phone number or get your sponsors to spot you some shirts that fit. You’re lucky this was golf and not a powerlifting competition other wise Annika would have kicked your…but I digress.) It’s only fair after blowing my own horn I admit to being on record as one of the Neanderthals who thought she should have qualified for the field rather than play on a sponsor’s pass. I was wrong. At this point I can’t think of a more deserving exemption. With the non-Tiger PGA events drawing television ratings roughly equal to, well, LPGA events, and since Tiger only seems interested in playing in about a dozen events not falling under the category ‘Major’, tournament directors should be camping in Annika’s front yard. Apparently the ruckus around Annika’s exemption is causing the PGA to review the entire exemption process – as if the process were the real issue and not sexism or at least fear that some of these ladies are as good as some of the guys. (Forget this nonsense a few columnists have put forth that the majority of male tour players see the LPGA as equivalent to men’s high school golf or that they think the worst male on the PGA tour could dominate the LPGA. You didn’t hear that rubbish coming from anyone who actually follows the sport – let alone plays it for a living. These guys know better.) And since no one got worked up over Rod Curl’s exemption - Curl, 59, won this tournament in 1974 and is an infrequent Seniors Tour player; he shot a dead last 154 for two days - I’ll have to conclude the issue is gender and not qualifying standards or exemptions. Tiger Woods was dead on when he suggested her best approach would be to play three or four events. So, for what little it’s worth, I’m extending my personal invitation for Annika to test herself a few more times. The tour could use a little more of her class and I for one would love to watch her play on the weekend. And until they change the rules, she should play on sponsor’s exemptions; should the rules change, well, anyone really want to bet against her in a Monday qualifier?

posted by kloeprich to at 12:55 PM - 0 comments

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