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Sorenstam can stretch her limits

Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The idea was to test her considerable skills against the best men in her sport, the chance of a lifetime for a woman at the top of her game.

A public relations gimmick?

Ann Meyers never saw herself that way.

''I wouldn't have played if I didn't think I could make it,'' Meyers said, reflecting on her historic NBA tryout in 1979 with the Indiana Pacers. ''That's how much I believed in myself. It wasn't to prove a point.''

Meyers never played in the NBA. She didn't make it past a three-day camp for rookies. She still thinks former Pacers coach Slick Leonard had made up his mind about her before she even stepped onto the court.

That's why Meyers doesn't want Annika Sorenstam to play a PGA Tour event.

She wants her to play several.

''People are going to judge her on one week? I think it would be interesting to see what she could do over an entire season,'' Meyers said.

That's getting ahead of the game.

Sorenstam, who wins more often than Tiger Woods, is still deciding whether to accept any of the seven offers from PGA Tour events that poured in after the 32-year-old Swede said she would take a sponsor's exemption ''in a heartbeat.''

''I would love to play,'' she said. ''I have nothing to lose. It's a great challenge.''

There are a few catches.

Sorenstam would only consider tournaments where she has a fighting chance, on courses that put a premium on accuracy over power. She hits the ball about 265 yards, which would have ranked her 196th on the PGA Tour last year.

It can't conflict with any weeks where she is defending champion -- 11 -- or the major championships or Solheim Cup. There goes four months out of the schedule.

''You get through that and there not a lot to choose from,'' said Mark Steinberg, her agent at IMG.

The real problem might be the public relations battle.

''The most difficult thing wasn't playing the game,'' Meyers said. ''It was all the negativity, so many people who were against it.''

One of the more valid arguments is that if Sorenstam really wants to measure herself against the men, why not Monday qualify? That's what 13-year-old Michelle Wie did in Honolulu, shooting a 73 to fall six shots short of getting into the Sony Open.

One of the weaker arguments is that Sorenstam would take a spot away from someone else more deserving.

Sponsor exemptions were designed for tournaments to fill out the field or generate interest for their community.

Who brings more interest -- Mike Springer or Annika Sorenstam?

''I have no problem with a tournament giving her an exemption,'' David Duval said. ''They have no obligation to give those to anyone except the people they see fit.''

Another argument: If Sorenstam can play on the PGA Tour, why can't men play on the LPGA Tour?

Simple.

The PGA Tour is not for men. It's for the best players, who happen to be men.

''Annika is not going to render the PGA Tour obsolete,'' LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw said. ''There is the potential that men could do that to the LPGA. She would be at a disadvantage against the men, yet she still wants to do it. The only reason men would want to do it (play the LPGA) is to take advantage of a physiological differential.''

Duval has competed against Sorenstam twice in the last two years, the ''Battle at Bighorn'' two years ago and an 18-hole exhibition in Mexico last month.

His impression?

''I wish I could hit the ball that straight,'' Duval said. ''It's impressive.''

What kind of scores Sorenstam might post is anyone's guess.

Power puts her at an extreme disadvantage, not only off the tee but coming into the green. She likely would be hitting 5-iron and 7-wood when others have a 7-iron or an 8-iron in their hands.

Pins are tucked. Greens are firmer. Rough is thicker.

''Could she contend? No, absolutely not,'' Ian Leggatt of Canada told The Globe and Mail. ''She doesn't have the power to play, you know? Power is what it is out here.''

Laura Davies, the biggest hitter in women's golf, believes Sorenstam would ''comfortably'' make the cut and would not be satisfied unless she had a chance to win.

But consider the source.

Davies played in something called the ''Super Tour'' in 1998, which was playing on four courses in four Asian cities. Vijay Singh won at 19-under 269. Davies was 20 over par, a mere 39 strokes out of the lead.

Why bother?

Meyers faced the same question nearly 25 years ago. Whether it's basketball or golf, it all boils down to the same pursuit.

''Why not test your abilities?'' Meyers said. ''Any athlete, any human ... you always want to see what you can do against the best. She's just challenging herself. She wants to know what she's capable of doing.''

It wouldn't hurt to find out.

Doug Ferguson covers golf for The Associated Press.



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