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Annika's Alley: Sorenstam arrives amid Colonial hype

Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2003

FORT WORTH, Texas Annika Sorenstam arrived on the PGA Tour through the back gate Monday.

With nearly 80 reporters and photographers camped out in front of the Colonial clubhouse, inspecting each courtesy car to see if she was inside, Sorenstam sneaked into the driving range and took her place among the men.

Actually, only Cliff Kresge was on the practice range as the blistering sun started to duck behind cloud cover late in the afternoon.

Still, it was no ordinary Monday on the PGA Tour.

Sorenstam will be the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour, and the Colonial has marked the occasion by selling ''Go Annika'' buttons in the pro shop, along with a commemorative tin of her Callaway golf balls each with her signature number (59) and a stamp of her autograph.

Despite a relatively calm day along the banks of the Trinity River, anticipation was growing about how this week would unfold. How will she play? What will she shoot? How will she handle the crush of media?

The tournament has issued 583 media credentials. Not only is that up way up from 178 last year, it computes to nearly five media for every player in the field.

Sorenstam got a taste of that early. After hitting balls for about 30 minutes, she got into a cart and was surrounded by 20 media so thick the cart had nowhere to go.

The 32-year-old Swede got presidential treatment, with reporters shouting questions that received one-word answers.

How will you handle the media attention?

Sorenstam smiled and replied, ''I don't know.''

Everything remains a mystery.

After three months of hype, debate and controversy, Sorenstam finally gets to test her game against the best in golf after accepting a sponsor's exemption to the Colonial.

Even the players are curious.

''I was expecting all this wildness,'' Kenny Perry said after spending close to two hours in solitude on the practice green and chipping area. ''I came to see what it was all about. I think everyone is fired up about it.''

Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen emerged from the clubhouse and walked past the horde of media.

''It looks like something big is happening soon,'' he said with a smile. ''Everybody is curious how a woman will compete against the men. We're about to find out.''

For most of the afternoon, the only LPGA Tour player at Colonial was Michelle McGann, who was watching Alex Cejka play in a pro-am.

''I hope she does all right,'' said McGann, a seven-time winner on the LPGA Tour who was leaving Monday night for the LPGA Corning Classic. ''I can't imagine the amount of pressure. The whole world basically knows about this.''

McGann has a rooting interest.

Sorenstam is the best female golfer in the world, a winner of 43 tournaments, 19 in the last two seasons. She has breezed through her competition on the LPGA Tour, winning every other tournament she played last year.

Asked if Sorenstam represents every LPGA Tour player this week, McGann replied, ''In a certain way, I think so.''

''She's got a lot of hats she's wearing,'' McGann said. ''Obviously, she thinks of Annika first, and she should. But she's part of our tour, part of us.''

Some players didn't want to talk about Sorenstam becoming the first player since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to play on the PGA Tour. That's all they have done for the last several weeks, and truth is, they have no idea.

''I'm very curious,'' Jeff Sluman said. ''Vegas has got odds. Players are saying this and that. We don't know because we haven't seen her play. I have no clue. I am genuinely interested in how she does.''

A lot of that will be dictated by the course. It already was crusty and dry, and a hot sun continued to bake the course and produce a yellow sheen on the greens. A day earlier, workers sprayed some iron chemicals into the green to give them a lush look.

Sorenstam will be tested by the 7,080 yards of Colonial, a par-70. The rough is not as dense because of the dry conditions, but keeping the ball from running through the fairways could be a difficult chore for Sorenstam.

She has played practice rounds at Colonial when nobody was watching, and planned two full rounds before her historic tee time Thursday.

Sorenstam will have a female security guard assigned to her at all times, the ladies' locker room all to herself, and thousands of people watching her every move.

''She's going to have Tiger Woods' media,'' Perry said. ''I'm anxious to see how she handles all that. I don't think she really knows what she's getting into. If she could play with no media, just a regular tournament, I think she could do well. But when she sees all the attention, she's going to realize this is a special moment.''

Sorenstam no doubt left Colonial on Monday realizing it will be an extraordinary week.



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