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A Woman Among Men
Michael Bamberger
February 24, 2003
The world's best female golfer has labored in the obscurity of the LPGA, but that's all changed now that she's preparing to tee it up with the big boys
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February 24, 2003

A Woman Among Men

The world's best female golfer has labored in the obscurity of the LPGA, but that's all changed now that she's preparing to tee it up with the big boys

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Last month 13-year-old Michelle Wie attempted to qualify for the Sony Open in Hawaii, a PGA Tour stop. She shot a one-over 73, which tied her for 47th in a field of 96 men—good enough to make all of golfdom pay attention to her and her stated goal: to play the PGA Tour. This kid's not messing with the ladies' tees. She's thinking way outside the box.

Then there's Sorenstam, coming off one of the most successful years in golf history. At a press conference in late January she was asked if she would accept an invitation to play in a PGA Tour event. "In a heartbeat," she said. Within days several tournament directors were making offers.

The Colonial was not among them. In fact tournament director Dee Finley told reporters that Sorenstam would not be invited. He didn't say this, but there were Colonial members who didn't want a woman playing their hallowed course, already under assault by PGA Tour players with their graphite shafts and titanium drivers and thermonuclear balls. Sorenstam and her people had other ideas. Steinberg called Finley, telling him that Sorenstam had determined that Colonial fit into her schedule and that the course suited her game. The agent then called Dockery Clark, Bank of America's point person for the tournament. Clark thought inviting Sorenstam had nothing but upside for her company. Still, Clark left the decision in the hands of Finley and his fellow Colonial officials, who asked themselves, "What would Hogan think?" They decided Hogan would be cool with the idea, reversed themselves and extended the invitation. Immediately afterward committeemen started calling Colonial members, asking them not to criticize the decision publicly. But they didn't get to everybody.

"I'm a traditionalist, and I'm opposed to this because I think it takes away from the luster of the tournament," says one longtime member, Jerre Todd. "Colonial doesn't need something like this, and I'd be shocked if Mr. Hogan would have supported this."

Every golfer in Fort Worth who's over 60 is an expert on Hogan. And then there's Dan Jenkins, who knew the man well. "I think he would be in favor of it because he would recognize the uniqueness of the situation and the athlete and the great attention it will bring to Colonial and Fort Worth," the writer says, sounding like a dues-paying chamber of commerce member. Then, truer to form, Jenkins adds, "Of course it will be a media circus." Which raises the key question: How will Sorenstam's game respond when she is scrutinized in ways she never has been before?

When the PGA Tour players gathered last week at Torrey Pines, near San Diego, for the Buick Invitational, they found themselves talking about a rare subject in their circles: the LPGA in general and an LPGA player in particular. Mainly, there was support for Sorenstam, but not in every corner. "It's an issue that she'll be taking a spot from somebody who's trying to earn a living," said Fred Funk, who makes his fine living just the way Sorenstam does, by hitting exceedingly straight tee shots.

Woods was more cautious. "I think it's great she's playing, but it will only be great for women's golf if she plays well," he said. In 2001 Woods and Sorenstam were partners in a prime-time, made-for-TV event in which they defeated Karrie Webb and David Duval. Sorenstam played poorly that night. Maybe, under klieg lights, she was trying to be too perfect on a big occasion. "If she goes out there and puts up two high scores, then I think it's going to be more detrimental than good," Woods said.

To which Sorenstam responded, "That's Tiger's opinion."

You have to know Sorenstam to know how she meant that. Usually, those words are tart: That's his opinion. Not with Sorenstam. She speaks English fluently but without an American's edge. Twelve years in the U.S. and marriage to an American haven't changed her much. Certain things that are just plain American—materialism, celebrity worship, dinner out every other night—she finds appalling. Some people, male sportswriters in particular, want her to be provocative or charismatic or fascinating. She is none of those things. She's planned and programmed, details of her every round logged into her laptop. In November she will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and she'll play the LPGA tour in '04 and maybe a few stops on the PGA Tour as well. She'd like to reach 50 tour wins, two more than Lopez retired with. After that, all bets are off. She says she could walk away from tire game, have children and spend her days hanging with them and cooking and studying the stock tables on her computer. She admires the LPGA players who tour and have children. She says she could not do that.

"People want to mold me into Nancy Lopez," Sorenstam said in November. "She's a great example of the perfect athlete: somebody who can perform, who smiles, who has charisma. You name it, she has it. I would love to have what she has. Hopefully, I have other qualities. I do what I do. I love what I do. I try to make women's golf as popular as possible."

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