SI Vault
Michael Bamberger
June 02, 2003
Under extraordinary scrutiny, Annika Sorenstam put her game up against the men's at the Colonial and left with thousands of new fans
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June 02, 2003

Her Best Shot

Under extraordinary scrutiny, Annika Sorenstam put her game up against the men's at the Colonial and left with thousands of new fans

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Still, it was a mesmerizing round. A demanding course was playing easy—the fairways and greens were holding—and Annika Sorenstam was in control of her game and her emotions. (She hit 13 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation.) "I'll never forget the amount of people and how positive they were," she said after the round. "I'll never forget this day."

Her Friday round was different from the start. Play was sluggish, the day was hot, her swing looked somehow incomplete. Her gallery had almost doubled overnight, the Thursday folks returning, plus school-children and their mothers, and businessmen clenching cigars and cups of beer. Sorenstam made a birdie on the 2nd hole to go even par for the tournament and was in position to make the cut. But then fatigue seemingly set in. Sorenstam later disputed that, but her caddie, Terry McNamara, and her playing partners and her shots disagreed. She pushed a few tee shots, hit a couple of tentative chips and pitches, and in one eight-hole stretch, 5 through 12, made five bogeys. There are no birdie holes at Colonial, not when you can't smash it off the tee at will, and hit towering approach shots that curve and spin on command, and hole all manner of putts. That is not Sorenstam's game, nor any woman's. That game is indigenous to the elite male professional, at least for now.

In the meantime Sorenstam has a new list of things to improve. Her short putting and chipping are below average for a world-class woman player and poor by the standards of the PGA Tour. The myth is that the top women chip and putt as well as the top men. They don't. The modern putting and chipping game is about controlling the big muscles and taking the hands out of the swing, and the men, with greater physical strength, do that better than the women.

Much was said last week about driving distance. Sorenstam, who has made herself one of the longest hitters in the LPGA, averaged 268 yards off the tee at Colonial; the field averaged 279. There are men who play the PGA Tour successfully hitting about the distance Sorenstam does—Loren Roberts, most notably. But they are wizards on the green and around it. Sorenstam is not, and her tour has never demanded that she become one.

She won't be returning to the PGA Tour. "I'm a long way from the leader board," she said after Friday's round. She plays tournaments to win, not to maybe make a cut. But she's a more complete golfer now than she was a week ago, for she played two rounds under a scrutiny more intense, you could argue, than any other golfer has ever faced, and she survived. In fact, she thrived. She came in strong and left stronger. The galleries will side with her from this day forward because at Colonial she dared to try something bold, did it gracefully and well and let millions of strangers in on the experience.

As Sorenstam walked up to the 18th green on Friday, the spectators were applauding her, and she was applauding them. Frank Lickliter II, a meat-and-potatoes Tour pro, watched for a moment on a clubhouse TV and said, coldly, "Just go home."

Later that night she did go home, but for only one reason: Her score was four strokes too high. She wasn't trying to prove anything to Lickliter last week. She was taking inventory of her game. She was pushing herself. Along the way, she opened the eyes of those willing to see.

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