"The LPGA Championship has always been special to the players," says Heather Daly-Donafrio, a Yale grad who is president of the LPGA, "but we have a disadvantage because we have a corporate sponsor for our own championship. McDonald's puts up $3 million for the week, and this was about raising the profile of the tournament. Our veteran players were not supportive of the invite--I got an earful when it was announced--but I think it was a great decision. This is now the strongest field of the year."
"This is the kind of tournament you should earn your way into," says Cristie Kerr, 27, who has won five times on the LPGA tour. "If we have to resort to this sort of thing for publicity, maybe we should look at other ways."
Playing topless? Hiring a thug to club Sorenstam on the knee with a wedge? The mind reels at the possibilities, but the fact is that Wie has captured the public's fancy--her gallery was at least as large as Sorenstam's all week, and the TV-ratings-challenged LPGA needs every bit of coverage it can get.
Even much-respected Nancy Lopez, captain of this year's U.S. Solheim Cup team, weighed in, opining that Wie was getting bad advice by playing so often against the pros. "She should have played more amateur golf against her peers and gotten used to winning," Lopez said on the eve of the tournament. "She says she wants to play on the men's tour. Why? It's a little insulting. She should play out here and try to beat Annika first."
Wie, who is now six for six making the cut at majors, was unfazed by the controversy. "I'm pretty used to people not wanting me in tournaments now," she said.
The only thing that did faze her was the lunch she ate before teeing off on Thursday, a casserole of salmon, shrimp and rice her mother prepared for her that nearly did her in. "I ate too much, and going into the heat, walking, it caused a little indigestion," the teenager explained to a rapt press corps. "It was pretty bad. Every time I breathed in, when I breathed out it felt like barf was coming out with it. Sorry for the picture."
Ditto. Fortunately for Wie, an afternoon thunderstorm caused a temporary halt to play, and her tummy had recovered by the time play resumed. She shot 33 on the back nine for an opening 69, which put her only two shots behind the leaders, Davies and Natalie Gulbis, and one behind Sorenstam. Had Wie not taken 33 putts on Friday, when she hit 16 of 18 greens yet finished only one under, and another 31 putts on Saturday, she might have been in better position to make a bona fide run on Sunday. "I was very tentative putting this week until the last nine holes," she said.
Sorenstam, meanwhile, played relentlessly brilliant golf until the tournament was iced. Through the first three rounds she avoided Bulle Rock's treacherous rough by hitting 36 of 42 fairways, and needed only 83 putts on the slick, undulating greens, the fewest in the field. (She finished with 115.) It was testament less to her putting stroke--she three-jacked the par-5 8th green three days in a row--than to her sterling iron play. Sorenstam's distance control on her approach shots is such that most of her birdies are kick-ins.
Once betrayed by her nerves in the majors--between 1997 and 2000 she won 17 times without a major--Sorenstam now shows the steely resolve under pressure that sets the great ones apart. She traces that back to her handling of the excruciating self-imposed pressure at the '03 Colonial. "Wherever I go I feel like, I've done that. I can handle this," Sorenstam says. "Nothing really scares me."
With her marital problems nearing resolution--she and her husband of 10 years, David Esch, filed for divorce in February--Sorenstam now seems most at peace when on the course. "Playing well and winning tournaments at this particular time in my life is important to me," she said in a reflective moment on Sunday. "I'm not saying victories are replacing happiness off the course, but it helps. Hopefully I'll have them both someday."