Not since 1946, when Babe Zaharias qualified to compete in the Los Angeles Open, has a woman played in a men's PGA Tour event. But now, why would Annika Sorenstam, an accomplished female golfer and undoubtedly the best female player on the LPGA Tour, want to put her game to the challenge? Why would she want to compete against the best male golfers in the world?
Ego! Sorenstam is going to play in the Bank of America Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas and I think it is solely to enhance her own game and massage her ego. As the biggest star in the LPGA Sorenstam feels she is ready to measure her game against the best male players in the world. But, even though this first tournament will attract the publicity and curiosity of millions of golfers around the world, will one tournament really be enough to demonstrate Sorenstam's true ability? As a former player on the PGA Tour, I answer definitely, once is never enough!
Sorenstam's ego doesn't stop with wanting to compete with male players. With Suzy Whaley, a PGA Club Professional, who qualified for the Greater Hartford Open (after winning the Connecticut Section PGA Championship in September 2002), Sorenstam is attempting to steal some thunder from one of her own. Suzy Whaley tees off in July and Sorenstam's tournament is in late May 2003. Most likely, Sorenstam probably hadn't seriously considered playing on the PGA Tour until Whaley's success.
Not surprising since Whaley's entrance was met with great enthusiasm, publicity and the potential of sponsorships. And, progressive women who believe Sorenstam is doing this for women's golf or to make strides for women equality, I say "bull!"
Sorenstam is not looking forward to any cause but her own, even she admits that. In recent interviews, she discusses her desire to test herself in a different arena and find out if she is able to improve her own golf game.
When public opinion came out in full force for Whaley, Sorenstam knew her own arrival would receive the same positive response. If the waters hadn't been tested, would Sorenstam have been quite so anxious to test her skills in a men's tour event? Whaley lifted the barrier. And, fans are now willing to accept her presence in the tournament whereas before it was a crazy idea. Suzy and Annika may have crossed the finish line with the public but winning a tournament against the likes of Tiger, Ernie or Phil may be even tougher than she anticipates. That would take a lot more than public cheering.
Men's courses are set up so long that even the longest hitters on the LPGA Tour would have difficulty. My prediction is Whaley's goal in the Hartford Open would be just to make the cut. That will not be the goal for Sorenstam. I anticipate her ego (and talent!) will have her believing she can do well enough to finish in the top 25. She will definitely encounter problems when she tries to put herself in the top 10 at the end of 72 holes.
I think it is definitely OK to have Sorenstam in any event on the PGA Tour provided she either successfully qualifies on Mondays or she is given a sponsor's exemption in order to enhance the field. But, to have her in the field just because she is a woman or to just "show her off" is not quite right. It is both an injustice to her and the golfing public.
Finally, if Sorenstam is really going to test herself against the best players in the world, then she should consider playing in more that one event. She is certainly not doing justice to herself if she plays at Colonial Country Club at 7,080 yards and says it is too long and she cannot compete at this level. She should consider playing other places such as the B.C. Open or even Westchester.
Only time and tournaments will tell if Sorenstam is able to compete at the same level as the men. I do want to let her and Suzy (a fellow PGA member) know that I can only wish them both the best of luck.
But, again I emphasize, in the PGA, once is not enough.