Comment
0
Tweet
1
Print
RSS Feeds

Sorenstam returns to Colonial: 'memory for life'

Saturday - 5/18/2013, 12:08am  ET

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, MAT 18-19 - FILE - In this May 22, 2003, file photo, golfer Annika Sorenstam holds her heart as she walks off the 13th green with playing partner Aaron Barber, right, and her caddie Terry McNamara after making a birdie during the first round of the Colonial golf tournament at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.. Sorenstam's historic ride at the Colonial ended when she stumbled to five bogeys in a span of eight holes and missed the cut by four shots. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer

Annika Sorenstam never noticed the famous Wall of Champions by the first tee.

The last time she was at Colonial, there were so many people she couldn't see much beyond the grass in front of her. There was so much pressure on her that Sorenstam could barely breathe. She was so emotionally exhausted after missing that cut that when LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw called to congratulate her, she could barely speak.

Sorenstam was the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour, and the time was right. She was No. 1 in the world by a mile. She was coming off a season in which she won 11 times and set or tied 20 LPGA records. The year before that, she became the first woman to shoot 59.

She returned to the storied club in Fort Worth, Texas, for a Golf Channel documentary on the 10-year anniversary of her playing against the men. Colonial was closed that day, adding to the eerie feeling of a walk back in time.

"It was very different," Sorenstam said. "I was used to seeing a sea of people. The wall on the first hole? I didn't know that was there."

Even more surprising were the two guys waiting for her -- Dean Wilson and Aaron Barber, chosen in a blind draw to play alongside Sorenstam the first two rounds in 2003. They were brought in for the documentary, only no one told Sorenstam about this.

"They were like, 'Hey, we're looking for a third,'" she said with a laugh. "We went through so much together. It was a memory for life."

___

Suzy Whaley, who qualified as a club pro for the Greater Hartford Open, was supposed to be the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to play on the PGA Tour. That changed with one comment before a small group of reporters during the PGA Merchandise Show in January 2003.

Sorenstam was at Bay Hill for a Callaway Golf outing. She talked about Whaley being "very brave" for playing Hartford that summer. She talked about a 13-year-old from Hawaii, Michelle Wie, who shot 73 in her failed attempt to Monday qualify for the Sony Open the week before.

That's when Jeff Shain of the Miami Herald asked Sorenstam if she would ever consider trying to Monday qualify on the PGA Tour.

"I haven't thought about qualifying," Sorenstam replied. "If I got an invite, I would say yes in a heartbeat."

Mark Steinberg, her agent at IMG, recalls leaving that news conference and walking with Sorenstam out to her car.

"I remember with such clarity saying to her, 'Do you realize what you just did?'" Steinberg said. "You've got to remember, Annika was very naive, in a good way. She smiled at me in a way where she knew she lit a pretty big firestorm. But neither of us knew how big it was going to be."

Three weeks later, they accepted an invitation to play Colonial, an historic course on the PGA Tour landscape that was more about position than power.

Sorenstam began gearing up for the biggest week of her career. She was about to compete against the best players in the world, and the Swedish star prepared by practicing with the best of them all -- Tiger Woods.

"I played with her quite a bit at home," Woods said. "She was playing so well at the time. She was winning everything. Her confidence was high, and I thought what she was doing for the sport of golf and for women was absolutely incredible. It took a lot of courage to do that and to put herself out there on a limb like that, and put her out there in front of the world to critique, criticize and anything in between."

There was criticism, most notably from Vijay Singh, who said he hoped she would miss the cut. In the weeks leading to Colonial, Steinberg was getting interview requests from Time magazine to People magazine to "60 Minutes."

"That's when I started to say, 'This isn't going to be big. This is going to be transcendent,'" he said.

Laura Neal was working for the LPGA Tour as a media official and was assigned to be a liaison for Sorenstam at Colonial. Neal thought Sorenstam was getting a lot of attention for winning on the LPGA. Then she arrived at Colonial, where 583 media credentials had been issued -- nearly five for every one player in the field. Neal was watching the local news from her hotel room on Monday and couldn't believe what she saw.

   1 2 3  -  Next page  >>