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Annika Sorenstam fondly remembers week on PGA Tour

Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr., a former Observer staff writer, will write golf columns occasionally for the newspaper.

A decade later, Annika Sorenstam still warms to the memory of her week on the PGA Tour.

It was 10 years ago this week that Sorenstam became the first woman in 45 years to tee it up in a PGA Tour event, accepting an invitation to play in the Bank of America Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas.

Sorenstam’s adventure became a cultural event as much as a golf event. At age 32, she was the best female golfer in the world and she was at the top of her game. She had become the first woman to shoot 59 in competition, had won eight times in 2001 and 11 times in 2002.

When she stepped to the 10th tee to hit her opening shot at Colonial Country Club on a muggy Thursday morning in 2003, it felt like the world stopped to watch.

“I look at it as one of the highlights of my career,” Sorenstam said by phone recently.

With her steely resolve, extraordinary focus and a soft Swedish accent, Sorenstam became the face of women’s golf, establishing herself as the best ever, winning 90 times worldwide including 10 major championships.

When she went to Colonial, Sorenstam did not go as a maverick. She went as a golfer interested in seeing how she would fare in a PGA Tour event. Sorenstam shot 71-74 to miss the cut by four strokes but she won hearts with her performance and her graciousness.

Sorenstam said she never imagined the scene she created when she arrived to hit her opening tee shot in the first round. Wearing white pants, a black and white top and a black cap, Sorenstam drew a gallery six-deep around the tee and down the fairway.

A national television audience watched. Her playing partners, Dean Wilson and Aaron Barber, became part of the story, handling their two days with Sorenstam perfectly.

“I’ll never forget the spirit there and the sea of people around the (10th) tee,” she said.

Being there, the moment felt bigger than the game. Though a few tour players including Vijay Singh had criticized Sorenstam’s entry, the sense of support was as extraordinary as the nervousness in the air.

When Sorenstam spoke to her caddie, Terry McNamara, before hitting her opening tee shot, no words came out.

“I’m not sure what I expected when I said yes but it was a lot more than I could dream about,” Sorenstam said.

When she hit a 243-yard 4-wood down the fairway, Sorenstam playfully let her knees buckle as if she were collapsing under the pressure of the moment. It broke the tension and there was a joy about it from there.

Sorenstam would say after her second round that she had done it to see how high she could go. She got her answer and was satisfied.

“I wish I had made the cut,” Sorenstam said. “But I thought 71-74 was very respectable. It prepared me for bigger things in life.”

In 2008, Sorenstam retired from competitive golf and has no plans to return. She lives in Florida where she and husband, Mike, have two children. She runs her successful Annika Academy in Orlando and has other business ventures.

As Sorenstam talks about 10 years ago and about today, she sounds content.

“It was enough,” she said.

SWING THOUGHTS

• The USGA and R&A did the right thing in adopting the ban on anchored putting. I sympathize with guys like Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson who have been doing it throughout their careers but I also agree with what Tiger Woods said – you’re supposed to swing the club, all 14 of them, not just 13.

• There are several valid arguments against the anchoring ban but I never bought the one that said it will hurt participation in the game. People don’t take up golf because they can anchor the long or belly putter, and I seriously doubt many will quit the game because of it. They’ll adapt.

Want to grow the game? Make it less expensive, make it quicker and make it more approachable to kids and beginners.

• Though the PGA Tour stated its opposition to the anchoring ban during the open discussion period in March, expect the tour to ultimately go along with the new rule. There will be more discussion about it – some of it likely to be fiery – but every other major golf organization has gone along with the rule. The reality is the rule is a far bigger deal here that it is elsewhere around the globe.

If the Masters throws its support behind the new rule as it is expected to do, that would mean three of the four major championships would ban anchored putting. Think the PGA of America would buck the trend? It would look silly doing so.

• There is no use rehashing Sergio Garcia’s unfortunate remarks Tuesday night regarding Tiger Woods. Garcia seemed sincerely shaken by his mistake and has reached out to apologize directly to Woods, who should accept the offer. Ideally, Woods and Garcia would find a quiet corner next week at The Memorial and clear the air. Hit the reset button and move forward for everyone’s benefit. It’s a nice thought, anyway.

• Nice work by Charlotteans Johnson Wagner and Robert Karlsson to play their way into the British Open this week. For Karlsson, it should be especially gratifying considering he withdrew prior to last year’s Open Championship because of, for lack of a better term, full-swing yips. His game is in much better shape now.

Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post (www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to the Charlotte Observer. He can be reached at rongreenjr@gmail.com.
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