Now that the circus has left town, the PGA Tour can look at the “Great Annika Experiment” and decide if it was good for everybody, or good for anybody. The organizers of the Colonial look brilliant. They invited the one person on the planet who can actually play, who brought more publicity to their tournament than even Tiger Woods. Certainly, Vijay Singh looks silly, his harsh comments and subsequent withdraw from the Colonial putting him in caveman status in most women’s eyes.
Men’s golf is no worse for wear, Sorenstam herself admitting, “this was a bit much for me,” with Women’s golf getting a little bit of a boost. It’s not a completely inferior game, just a different level of competition. Sorenstam’s opening round 71, one over par, was solid as she hit almost every fairway and every green. But she couldn’t putt worth a lick. She’s never been considered a great putter, one of the stark differences between the PGA and LPGA Tours, but her putting wasn’t even average by her standards. Thirty-three putts usually means six or seven over in a normal round, but Sorenstam’s accuracy off the tee and with her irons gave her plenty of chances.
Her second round 75 is where some of the cracks in a game that isn’t rewarded by good putting started to show. Over two days, Annika made just two birdies, not anywhere near the kind of performance that gets into contention or even makes the cut on the PGA Tour every week. But once she teed it up on Thursday, much of the conversation regarding Sorenstam changed from “will she make the cut,” to “I hope she makes the cut.” If you watched her interaction with the media, the fans and other players, you couldn’t help but be rooting for her. Somehow, she was able to show that she was serious, yet not threatening to either the men or the women. She was funny. She was humble. She was astute. And she wasn’t afraid to let everybody know that this was “my Mt. Everest.” Other than Arnold Palmer, I can’t think of one professional athlete that could have handled her situation with the same style and grace as Sorenstam. She was unfailingly polite, admitted her shortcomings, thanked everybody, and said she hoped she played better.
So what’s not to like about the whole thing?
Sorenstam got a chance to measure her game against those who compete at the highest level. She found the going pretty tough, even against a limited field. As I’ve said before, just looking at her game, she has “cut line” talent on the PGA Tour. She’d be hanging around the cut line each week, making it to the weekend when she putted well, and going home on Friday nights when she didn’t. She’s by far and away the best female player, so there’s no threat, at least right now, that this scenario will be repeated with any serious thought of a woman being able to compete. Not to say that it won’t happen in the future. The money’s too good, and the game is too widespread to not see some female players develop enough game to challenge the men.
Michelle Wie says she wants to compete half the time against men. But she’s 13 years old, and her opinion might change. Beth Daniel played on the men’s golf team during her time at Furman, but opted for the LPGA Tour when she turned pro. Sorenstam didn’t shoot 80, but she didn’t shoot 65 either. This wasn’t about men vs. women anyway; it was about one dream fulfilled. And it was, even if somebody woke Annika up before she hoped it was over.