Fri, May 16, 2003 - Page 24 News List

PGA commissioner asks Sorenstam critics to chill


PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem urged critics to "just relax" and not worry about Annika Sorenstam playing in a men's tournament.

Finchem also cautioned fans not to be "too hard" on those who criticize the No. 1 women's golfer for accepting an invitation to play in next week's Colonial.

"It's going to be very interesting. She wants to see how her game stacks up against the best players in the world, males, and I accept that," Finchem said Wednesday while in the Kansas City area to present Tom Watson with an award for promoting junior golf.

"I think if a player criticizes it, I don't think you all should be too hard on that player, like Vijay," Finchem said.

Vijay Singh told The Associated Press earlier this week he hoped Sorenstam missed the cut and that on the odd chance he gets paired with her, he'd withdraw.

Afterward, he said he was sorry if his comments sounded like a personal attack.

Finchem noted that Sorenstam had been extended one of eight sponsor's exemptions.

Taking someone's place

"Over the years, unrestricted sponsor's exemptions have been controversial because if you give them to someone who's really not trying to play the tour, arguably, they're taking a spot from an individual," he said.

"We've got a lot of good players. For a player to be frustrated is understandable. It's not anything new. Guys have complained a lot about tournaments [granting exemptions to] local pros.

"In this case, it's a woman. So it's a bigger deal. I think we should relax a little bit about this. Let it happen. Let her play golf. See how she plays. If you're a golfer and you love the game, it's pretty interesting stuff," he said.

Finchem also said he was not worried that Sorenstam might be treated rudely by her male counterparts.

"They're going to treat her fine," he said. "These are all professionals. They have a great deal of respect for her. She'll be treated like anybody else in the field. There won't be any issues there."

He also said he disagrees with those who say the women's tour might be hurt if its No. 1 player turns out to be entirely noncompetitive with the men.

"The only downside would be if the top 15 LPGA players came to the men's tour and were successful," he said. "But that's not going to happen."

Annika says she can win

Without ever mentioning his name, Annika Sorenstam brushed off Vijay Singh's comments about her playing in the Colonial, saying he was entitled to his opinion.

She also said she thinks she can win the tournament.

"I believe so, if all the stars are lined up right," she said Wednesday.

Speaking on a conference call to promote next month's ShopRite LPGA Classic, Sorenstam was surprised at the stir created by her decision to play in the PGA Tour event.

"I think everybody's entitled to their own opinion, and obviously they speak their minds, and that's just where I want to leave it," she said. "I don't hold anything against anybody.

"I was maybe a little naive when I didn't think about this," she said. "I'm still amazed by all the attention, all the opinion, all the experts on my game. It's really funny. I never expected anything like this."

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