Thu, May 29, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Women's golf starting to feel the `Sorenstam effect'

RISK PAYS OFF She didn't make the cut at the Colonial, but the Swede handled herself well enough against the men to give the ladies' game a lot more respectability


For three months leading up to the Colonial and two rounds that she spent as the first woman in 58 years on the PGA Tour, Annika Sorenstam brought more attention to women's golf than at any other time in history.

The trick is getting it to last.

Sorenstam goes back to where she belongs this week -- those are her words, not Vijay Singh's -- when she defends her title in the Kellogg-Keebler Classic outside Chicago.

Media requests have doubled. Advance ticket sales are up 50 percent.

The ripple effect from Colonial is not quite the tidal wave that Tiger Woods creates whenever he wins majors, but at least it's visible.

The more significant test is next week in Wilmington, Delaware, when the LPGA Championship goes head-to-head with the Senior PGA Championship about 50km away at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

This is the second time in nine months that the PGA of America has shown little regard for women's golf by staging a big event in the same neighborhood. It took last year's PGA Championship to Hazeltine, just one month before the Solheim Cup was played down the road at Interlachen.

This time, however, LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw might be holding the trump card in Sorenstam, one of the hottest properties in golf.

Whom to watch?

A group of aging men at least a dozen years past their prime? Or a woman who captured the imagination of millions worldwide with a gutsy performance in the Colonial?

"Her name recognition has never been higher," Votaw said.

Sorenstam was never in this for the LPGA Tour.

Some feared she could bring irreparable harm to women's golf if she embarrassed herself at Colonial. That camp included Louise Suggs, an LPGA founder who said, "I hope to hell she plays well. This could mean trouble for her and the LPGA Tour."

Not to worry.

Even though Sorenstam missed the cut by four shots, she left an indelible mark on golf by the way she handled more pressure than any other player has faced, and held her own on the toughest course she has played against the best competition she has ever seen.

"I think it was an overall positive," Lee Janzen said. "It brought a lot of attention to the tournament, a lot of attention to both tours. I think a lot of people have a little more respect for the women's tour than they did, from a player's perspective."

Considering all Sorenstam accomplished the last two years, that respect was lacking.

She won four straight times early in the 2001 season, which included a 59 in Phoenix, a 10-stroke comeback in Los Angeles and a major championship. Last year, she won 13 times in 25 tournaments worldwide, the most by any golfer -- male or female -- in 39 years.

Still, it took a missed cut on the PGA Tour for anyone to notice.

That Sorenstam was willing to risk failure before such an enormous audience has made her one of the biggest stars ever in women's sports.

What remains to be seen is whether that alone is enough to spike television ratings and attendance at LPGA Tour events.

"Success is going to be an evolutionary formula," Votaw said. "By any standard, you could judge what she has done as a success for golf, the LPGA Tour and for herself."

The only thing that could dent her success would be a repeat performance.

Woods was among those who thought Sorenstam should play at least four or five PGA Tour events to give herself a fighting chance.

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