Sorenstam set to make history at the Colonial

    For those of you who cringe when I write about the intersection of sports and gender: Brace yourself.

    This weekend, Annika Sorenstam will head to Fort Worth, Texas, to play in the Colonial, and in doing so, she will become the first woman to compete in a Professional Golfers Association event in 58 years. Her arrival has brought on a slew of discussion and a pile of unanswered questions.

    The first of these questions is whether or not Annika belongs. Vijay Singh, the fourth-ranked player in the world, came out and said unequivocally that he thinks she doesn’t. His argument was based in large part on Sorenstam’s acceptance of a sponsor’s exemption onto the field, and on the injustice of depriving a more deserving man from an opportunity to play.

    From this perspective, I don’t see Singh’s point. Sponsors’ exemptions are routinely used on legends of golf who are well past their prime — like Arnold Palmer — but draw crowds and make money for sponsors. Sorenstam has turned the Colonial into a media circus with nearly three times as many press passes issued as compared to last year, and a national spotlight shown brightly on a normally obscure tournament.

    CBS has expanded its coverage and the tournament sold out all four days — well in advance — so the sponsor’s exemption seems to have served its purpose. PGA tour player Nick Price said that Sorenstam’s entry “”reeks of publicity;”” but in a sense, that’s the point.

    Singh’s other argument is that the women already have a tour. The Ladies Professional Golf Association was established in 1950 and holds a strong following in the United States. It is by no means the equal of the PGA — in prestige or prize money — but it nevertheless exists as a way for women to play golf professionally. You think this doesn’t matter. You think this shouldn’t make a difference. Then you hear about Brian Kontak.

    In another move that reeks of publicity, Kontak — a regular on the Nationwide Tour, the minor league of golf — announced his intention to qualify for the Women’s U.S. Open.

    While the LPGA’s rule that allows only women to compete (the PGA has no gender-specific guidelines) provides a formidable hurdle in Kontak’s quest, he brings up the clear double-standard. How it is fair to let a woman compete with men, but not vice-versa? This isn’t little league or youth soccer, these are professionals who stake their livelihood on golf. While the matter is somewhat laughable, and Kontak will lose far more respect than he stands to gain, I think he has a point and seriously calls into question what Sorenstam is doing at the Colonial.

    My favorite question of all is how Sorenstam will play. Some think she has a chance to finish in the top 20. Most see her missing the cut by a small margin. Almost no one thinks she’ll finish dead last, and there will most likely be at least a few poor souls left as the laughingstock of their peers. What’s funnier than a professional golfer who will go the rest of his life hearing about how he got beat by a girl? Sorenstam’s statement that if everything goes right, she could win this tournament — that’s what.

    From my own personal observations, in most sports, the top women in the world rank at about the level of an elite male high school student. Skeptical? Florence Griffith-Joyner holds the women’s world record in the 100-meter dash at 10.49 seconds. In the United States, six high school boys have run that fast this season alone. If you still don’t buy it, ask yourself what WNBA team could’ve even been competitive with LeBron James and his boys. Now you’re getting the picture.

    So Sorenstam is an exception, and golf is the perfect game for females to be competitive with men, but she’s not that much of an exception. The Colonial is fairly short for PGA standards, but it’s 500 yards longer than any LPGA course Sorenstam has played.

    That’s a big difference. Instead of hitting high, soft, controlled shots into greens, she’s going to be hitting long irons that are going to skip and roll on the dry Texas grass. This is not going to be a walk in the park.

    Throw in the media, national attention and a much tougher course than she’s used to, and I don’t think Sorenstam is going to make the cut, much less compete. Is it good for golf? Is it fair? Will she surprise us? Those are questions you’ll just have to tune in to to have answered.

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