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May 16, 2003

by Bill Hogan


I wonder if there was as much of an uproar in 1945 when Babe Didrikson Zaharias played in the PGA Tour's Los Angeles Open. I can't find a single reference indicating how her male counterparts felt about her presence. Of course, Babe qualified for the event, she wasn't handed a sponsor's exemption.

How did Hogan and Snead deal with the blasphemous notion that a woman had entered the inner sanctum of men's professional golf? Was it a big deal, or was it business as usual? Zaharias made the 36-hole cut but was eliminated on Saturday after shooting 79. Snead went on to win the tournament.


And the social impact of Babe teeing it up with the big boys? Well, it's since been 58 years and not a single female has "dared" to tread on the hallowed grounds of the Riviera Country Club – a.k.a. Hogan's Alley – or any other golf course hosting the world's best male players.

That is until this coming Thursday when Annika Sorenstam laces up her lady Footjoys and pulls out the ol' driver on the first tee at the Bank of America Colonial in Ft. Worth, Texas. I, for one, am interested to see what she can do. That seems to be an unpopular position among the XY population.

I think the idea of having the best player on the women's tour test her mettle is good for the game. And it's certainly good for the Bank of America and the Colonial organizers. Without Annika, it's just another Tiger-less tournament. This is B of A's first year as the title sponsor – what a marketing coup to get Sorenstam on board.

Do you recall who was the premier sponsor from 1995-2002? I didn't either until I did some digging. Lets just say, the public interest generated by inviting the leading player on the LPGA: priceless.

The notion that including Annika in the field is a shameless publicity stunt – a view taken by at least some of the players – seems somewhat hypocritical; especially coming from a group of men who derive a large part of their income by turning themselves into walking billboards – promoting everything from SUV's to designer jeans on their shirtsleeves and visors.

Of course it's a publicity stunt. Publicity generates interest. Interest that leads to the revenue required to offer five million dollars in total prize money including a $900,000 first place check. If that needs to be put in perspective, when Ben Hogan won the first Colonial in 1946, he received three thousand dollars for his efforts. Just twenty years ago, Jim Colbert collected $72,000.

USA Network is extending its coverage of the first two rounds. CBS is adding an extra hour to its Saturday broadcast. It seems to me that adding Sorenstam to the field has already done more good than harm. (That is if you like watching golf on TV).

There have been complaints that she hasn't earned the right to play a PGA tour event. That the sponsor's exemption she received should have gone to a more deserving tour player. In 1992, the Nissan Los Angeles Open gave a sponsor's exemption to a 16-year old amateur named Eldrick Woods. He missed the cut. Tiger received seven sponsor's exemptions between 1992 and 1994 and missed all seven cuts.

But the childhood phenom generated interest. So does Annika. It's not like she's some hacker awarded a spot in the field by twisting off the winning bottle cap on a liter of Pepsi. The lady has credentials.

And this isn't some made-for-television "Battle of the Sexes" tennis circus. 29-year old Billie Jean King beating up a washed-up old man almost twice her age and thirty years removed from his best tennis days. This is the real deal – sink or swim.

I don't believe Sorenstam has any ulterior motives beyond stacking her skills up against those of her male contemporaries. And it doesn't seem to me that there is any shame in finishing behind someone of her considerable abilities. But then, I don't have to play against her.

Men in general are insufferably immature – just ask my wife. The unfortunate players – and there will be more than a handful – that do finish behind Annika will, no doubt, be unmercifully mocked, ridiculed, taunted and teased at every tour stop.

I'm chuckling already just thinking about it. "Man, you lost to a girl." It's sixth-grade gym class all over again.


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