| Annika Sorenstam is all smiles on a rainy day at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth Wednesday. (Reuters)
Annika Sorenstam has spent enough time in America to know that an invitation to ‘have a nice day’ carries only marginally less spontaneous sincerity than you’d get from dialling the speaking clock, and less than 24 hours after telling the world how much support she was getting from the male professionals here, she discovered that not many of them actually meant it.
Annika Sorenstam suffered two bogies in her closing five holes to take the shine off what was turning out to be a solid opening round at the Colonial PGA tournament Thursday. She finished at one-over par 71 which moved her down the leaderboard, six shots off the lead set by Patrick Sheehan’s five-under 65.
One of the players at the Bank of America Colonial tournament, the less than legendary Arron Oberholser, said Wednesday that Sorenstam would require the assistance of “God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost” to win this event, although the Biblical name which springs to mind in her dealings with Tom Pernice junior is Judas Iscariot.
“Everyone’s been so nice,” Sorenstam gushed on Tuesday. “And Tom Pernice was especially friendly.” Pernice, she revealed, had said: “Good to see you. Have a great week, and don’t hesitate to ask for help.”
What he didn’t say to her, however, was that he was even then in the process of making sure that the ‘Go Annika!’ badges on sale in the pro’s shop carried the metaphorical postscript: ‘. . . and don’t come back.’
Pernice is a member of the American players’ Tour Policy Board, who are meeting in Chicago next month with an agenda aimed at closing the loophole allowing women into men’s events. Sorenstam is playing here on a sponsors’ exemption, and Pernice said: “Most of us are very unhappy about it. The players just don’t think it’s right.”
Oberholser added to his biblical analogy by saying: “It would take an act of divine intervention for her to win, but if she does, she would become [through an automatic two-year exemption] a member of the PGA Tour. What kind of can of worms would that throw up' All hell will break loose.”
Nick Price, the defending champion, has been in a huff over Sorenstam’s presence here since it was announced three months ago, and Rocco Mediate was another player radiating something less than enthusiasm. “What’s the point of it'” he said. “She can’t compete with us. And even if she makes the cut, what does that prove''’
While the prospect of slow-play penalties for players applying lipstick between shots clearly hasn’t occurred to the men until now, the women have long recognised the alarming possibility of having someone with a beard teeing it up on the their own tour. The LPGA have a specific rule demanding that competitors be registered as ‘female at birth’, although this has not prevented an American male professional, Brian Kontak, from announcing his intention to try and qualify for the women’s US Open.
All of this is only adding to the media feeding frenzy here, and the TV channel covering this event have altered their live broadcasting schedule from a 3pm start to 8.58am, which is when Sorenstam tees off in her first round. There will be a huge crowd around the 10th tee, where she starts, although if spectators head for the first tee by mistake, thousands rushing to see a threeball involving Keith Clearwater, Brandt Jobe, and Carl Petterson will represent yet another first in American golf.
The Golf Channel was screening a 1950s edition of Shell’s Wonderful World Of Golf the other day, when Sam Snead was taking on the actor James Garner in a celebrity challenge. “What a drive from Garner!” said the commentator. “It’s gone all of 220 yards.”
Sorenstam’s driving average, thanks to a combination of gymnasium weight training and hi-tech equipment, is 270. It will probably be the strange environment, rather than length, which most affects her, not to mention the discovery that she is surrounded by cads, bounders, and, as Terry Thomas used to say, absolute rotters. We are about to find out whether Sorenstam leaves here as a Swede or a Turnip.