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The Latest in Male-Crashing

August 08, 2003|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

The PGA Tour had Annika Sorenstam and Suzy Whaley and the Nationwide Tour will have Michelle Wie, so it stood to reason that, sooner or later, the Champions Tour would get into the act and have a woman play in one of its events.

It will happen in October. Jan Stephenson accepted a sponsor invitation Thursday to play the Turtle Bay Championship, a Champions Tour event, Oct. 10-12 in Hawaii.

Stephenson, 51, won 16 LPGA tournaments, three of them major championships. She has long promoted women's golf, posed several times for provocative publicity photos during the 1980s and said she hoped to accomplish the same thing by playing the Champions Tour.

"It was actually a tough decision," she said. "Earlier in the year, at first, I said no. When Annika did it, I don't want to say I was against it, but I was waiting to see what would happen. It turned out to be the best thing for women's golf."

Sorenstam played the Colonial in May. Whaley played the Greater Hartford Open last month. Wie, 13, will play a Nationwide Tour event in October.

The PGA, Nationwide and Champions Tours are all under the PGA Tour umbrella. None has a gender restriction. The only restriction on the Champions Tour is age. Players must be 50 or older. The Champions Tour supports the invitation.

"Tournaments on the Champions Tour have the flexibility to use their two unrestricted sponsor exemptions to create depth and interest in their tournaments, which we support," tour President Rick George said in a statement. "Her participation in the Turtle Bay Championship will generate additional interest among golf fans both on site and watching the tournament on the Golf Channel."

Sorenstam and Whaley missed the cut on the PGA Tour. Stephenson won't have to worry about that because the Champions Tour doesn't have a cut.

She said she is pressuring herself to perform well, however, and wants to finish at least 30th in the field of 81 players.

"I think if I play badly, I think I'm going to get absolutely crucified," she said. "If I don't perform, it's definitely going to hurt."

Stephenson has not won on the LPGA Tour since 1987 and has not had a top-10 finish since 2000. In 11 tournaments this season, she has made the cut four times and her best finish was a tie for 23rd at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship in April. She averages 235 yards off the tee, which ranks 139th on the LPGA Tour.

The course at Turtle Bay is 7,044 yards, 486 yards longer than the longest course the LPGA Tour plays.

"I'm going to be way behind," Stephenson said.

*

LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw held a meeting with 13 South Korean players in the field of this week's tournament in Dublin, Ohio, but a tour spokesperson said Thursday the focus of the discussion was a primer on standards and regulations, not about alleged instances of cheating that were raised in a golf publication.

The meeting with Votaw was mandatory for the South Koreans on site to play in the Wendy's Championship for Children at Tartan Fields.

A recent issue of Golf World alleged instances of cheating, including an accusation that a parent of a South Korean golfer moved a golf ball from behind a tree at the Canadian Women's Open three weeks ago.

Barbara Trammel, the LPGA's vice president of tournament operations and the tour's chief rules official, said she found no evidence of such a rules infraction and that the matter has been dropped.

Laura Neal of the LPGA said the meeting called by Votaw was to take the place of a full-tour player meeting and tailored for the South Koreans to help with language problems. An interpreter was part of the meeting, she said.

"The meeting was not about breaking rules or cheating, that's not the case," she said. "That wasn't the topic, although it was discussed. The thrust was about pro-am rules and regulations and procedural issues."

*

Times staff writer Thomas Bonk contributed to this report.

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