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Circus Surrounds Sorenstam

LPGA star gets a hint of what attention will be like this week at Colonial as she sneaks through back gate. Reporters later encircle her golf cart.

May 20, 2003|From Associated Press

FORT WORTH — Annika Sorenstam arrived on the PGA Tour through the back gate Monday.

With nearly 80 reporters and photographers camped out in front of the Colonial clubhouse, inspecting each courtesy car to see if she was inside, Sorenstam sneaked into the driving range and took her place among the men.

Only Cliff Kresge, who hasn't made the cut in his last two PGA events, was on the practice range as the blistering sun started to duck behind cloud cover late in the afternoon.

Still, it was no ordinary Monday on the PGA Tour.

Sorenstam will be the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour, and the Colonial has marked the occasion by selling "Go Annika" buttons in the pro shop, along with a commemorative tin of her Callaway golf balls -- each with her signature number (59) and a stamp of her autograph.

Despite a relatively calm day along the banks of the Trinity River, anticipation was growing about how the week would unfold.

The tournament has issued 583 media credentials. Not only is that up -- way up -- from 178 last year, it computes to nearly five media members for every player in the field.

Sorenstam got a taste of that early. After hitting balls for about 30 minutes, she got into a cart and was surrounded by 20 reporters -- so thick the cart had nowhere to go.

The 32-year-old Swede got presidential treatment, with reporters shouting questions that received short answers.

How will you handle the media attention?

Sorenstam smiled and replied, "I don't know."

Everything remains a mystery. After three months of hype, debate and controversy, Sorenstam finally gets to test her game against the best in golf after accepting a sponsor's exemption to the Colonial.

"I was expecting all this wildness," Kenny Perry said after spending close to two hours in solitude on the practice green and chipping area. "I came to see what it was all about. I think everyone is fired up about it."

For most of the afternoon, the only LPGA Tour player at Colonial was Michelle McGann, who was watching Alex Cejka play in a pro-am.

"I hope she does all right," said McGann, a seven-time winner on the LPGA Tour who was leaving Monday night for the LPGA Corning Classic. "I can't imagine the amount of pressure. The whole world basically knows about this."

Asked if Sorenstam represents every LPGA player this week, McGann said: "In a certain way, I think so."

Added McGann: "Obviously, she thinks of Annika first, and she should. But she's part of our tour, part of us."

Sorenstam has played practice rounds at Colonial when nobody was watching and planned two full rounds before she tees off Thursday.

Sorenstam will have a female security guard assigned to her at all times, the ladies' locker room all to herself, and thousands of people watching her every move.

"She's going to have Tiger Woods' media," Perry said. "I'm anxious to see how she handles all that. I don't think she really knows what she's getting into. If she could play with no media, just a regular tournament, I think she could do well. But when she sees all the attention, she's going to realize this is a special moment."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Bank of America

Colonial

* When: Thursday through Sunday.

* Where: Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth.

* Purse: $5 million.

* Last year's winner: Nick Price.

* TV: Thursday, 1-3 p.m., USA; Friday, 1-3, USA; Saturday, noon-3, Ch. 2; Sunday, noon-3, Ch. 2.

Note: USA will show Annika Sorenstam's first and second rounds from start to finish. Time, TBA.

*

They Got a Pass Too

Fast facts, with age, about 11 players -- besides Annika Sorenstam -- who have received sponsor's exemptions into the Bank of America Colonial Invitational:

Aaron Barber, 30: Earned tour card by finishing tied for eighth in 2002 PGA Tour qualifying tournament. Has played in 13 tour events, missed cut in 10, earning $238,750 (106th on tour).

Jeff Brehaut, 39: Shot a tournament course-record 64 while winning the tour qualifying school event last year. Has made almost $300,000 in 14 events this year. Has won two Nationwide Tour events, including 1995 Inland Empire Open in Southern California.

Tom Byrum, 42: Has been playing on the PGA Tour since 1986, has one tour victory, the 1989 Kemper Open, and finished eighth in last year's U.S. Open. Has made $182,786 this year, but has been over par his last six events.

Brandel Chamblee, 40: Has made the cut in one of five PGA Tour events this year, earning $22,640 at the Phoenix Open. His one PGA Tour victory was in the 1998 Greater Vancouver Open.

Brian Henninger, 40: A two-time PGA Tour winner (1994 Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic and '99 Southern Farm Bureau Classic), he made $281,614 in 20 tour events last year. He has made $22,512 in three tour events this year and $5,252 in two Nationwide events.

Per-Ulrik Johansson, 36: Longtime European Tour player who has five international victories. Has made the cut in eight of 14 PGA Tour events this year, including a tie for sixth in the Byron Nelson on Sunday.

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