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No Plans to Miss a Shot

May 21, 2003|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Annika Sorenstam playing against the men in the Bank of America Colonial golf tournament this week may or may not be "the largest sporting event that will happen this year," as one TV executive said Tuesday, but USA Network plans to cover the first two rounds as if it is.

Sorenstam's threesome will tee off at 6:58 a.m. PDT Thursday in the first round of the tournament at Fort Worth, and USA will be there to cover every shot, staying on the air until noon.

After an hour break, coverage runs from 1-3, as originally scheduled.

On Friday, USA's coverage will run from 11:30 a.m. to approximately 4:30 p.m.

CBS already has expanded its weekend to include a one-hour special Saturday at 11 a.m. If Sorenstam makes the 36-hole cut, more expansion may be in order.

"This is the largest sporting event that will happen this year," CBS coordinating producer Lance Barrow said on a conference call Tuesday. "We'll be talking about this for many years to come."

The last time a woman played in a professional men's tournament was 1945, when Babe Didrikson entered three West Coast tournaments, including the Los Angeles Open, and made the 36-hole cut in all three.

So what kind of rating is USA expecting?

"The interest is phenomenal," said Gordon Beck, USA's executive producer of sports. "But this has our research department scratching its head. There is really nothing to compare it to."

Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan, who has been added to the USA announcing crew, was asked about all the media attention that will be focused on Sorenstam.

"We're all waiting to see how she handles it," Sheehan said. "Obviously, physically she's a very strong player, she's a solid player. She can hit all the shots. Mentally, I think she thinks very well around the golf course. Emotionally, I think that's where we need to look."

Sheehan was asked why no other women have attempted to play in a men's tournament since Didrikson.

"To tell you the truth," she said, "it was never posed to us. I have a suspicion that this all occurred because somebody just posed the question to Annika. And she said, 'I'd do it in heartbeat.'

"I think it started innocently enough, snowballed, and then we have this avalanche."

Would Sheehan have ever played against the men?

"To tell you the truth, I would never have entertained the thought because I knew I couldn't compete with the PGA players during my time," she said. "Annika is strong enough and she has so much confidence that she is a lot different than we were. ... She can hit it out there with a lot of the PGA guys."

A lot of people will judge Sorenstam on whether she makes the cut. Sheehan was asked how she would judge Sorenstam.

"She's already won," she said. "She's won before hitting her first tee shot Thursday. She's already garnered more media attention than anyone could possibly pay for.

"She has awakened all of us and put excitement back in the game of golf."

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