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Randy Harvey

Annika on Cutting Edge

She's Worth Watching for All the Right Reasons

May 23, 2003|Randy Harvey

The Colonial Invitational once was known as a great tournament for watching women.

Not for watching them play, mind you, but for watching them watch men play.

If there had been Hooters in the '70s, they wouldn't have had to look beyond galleries at Colonial for waitresses. According to the Colonial Web site, a player once told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the tournament was "the premier girl-watching stop on tour. And whatever's second is way, way back." He didn't have to tell the local papers, which published numerous photos of women during the week in halter tops and hot pants.

None enjoyed the attention more than Priscilla Davis, "the saucy princess of Texas vamp."

That is how she was described, after the murders, in a New York Times magazine article, which proceeded, "She had a mane of platinum hair and a closet full of tight miniskirts and specially designed low-cut halter tops. Each spring at the Colonial Invitational golf tournament in Fort Worth, hordes of men would gather around her just to get a peek."

The Colonial experience was terribly sexist. But for those who participated, as either spectators or spectacles, it apparently was harmless fun.

But it was never the same after the summer of 1976. A man dressed in black and wearing a woman's wig broke into Priscilla's Mockingbird Lane mansion, not far from the golf course, and shot her 12-year-old daughter in the back of the head. When Priscilla and her boyfriend, a former Texas Christian basketball player, returned home, the man, who had been waiting, shot her in the chest and killed the boyfriend.

Priscilla identified the killer as her estranged husband, T. Cullen Davis, one of those larger-than-life Texas oilmen and the model for television's J.R. Ewing.

Upon his arrest, Cullen hired a dogged defense attorney, Racehorse Haynes. He proceeded to put Priscilla on trial, bludgeoning her for her behavior and reputation, and won an acquittal for Cullen.

Who among the self-righteous who recalled the provocative photos of her from the Colonial could disagree when Haynes later told reporters, "She is the dregs. She is the most shameless, brazen hussy in all of humanity. She is a charlatan, a harlot and a liar. She is a snake, unworthy of belief under oath. Someone ought to put a barbed-wire fence around her house and not let her out."

So when someone asked me this week if Annika Sorenstam's invitation to play in the Colonial was indicative of Fort Worth's progressive attitude toward women, I had to laugh.

No, people in Fort Worth invited Sorenstam to play for the same reason people in Fort Worth do almost everything. To get more attention than Dallas.

*

They got my attention.

I was in front of the television set at 6:58 a.m. Thursday to see Sorenstam tee off. USA Network, which has promised to televise each of her shots during the first two rounds as she becomes the first woman since 1945 to play in a PGA Tour event, repeatedly advertised it as a "historic moment in sports."

If Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs is considered sports history, this event certainly qualifies. Sorenstam is playing against many of the world's best players, not 50ish, broken-down, trick-shot artists.

But I prefer the perspective of analyst Peter Kostis, who, unlike other USA commentators, wasn't always on message. When asked by host Bill Macatee whether Sorenstam's appearance is a big deal, Kostis said, "I really don't know. It's just a sporting event I'm looking forward to watching. It's just a great player trying to see how well she can play.''

Kostis took a bolder step into irreverence when he accused Sorenstam of committing "one really huge rookie mistake. She's wearing white on a muddy day."

As for her one-over-par 71, everyone agreed she did fine. She probably didn't play as well as she wished -- she hopes to finish at even par through the first two rounds -- but she definitely didn't play as poorly as her critics wished. It's difficult to label her critics because they have so many different reasons for criticizing her, but one can assume they're the same people fighting to overturn Title IX.

The highlight was her lone birdie, a putt from the fringe on the par-three 13th, which was her fourth hole. She didn't play the hole as well as Kel Nagle did in 1961, when his hole in one there was the first on any hole in tournament history.

His playing partner was five-time Colonial champion and local hero Ben Hogan, a man of few words. He waited for the cheering to stop, then, expressionless, said, "Good shot."

But she did better on 13 than Ian Baker-Finch did in 1993, when he dumped his tee shot into the edge of the lake, then stripped to his boxers so that he could play his second shot. Tour officials advised players after that to keep their pants on during rounds.

*

At the end of the day, Sorenstam's participation in the Colonial says as much about us as it does about her or women's golf.

For at least this one week, there is more interest in Annika Sorenstam than there is in Anna Kournikova. And for all the right reasons. We want to see a female athlete testing herself against the best her sport has to offer.

It also was revealing to see a Colonial gallery, again for all the right reasons, paying as much attention to a woman inside the ropes as it once did to Priscilla Davis outside the ropes.

As an added bonus, the people of Fort Worth can rest assured they are getting more attention than Dallas. In recent years, the Byron Nelson Classic has been more prestigious than Colonial because Tiger Woods has played in Dallas and not Fort Worth. This year, the only reason most people remember that Vijay Singh won in Dallas on Sunday is because he said bad things about Sorenstam.

Randy Harvey can be reached at randy.harvey@latimes.com.

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