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Sorenstam Just Made Everyone Take Note

Her performance against the men as well as the women turned it into a landmark year, while Wie, Pak, Kung and a Tour romance became footnotes.

November 20, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

Any wrap-up of the LPGA's 2003 campaign probably should begin by hitting the rewind button and checking out 2002. Once again, Annika Sorenstam dominated the proceedings, which is not that unusual, but in more varied ways than ever before.

Sure, she won tournaments, six of them, and she also won two majors -- the LPGA Championship and the British Open -- not to mention the LPGA Tour Championship.

What's more, 2003 became the year Annikamania was born. That wasn't because she won the money title for the sixth time or the player-of-the-year award for the sixth time.

And her not winning the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average didn't dim the luster of her year; she would have won that too if she had played enough rounds to qualify.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 21, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Golf winner -- Dorothy Delasin won the Mobil LPGA Tournament of Champions. A chart in the Focus on Golf section Thursday incorrectly listed Se Ri Pak as the winner.

If you look at it, that's probably the only miscalculation Sorenstam made all year.

What made Sorenstam's year and what dominated the LPGA landscape in 2003 was her gender-bending, land-breaking appearance at the Bank of America Colonial in May when she became the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event in 58 years. Looking for defining moments in a year of golf, this one was it.

"A remarkable year," said LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw, who knew the publicity from Sorenstam's playing at Colonial would be great and was still surprised by its magnitude.

"In the weeks leading up to that event, the press and the media attention was really unprecedented in the LPGA's history," he said. "Nothing in its 53-year history ever came close."

Sorenstam did not make the cut at Colonial, but she had made the point she had set out as her goal, to test herself and make herself a better player on the LPGA Tour. And just as she did in 2002 when she won 11 times, Sorenstam proved to be the LPGA's best player, a success story that included being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in October.

By the first week of May, a runaway season by Sorenstam wasn't what was shaping up. At the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills, the LPGA's first major, the winner was not Sorenstam, but 30-year-old Patricia Meunier-Lebouc of France, who edged Sorenstam by one shot.

And when Se Ri Pak won the Chick-fil-A event with a fourth-round 64 and a 16-under total, she had a second victory to go along with her title at the Safeway Ping, where she had won with a 23-under total. In the early running, Pak had one more victory than Sorenstam, who had won the Office Depot at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana.

Then Sorenstam bulldozed her way into the picture, first at the Colonial, then in her return to the LPGA Tour at the Kellogg-Keebler Classic, where she shot 17 under and won her second title of the year. A week later, she came through and won her fifth major -- the LPGA Championship -- and followed that eight weeks later with her sixth major title, and her first Women's British Open triumph.

With a career Grand Slam completed, Sorenstam might have allowed herself a chance to look around and reflect on what the other players were up to on the LPGA Tour. The answer was, quite a bit.

* Unheralded Hilary Lunke survived a playoff with Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins to win the U.S. Open. It was Lunke's first victory in only her second year as a professional.

* Following in Sorenstam's heel prints, five other women played in men's professional events -- Suzy Whaley, Michelle Wie, Laura Davies, Jan Stephenson and Pak, who was the only one to make the cut.

* Wie burst onto the scene at 13 and tied for ninth in her first major -- the Nabisco Championship. Wie, who turned 14 in October after she entered the ninth grade, played six LPGA tournaments and also tied for 39th at the U.S. Open.

* Sorenstam went 4-1 as Europe reclaimed the Solheim Cup with a 17 1/2-10 1/2 victory over the U.S. before a crowd that totaled 80,000 over three days at Barseback Golf and Country Club in Sweden.

* Candie Kung won three times. All but overlooked in the surge of publicity for young stars such as Natalie Gulbis, Beth Bauer and Lorena Ochoa, the 22-year-old Taiwanese from Rowland Heights and USC won the Takefuji Classic in April and then took back-to-back titles at Wachovia LPGA Classic and the State Farm Classic in August.

* Pak again proved to be one of the most consistent players on tour with three victories.

* Sophie Gustafson managed to turn up the volume on the soap opera when she won the Samsung World Championships in October, avoiding what could have been penalties on two occasions during the last round. The two incidents were not only highly criticized on NBC's telecast, they also dredged up her romantic relationship with Votaw and how it might have given the appearance of influencing the rules officials.

And yet in the final analysis, it was more Sorenstam's year than anyone else's. Votaw says that Sorenstam's presence among her male peers at Colonial in Fort Worth was a huge benefit to the LPGA.

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