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Female Club Pro Takes Aim At PGA Debut

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CHATHAM COUNTY, N.C. — Next month, LPGA star Annika Sorenstam will try her luck on the men's PGA tour. She'll play in the Colonial in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Before Sorenstam was invited to the Colonial, former University of North Carolina golfer Suzy Whaley qualified for the Greater Hartford Open, and she will play in that event in late July.

Whaley made a recent trip to the Triangle to work on the mental aspects of her game with UNC professor Dick Coop in preparation for her big debut.

"She earned it," Coop said. "Nobody invited her. She did it with her clubs."

Whaley did it by winning a sectional tournament.

"It's more where I landed than some place I tried to be," she said.

In fact, Whaley said she thought long and hard before deciding to play in the Greater Hartford Open. She said her decision to join the male touring pros is about service to her fellow PGA club pros.

"I can help them grow the game," she said. "I can show that you don't have to be the best to try and inspire on the golf course."

To prepare for the event., Whaley sought the counsel of Coop, with whom she worked during her collegiate career at UNC. They have talked about her reasons for playing a men's tour event -- which differ from those of Sorenstam.

"She plays on tour," Whaley said of the top women's player. "She plays on tour.

"I work in a pro shop. I collect green fees. I teach Juniors."

When Whaley tees off in Hartford, she must think about her own game and not her members' games.

"We've already said she can wave to her fans and friends," Coop said. "But when she steps on that first tee, she's got to be really focused."

And she will have to be focused while playing from the men's tees.

"The golf course will play 500 yards longer than I'm used to," she said. "I have to factor that in and play to my points of strength."

Coop said it will be fun to watch her.

"Suzy's going to surprise some people," he said. "She's what we call 'sneaky long."

That does not mean she can sneak to the first tee box. She knows it's going to be crowded.

"Very crowded," she said.

But wherever she may find herself in the Greater Hartford Open, Whaley plans to smile, make friends, sell the game and have fun.

When asked if she was nervous, Whaley replied: "Absolutely."


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