Local News

Intrigue On Tap As Sorenstam Prepares To Take On Men

Posted May 23, 2003 3:01 a.m. EDT

— The participation of

LPGA star Annika Sorenstam

in the PGA Tour's Colonial Invitational this week is major news for those who follow golf, especially for young women who aspire to play the game at her level.

Kristina Engstrom, a member of the Duke women's golf team, grew up hitting golf balls in Sorenstam's Sweden.

"People take it for granted that she'll win," Engstrom, a Duke senior, said of the No. 1 women's golfer in the world. "They say: 'Oh, Annika. She wins all the time.'"

Maybe not this week.

Sorenstam will take on the men when she tees off Thursday in Fort Worth. Everyone wonders how she'll fare, including Engstrom and other local collegiate golfers.

"I'm not sure how she'll play," said University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill senior Meghan Adams. "There are reasons why we have both a PGA and LPGA Tour."

Said Meaghan Francella, a UNC junior: "I hope she plays well. I don't know what that will do for women's golf if she doesn't."

Engstrom said, simply, "I hope she beats all the guys."

Former UNC golfer Suzy Whaley could be the only person who can measure Sorenstam's mission.

Whaley will play from the men's tees in the PGA Tour's Greater Hartford Open

this summer.

But Whaley is a happy-go-lucky club pro. Sorenstam is the best player in women's golf.

"I think she faces a lot of pressure," Whaley said. "But Annika is one of the hardest workers I've seen. I know she'll do the best she can."

Whaley believes Sorenstam will boost the LPGA's corporate contributions -- and visibility?

"I think it will make people more aware of what's going on in women's golf," said Duke junior Leigh Anne Hardin. "She was on Jay Leno the other night. We all watched."

Said UNC women's golf coach Sally Austin: "Some attention is better than none.

"I think Annika will represent us well," Austin said.

For her part, Sorenstam said she ready for the challenge.

"Somebody asked me if I was prepared," she said Tuesday. "I'm prepared. If I wait another week, three months or a year, I won't be any more prepared. I'm ready to go."

But what about the men? Noted golf author John Feinstein relished the question.

"The fear that some players have is that she'll beat them," Feinstein said. "Dating back to when we were kids, nobody wanted to lose to a girl."

So maybe Sorenstam won't be the only one feeling pressure.

She becomes the first woman in 58 years to tee off in a PGA event at 9:55 a.m. Thursday, when she will be paired with two PGA Tour rookies, Dean Wilson and Aaron Barber.