Twenty years since Annika and Colonial, could we see that in today’s game?
Twenty years ago this week, Annika Sorenstam had one of golf’s ultimate “Where were you?” moments.
Wait, it’s already been that long?
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” Stacy Lewis said.
“I don’t feel like we’re that old,” Brittney Lincicome said. “I feel like I was just watching it yesterday.”
The Swede, who was 32 years old and the world’s No. 1 female player at the time, accepted an exemption into the Bank of America Colonial, becoming the first woman to tee it up in a PGA Tour event since Babe Didrikson Zaharias at the 1945 Tucson Open.
Sorenstam, a 10-time major champion with 72 LPGA victories, shot 71-74 and missed the cut at Colonial by four shots, but it remains one of golf’s most iconic moments — and possibly the defining moment of her Hall of Fame career.
“Looking back at this, I’m sure some people will say what was the purpose,” Sorenstam said last month at the Invited Celebrity Classic, “but I think in the big picture, it was good for women’s sports and for young girls to be able to share that story.”
And on the 20th anniversary of her historic week, its impact on the sport remains profound.
“It was just really cool for women’s empowerment and saying, ‘Gender is not the thing that divides these players,'” Lydia Ko told GolfChannel.com at the Cognizant Founders Cup. “It’s pretty amazing the career she had and if anyone would do it, it was going to be her.”
Two other LPGA stars have teed up on the PGA Tour since Sorenstam’s groundbreaking week. Michelle Wie West, at 14 years old, played the Sony Open the following year, and then seven more Tour events with the last being in 2008. In 2018, Lincicome competed in the Barbasol Championship. They missed the cut on each occasion, but they were irreplaceable experiences.
“I didn’t want it to end,” Sorenstam said after her foray.
Now, 20 years since Sorenstam did it, is one of the LPGA’s current stars primed to get inside the ropes with the world’s top male players?
Lincicome never thought she’d play on the PGA Tour. And when she was extended a sponsor’s invitation to the Barbasol Championship, five years ago, it was not a no-brainer.
“I literally had to think about it for a long time,” the two-time major champion told GolfChannel.com, “just to weigh the pros and cons, just to make sure it was something I should do because I was more worried about the media and the fans kind of being negative and really mean.”
Though social media was basically non-existent when Sorenstam competed at Colonial, she was still met with a wave of vitriol.
“What is she going to prove by playing? It’s ridiculous,” Vijay Singh said ahead of the ’03 Colonial. “She’s the best woman golfer in the world, and I want to emphasize ‘woman.’ We have our tour for men, and they have their tour. She’s taking a spot from someone in the field.”
Singh, who also said he would withdraw if paired with Sorenstam, wasn’t alone in his contempt.
Nick Price said Sorenstam’s presence “reeks of publicity.” Scott Hoch added, “Most guys hope she plays well, and what comes out of this is that she realizes she can’t compete against the men.”
A day before she teed off, Sorenstam admitted she was overwhelmed.
“I think that when I accepted the invitation, I must have been very naive,” she said to hundreds of media members. “I’m doing this to test myself and I didn’t think everybody else wanted to test me at the same time.”
However, following 36 holes, Sorenstam was emotional and moved by the swarm of support she received.
“I’ve had some guys that have said less positive things come up and tell me that they were proud of me,” she said. “And for them to come up and say that, I admire them for doing that.”
But despite her positive experience, Sorenstam said she wouldn’t reconsider playing in another Tour event.
“I’m very thankful and honored to have been here, but I know where I belong,” she said. “And I’m going to go back with all the experience that I learned this week and I want to win tournaments, I want to set records.”
Lincicome, meanwhile, echoed Sorenstam’s feelings about playing on Tour.
“I loved it and it was so great,” she said, “the guys were super welcoming, I felt right at home, it was so nice, everyone was super gracious … all in all, it was a great time and I’m glad I did it.”
And though the 37-year-old is unsure if she would do it again, she urges any LPGA player who is given a similar opportunity to take advantage.
“Why not,” she said, “it just brings more exposure to us and the LPGA and there’s no negatives to doing it.”
But aside from the detractors, there’s another factor that may prevent someone from succeeding Lincicome as the next woman to compete on the PGA Tour.
“I don’t know if you’ll see another (LPGA) player do it now with as far as these guys hit it,” Lewis said.
In 2003, Sorenstam led the LPGA in driving distance at 270 yards. Today, it’s Emily Kristine Pedersen at 284.
Twenty years ago, Hank Kuehne was the PGA Tour’s longest bomber at 321.4 yards. The Tour average was 285 yards and only 10 players averaged over 300. Currently, Rory McIlroy is the Tour’s driving distance leader at 328 yards, with the average on the Tour being 298.3. Ninety-two players average over 300 yards.
“Would I like to see it? I don’t know,” Angel Yin responded when asked if she’d like to see an LPGA player play on Tour again. “I think the guys are hitting it so far these days, it’s a little wild.”
Lewis, a former world No. 1, wants the LPGA’s and PGA Tour’s stars to play together — but not necessarily against each other.
“I would like to see a mixed event where we play different tees, different leaderboards,” the two-time major champion said, “but I don’t know what a female going and playing a 7,000-yard golf course — I don’t know what that’s going to prove. I don’t think that really moves the needle.
“If you can put us in the fairway where we’re both hitting 8-irons, you can see how games compare, and I think it could be pretty cool.”
Something similar is happening in December. The PGA Tour and LPGA will co-host the inaugural Grant Thornton Invitational, a mixed-team exhibition comprised of 16 Tour and 16 LPGA players. It will be the two tours’ first mixed-team competition since the JCPenny Classic in 1999.
“The more crossover (the LPGA) can have with the PGA Tour, the better,” Wie West said.
But if an LPGA player takes the leap of faith that Sorenstam did 20 years ago, it wouldn’t be about the score.
“I think it would be just a cool experience,” Ko, who doesn’t know if she would ever do what Sorenstam did, said. “I don’t know if it will do me any good, playing at a PGA Tour event with their length. But even if I shoot 100, it might be embarrassing, but it would just be a fun experience.”
For Sorenstam, teeing it up at Colonial had a deeper meaning than her spot on the leaderboard alongside nearly 120 men.
“It’s not so much about getting to play with the men,” she said last month. “It’s more about having a dream and wanting to push yourself and put yourself in an uncomfortable situation because you have some goals you want to achieve.”
Sorenstam may have only finished better than 11 players that week, but two decades later, her two rounds at Colonial continue live in lore. And it’s those types of moments that will help inspire generations of golfers — regardless of their gender.
“It’s so unique and that moment is just one of the amazing moments that Annika had,” Ko said, “and outside of that, she’s done so many amazing things and she’s grown golf in general, not just in women’s golf.
“I reckon that she’s a role model not just to girls growing up, and not just a role model to me, but I’m sure junior boys would say, ‘One day I want to play like Annika Sorenstam'”