Annika Sorenstam tees off at the Bank of America Colonial. Robert Beck
Twenty years ago Annika Sorenstam teed off in the PGA Tour’s Bank of America Colonial, marking the first appearance by a woman in a PGA Tour event in more than a half-century. Other women followed not long after, with varying degrees of success. But Sorenstam’s appearance in Fort Worth felt historic in its magnitude the moment it was announced, and it holds up as a landmark event two decades later.
At 32, the reserved Swede was not just a very good player on the LPGA Tour. She was the dominant player of her era, and arguably the greatest female player of all time. Whether she could approach the same success on a longer PGA Tour venue against top male players was, in the absence of any recent benchmark, a subject of genuine fascination.
Sorenstam ended up missing the cut, shooting 71 and 74 at Colonial Country Club, but that tells only a small part of the story. Here are 10 things you might not remember about this iconic moment in golf.
1. This whole thing began with another female golfer set to play the PGA Tour. In late 2002, a then unknown Connecticut club pro named Suzy Whaley won her local PGA of America section championship, thus earning an automatic berth in the next summer’s Greater Hartford Open. After Whaley (who would go on to become the first female president of the PGA of America in 2018) confirmed her intent to play, Sorenstam was asked if she also would want to try playing in a PGA Tour event. She said she would, and Colonial jumped on the opportunity to offer her a sponsor’s exemption.
2. Sorenstam was without rival in women’s golf at that point in her career. Midway through a Hall of Fame career, Sorenstam had won five of her eventual 10 majors and was the tour’s player of the year in five of the previous seven years. In 2001, she became the only LPGA player to shoot 59 in competition.
3. There was some blowback, including from her peers. While Sorenstam’s intentions to play were widely embraced, it wasn’t universal. Vijay Singh was the most notable player to express his opposition, saying that Sorenstam didn’t belong in the event, and if he drew her as a partner, he would withdraw. But even some of Sorenstam’s LPGA peers were resistant. In a first-person story for Sports Illustrated, Angela Stanford wrote the downside of Sorenstam faring poorly at Colonial would far outweigh any potential benefit.
4. The media attention around that year’s Colonial was as big as a major. More than 180 journalists sought credentials to cover Sorenstam’s appearance, forcing Colonial Country Club to shift the media centre to its indoor tennis courts. Sorenstam also made a series of appearances on national talk shows and even on “60 Minutes”. In a rather forgettable year in men’s major championships, she was the biggest story in golf.
5. The bond Sorenstam forged with her two rookie playing partners was immediate. A random computer pairing put her with Aaron Barber and Dean Wilson, both of whom sought to make Sorenstam comfortable from the start. For Barber, who lost his card a year later and now works in finance, it was his sole moment of notoriety on tour while Wilson ended up winning the 2006 International. Both are still better known for their experience with Sorenstam, eventually being reunited for a 2013 Golf Channel special.
6. Sorenstam’s opening tee shot ranks as maybe the most pressure-filled opening shot in golf history. Starting on Colonial’s 10th hole in front of throngs of cameras, and a massive gallery filled with girls wearing “Go Annika” buttons, Sorenstam crushed a 4-wood 255 yards into the fairway, then feigned falling over as if overcome by the moment.
7. She made a brief appearance on the leaderboard. After three pars to start her opening round, Sorenstam birdied the par-3 13th to move to one-under, giving her a spot near the lead, where she stood at the turn.
8. Sorenstam’s ball-striking was otherworldly. She made two bogeys on the back nine en route to her 71, but Sorenstam hardly missed a shot on the 7,080-yard Colonial layout. She missed just one fairway, hit 14 of 18 greens, and the four she missed were close enough she still putted for birdie. Sorenstam’s ball-striking was already legend on the LPGA Tour, but the way it translated to a PGA Tour was further validation.
9. The next day was a slight emotional let-down. Her 74 led to a missed cut, and she finished in 96th place, better than 11 men, including an eventual US Open champion in Geoff Ogilvy, and the previous year’s Players champion, Craig Perks.
10. It was Sorenstam’s only start in a PGA Tour event. While Annika never made another appearance in a men’s event, she did lead the way for several others to follow. Whaley played that year in Hartford, missing the cut with scores of 75 and 78, and the next year, Michelle Wie played the first of eight tournaments on the men’s tour. At age 14, her second round 68 in the Sony Open brought her within a stroke of making the cut, but that was as close as she got. Most recently, the LPGA’s Brittany Lincicome played in the 2018 Barbasol Championship, missing the cut with scores of 78-71.