Originally created 05/29/03

LPGA hoping for Sorenstam carryover



AURORA, Ill. -- Laura Diaz remembers making her way to the putting green as Annika Sorenstam teed off in her first tournament of the year, passing fans who had lined up eight deep.

That kind of crowd usually only shows up for a U.S. Open. And this was still two months before the Colonial.

So just imagine the turnout at this weekend's Kellogg-Keebler Classic, when Sorenstam returns to the LPGA Tour after a brief, but historic foray onto the PGA Tour.

"What she did last week at Colonial is going to have a lifetime effect on the LPGA Tour," Diaz said Wednesday. "Not only did she bring new fans, but those are people who rooted her on. They weren't just fans for a week. Those are going to be fans for a lifetime."

Sorenstam missed the cut at the Colonial, but she won the adoration of millions worldwide with her gutty, graceful performance. She proved she has the game to keep up with the big boys, shooting 71-74 on a 7,080-yard course that's the longest and toughest than she's faced.

And she did it despite facing more pressure than any golfer - any athlete, perhaps - has ever had. Every shot was televised, every move she made analyzed.

"It was just so overwhelming," Rosie Jones said. "She elevated the game of golf not only for women, but golf itself. She's elevated the tour by her presence."

Sorenstam insisted she played the Colonial simply to test herself against the best players in the world, not to prove a point about the LPGA Tour or women's golf.

But Diaz said there can't help but be some carryover.

"When fans come and they watch us play, I think they're going to see that all of the women can play," Diaz said. "It's just incredible what she did. Playing in front of that many people and playing so well, it's just awesome. I have a feeling we're going to see those crowds this week."

Indeed, advance ticket sales for the Kellogg-Keebler Classic are up 50 percent, and a large crowd is expected for Sorenstam's appearance in Thursday's pro-am. Even though Tiger Woods is playing his first PGA Tour event since the Masters, media interest in the 54-hole tournament has more than doubled.

It doesn't hurt that Sorenstam is the defending champion of the event, which starts Friday.

"I think she's earned a tremendous amount of respect and showed a lot of people that, 'Hey, the women on the LPGA Tour are good players.' I think that that's the biggest impact it's going to have," Kelli Kuehne said. "Do I think in the future it could do something with interest and fans coming out? Certainly - but I think it's a little too soon to possibly tell.

"I think we'll see the effects a lot more come the middle part of our summer, when people are still talking about it," Kuehne added. "We're one week after the event. I don't think it's completely sunken in yet."

Sorenstam doesn't plan to play on the PGA Tour again, saying the Colonial was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Few women seem eager to follow her trailblazing, either.

Suzy Whaley, a Connecticut club pro, will play the Greater Hartford Open in July. Teenage phenom Michelle Wie has accepted a sponsor's exemption to play on the Nationwide Tour in September, and has also been invited to play a stop on the Canadian Tour.

But most are content with the LPGA Tour.

"I still believe the LPGA is where women golfers belong," Kuehne said. "I don't hold it against people who play in a PGA Tour event, by any means. But I just think that the LPGA Tour is a great, strong product. And Annika is integral to our product."