ANNOUNCER: From Stockholm, Sweden, please welcome Annika Sorenstam. ( Applause )
MARGARET WARNER: It was history in the making, Annika Sorenstam, the world's best female golfer, teeing off at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas yesterday, the first woman to play in a Professional Golf Association tour event in 58 years.
She said later she felt sick to her stomach under the pressure, but you couldn't tell that from her dead-on 243-yard drive down the fairway. Huge crowds greeted her at every hole. And her day of strong play, including one birdie, brought her in at a one-over-par 71, seven strokes behind the leader. That gave her a reasonable shot at qualifying for weekend play when the field is cut to the top 70 players after today's round.
Nine years after turning pro, the 32-year-old Swedish player is the Tiger Woods of ladies golf, with dozens of L.P.G.A. Tour wins to her name. But Sorenstam's decision to enter the men's tour event was controversial. The world's number seven male golfer, Veejay Singh, said she had no business playing. And defending Colonial Champ Nick Price was critical, too.
NICK PRICE, Professional Golfer: To me, it's just a huge promotional media hype. That's all she's after here.
MARGARET WARNER: But Sorenstam has plenty of support among other players and fans at Colonial, and elsewhere.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm pulling for her, and I hope I'll be watching her on Saturday and Sunday.
MARGARET WARNER: After yesterday's round, Sorenstam said she'd already met her own test.
ANNIKA SORENSTAM, Professional Golfer: Personally, I came here to test myself. And I know what I've got to work on and I have the afternoon to work a little bit on it. But I am very proud the way I was focusing, and proud of the decisions I made and that I stuck to them and that's why I'm here. I would love to make the cut, but if I play like I did today, then it really doesn't matter.
MARGARET WARNER: This afternoon, after a promising start, Sorenstam seemed to be struggling to try to match yesterday's performance.
And as we begin this conversation, Annika Sorenstam is at the 16th hole and currently four over par for the day, five for the tournament.
For more, we turn to Sally Jenkins, a sports columnist for the "Washington Post". She joins us from the Colonial tournament. Sally, welcome. From watching than this on TV, it seems as if there's a lot of excitement about this. Why... first of all, what is it like to be there and why is this such a big story?
SALLY JENKINS: Well, it's like a major championship. The last time anyone saw crowds like this was when maybe Tiger Woods played in the U.S. Open or something like that. It's been a huge event for spectators. There are people hanging on to the chain link fence outside the club trying to peer through the chain link fence to see Annika Sorenstam as she goes by. There are kids hanging out of trees, trying to get a look at her.
MARGARET WARNER: At the risk of stating the obvious, explain to non-golfers why women usually aren't considered equal to men in golf.
SALLY JENKINS: Most people assume they can't hit the ball far enough to compete with men. In this case, Annika Sorenstam has played right alongside some of the best male golfers in the world. Length has not been a problem. Surprisingly what has held her back is her putting. If she has been inferior in any way the last couple of days, it has been on the putting green. She has three-putted a half dozen times. She probably won't make the cut because of that, not because she couldn't keep up off of the tee.
MARGARET WARNER: From talking to her, why do you think that she... she's the number one woman player in the world. Why is she doing this?
SALLY JENKINS: Well, she's far and away the number one player in the world. She won 13 events last year, almost half the number that she entered. She finished in the top seven in 31 of 34 events last year. That's a stunning ratio in golf. It's not a game that particularly lends itself to that sort of consistent success. So she wins at such a rate on the LPGA tour, that it was almost beginning to look too easy for her and she wanted to move up a level and the next level up is the PGA tour.
MARGARET WARNER: I notice also that both in what she said and in some of the ads she does, she talks about young girls getting into golf.
SALLY JENKINS: Well, what's happened here this week is that Annika Sorenstam has established that there really aren't any limits to female athletic performance. They're mostly false barriers. We didn't think ten years ago that a woman could hit the ball 280 yards off a tee. We don't think a woman can dunk a basketball consistently and actually they're beginning to do that. So I think that she's very aware that what she did this week was probably going to open some doors for other kids who are going to think "well, those barriers aren't real. They're imagined and they're mostly societal constructs."
MARGARET WARNER: But if the number one woman's player in the world, whether she did or didn't make the cut, I mean she was back in the pack. Surely there are some physical barriers, are there not?
SALLY JENKINS: There are some patent physical barriers. Women tend to be smaller, they tend to have less muscle and more body fat than men. But you can argue... social scientists are reluctant to make those generalizations because some men are ten inches shorter than others. There are as many differences within the sexes as there are between them. So there are exceptions to every rule. And athletic performance isn't static. It changes all the time and it improves all the time. And what Annika Sorenstam wanted to do here this week is stretch female athletic performance and she'd done that.
Something else interesting happened there. There was this assumption that the very best female golfer in the world was still worse than the absolute worst male golfer and that didn't happen this week. I think there were a lot of people that assumed she would come out here and shoot a pair of 80s and finish dead last. As it turns out, Annika Sorenstam will finish ahead of a number of men in the field. So that assumption will go away that the very worst PGA Tour golfer is better than the best LPGA golfer.
MARGARET WARNER: How has he she handled the pressure? She talked a little bit about it yesterday.
SALLY JENKINS: She has been totally graceful in everything she's done this week. She handled it beautifully; better than some of the men who are here, I might add. She has really been gracious and sportsmanlike in everything she has said, in everything that she's done. She has become really great friends with the two men she played with the last couple of days, Dean Wilson and Aaron Barber, which has been really nice to see. She has made some believers out of some of the guys on the golf course.
MARGARET WARNER: And how do the men players you've talked to feel about this?
SALLY JENKINS: Well, it is a mixed reaction. I think that probably after the last couple of days, things have changed a little bit. Even the most generous player out here, I think probably was a little skeptical that she could shoot what she shot yesterday, a 71. You know, that 71 could have been a 68. She missed a lot of short birdie putts. In the end, statistically, she led the entire field in accuracy, which was quite something to watch. It was a historical round of golf in that respect. Nobody anticipated that sort of accuracy and precision from her.
MARGARET WARNER: So if she doesn't make the cut-- and you think at this point she probably won't-- is there is any larger meaning to this? In other words, one, this is a one-time event for her or do you think it's going to mean something larger for the game of golf?
SALLY JENKINS: I think it has already been something larger for the game of golf as we've just discussed. I think it is going to break down a lot of old assumptions and barriers. As far as whether she'll do ever this again, probably not; I think she said it is a one- time deal. What you will see is probably another woman come along who wants to try it from the tips. There's a kid named Michelle Wi who can bust at 290 off the tee and she wants to play in PGA tour events. I think we'll see it again and I think we're probably going to see another like performance. You know, and beyond that, who knows. Will a woman ever compete consistently on the PGA tour? Nothing is certain. But it is certainly more possible today than it was 48 hours ago.
MARGARET WARNER: Sally Jenkins, thanks a lot.
SALLY JENKINS: Thank you.