Annika's Grand Plan
Tiger Woods may be generating all the buzz, but Annika Sorenstam
is a better bet to sweep the majors this year
Golf's major championship season resumes this week--no, not with
the arrival of another sprawling U.S. Open preview, but rather
with an actual major, the McDonald's LPGA Championship in
Wilmington, Del. For all the breathless discussion of Tiger
Woods's Grand Slam chances, a more realistic prospect is the
Soren-Slam. After roaring to an 11-stroke victory at last week's
inaugural Kellogg-Keebler Classic, in Chesterfield, Mo., Annika
Sorenstam storms into the LPGA Championship with designs on her
own impregnable quadrilateral. With thinner fields and three
tailor-made venues awaiting, Sorenstam is dreaming out loud
about running the table.
"Sure, sometimes late at night I lie in bed thinking about
winning a Grand Slam," says Sorenstam, whose opening-round 63 in
Chesterfield keyed her fourth victory of the season. "I do think
it is very possible."
Next up is tight and twisty DuPont Country Club, where Sorenstam
has three top 10 finishes in seven previous trips, including a
fifth last year and a third in 1997, when she finished a shot
out of a playoff. "Anytime you have a course with small greens
and narrow fairways like you do at the McDonald's, you have to
make Annika a favorite," says Juli Inkster, a two-time winner at
the LPGA Championship. To finally prevail, Sorenstam will have
to eliminate the one sloppy round that has plagued her in the
past, like the second-round 73 in 1997.
The last woman to win the first two legs of the Grand Slam was
Pat Bradley, in 1986, but she finished fifth at the U.S. Women's
Open. If Sorenstam takes the LPGA Championship, her quest for
the Grand Slam will take her to the U.S. Women's Open on July 4
in Hutchinson, Kans., at Prairie Dunes Country Club, the linksy
Perry Maxwell masterwork revered for its undulating,
pot-bunkered landscape. Sorenstam fell in love with Prairie
Dunes when it hosted the '91 U.S. Women's Amateur, in which she
was eliminated in the third round of match play. "I have always
dreamed of going back and winning there," she says.
Were that to happen, a larger dream could be realized at the
Women's British Open (Aug. 8-11) at Turnberry. Sorenstam has
never laid eyes on the famed Scottish links, but she draws a
parallel with Prairie Dunes. "The tougher the course, the more
strategy needed, the more accuracy is at a premium, the more I
like it," she says.
Though the British Open was officially designated a major
championship only last year, it has always been paramount to
Sorenstam, three times a runner-up. "That is the one I'd
ultimately like to win," she says. "Growing up in Europe, I used
to say when I was practicing, This putt is to win the Open."
After completing her romp at the Kellogg-Keebler, Sorenstam was
asked if the 21-under finish--which tied Wendy Ward's 54-hole
record--was her finest performance over three consecutive days.
"The combination of everything, this is probably the best I've
played," she said.
This would rate as terrifying news to her competitors--if they
didn't already know they were in trouble. "She is dominating this
tour like no one has before," says Inkster. "She is so primed to
make a run at the Grand Slam."
It's not too late for Karrie Webb--0 for '02--to salvage the
season. Last year she had three victories to Annika Sorenstam's
eight, but Webb stole much of the glory by winning two majors.
With Sorenstam's emphasis on the Grand Slam, Webb can again be
On Sunday evening, a day after its stunning upset at the NCAA
championships, the Minnesota golf team convened at Minnesota
Valley Country Club in Bloomington for a previously scheduled
awards banquet. "It's totally surreal, all these people and
reporters," said sophomore Justin Smith, calling on a cellphone
prior to the salad course. "I knew Gopher golf had a lot of
support, but this is ridiculous." Marked for elimination only
two months ago due to budget and Title IX considerations, the
Gophers twice rose from the dead--grassroots fund-raising
collected $1.2 million, ensuring their survival for the next two
seasons, and then, at the NCAAs, a comeback over the final two
rounds made them the first Midwestern team to win the national
championship since John Cook led Ohio State to the 1979 title.
Minnesota made its big move during a third round played in
inclement weather, including hail and 30-mph winds that buffeted
the Scarlet course at Ohio State. "Perfect playing conditions,"
said junior Matt Anderson, a onetime walk-on whose final-round
66 keyed the four-shot victory over Georgia Tech.
Cristie Kerr was dinged $1,000 last week for running afoul of
LPGA rules--by half an hour. On Sunday, May 26, Kerr, who had
skipped that week's Corning Classic, decided to get in a little
practice at Stonebridge Country Club, site of the tour's next
stop, the Kellogg-Keebler Classic. Kerr and Natalie Gulbis went
out to play a nine-hole practice round at 4:30 p.m., and therein
lies the rub. Tour rules prohibit members who have elected not
to enter a tournament from playing the course of the next
scheduled tournament until after 5 p.m. on Sunday. Gulbis was
not fined because she had missed the cut at Corning.
Wondering what's become of Paul Gow, a promising rookie a year
ago who has suffered a head-spinning decline in 2002? Suffering
from recurrent dizziness that was misdiagnosed in January as
vertigo, Gow, a 31-year-old Aussie, was prescribed Valium, which
didn't exactly help his golf. "I was like, la la la, I'm five
over par, it's cool," he says. "Now I know what it feels like to
be Fred Couples." In March an allergist finally figured out that
Gow's malady was an inner-ear infection that was disrupting his
balance. Gow gave up the Valium and promptly made his first cut
of the year, at the Genuity Championship in early March, but his
play has been a downer since. Kemper was his 11th missed cut in
14 starts this year.
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM
THIS WEEK: Would you sleep in your car to play Bethpage Black?
LAST WEEK: Which player has the best chance of winning all four
majors on his or her tour this year: Tiger Woods, Annika
Sorenstam or Jim Thorpe?
Woods....52% Sorenstam....45% Thorpe....3%
--Based on 2,925 responses to our informal survey.
COLOR PHOTO: MARK HUMPHREY/AP RED-HOT With a 21-under total, Sorenstam tied the LPGA scoring record during her 35th tour win.
COLOR PHOTO: MATT TURNER/GETTY IMAGESINNER DEMONS A misdiagnosed ear infection unsteadied Gow.