Three for the Show
An epic U.S. Open could be in the offing as Sorenstam, Webb and
Pak take center stage at Prairie Dunes
As the final leg of the USGA's triple crown, this week's U.S.
Women's Open has a tough act to follow. The just completed
Senior Open was an instant classic; two weeks earlier the
People's Open lit up the golf world with unprecedented energy.
That both of these tournaments were played at exciting new
venues only added to the intrigue. Now the LPGA, so often
overshadowed and underestimated, takes its turn on center stage.
A letdown may seem inevitable, but the guess here is that the
opposite will hold. This event has the makings of one of the
best Women's Opens ever.
In an era when the legends of the men's game are leading the
public hand-wringing over Tiger Woods's dominance, the LPGA has
an enviable balance of power. Yes, Annika Sorenstam is the clear
favorite this week, but she has two battle-tested contenders to
tussle with. Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb have taken three of the
last four Opens, including the last two by Webb, who is gunning
to become the first woman to bag a three-peat. The members of
this Big Three are all in fine form, each having won a tour
event in the last month. On Sunday night, following her
come-from-behind win at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway
Township, N.J., Sorenstam was asked to assess the competition.
"I haven't really noticed," she woofed. "My game is peaking, and
that's all I care about."
Sorenstam's laser focus has pushed her 2002 batting average to
.500, as the ShopRite was her sixth victory in 12 starts. But
her obsessive-compulsive drive has actually hurt her in past
majors, during which she has tried too hard to force a victory.
Probably the most bitter moment of Sorenstam's pro career was a
missed cut at the '97 Open when she was going for three national
championships in a row. Sorenstam's overall brilliance of late
has diminished Webb, but it surely galls Sorenstam that her
Aussie rival has more career majors--five to her four. (Pak
matched Sorenstam's total last month when she dashed Annika's
Grand Slam dreams at the LPGA Championship.)
Which of these three players wins this week--and it will almost
surely be one of them--depends on who can best translate her
game to the unique challenges of the host course, Prairie Dunes
in Hutchinson, Kans. Sorenstam is a plodding tactician, Webb a
freewheeling basher and Pak an enviable mix of both styles. All
three players will be tested by Prairie Dunes's blast-furnace
winds, tiny, undulating greens that average only 4,279 square
feet and the famous ball-swallowing gunch that frames the
fairways and greens. The Women's Open is by far the biggest
tournament Prairie Dunes has hosted in its 65 years, but its
reputation was secured during a Jack Nicklaus-Arnold Palmer
exhibition in 1962, the year of their epochal playoff at the
U.S. Open at Oakmont. Although free of tournament pressure,
Palmer could do no better than a 72 that included a double bogey
out of the weeds by the 18th green, while Nicklaus labored to a
77 that included a quadruple bogey on the 9th hole.
Now here comes the Open, what Sorenstam calls "the biggest
tournament we have--biggest crowds, biggest coverage, biggest
purse, biggest pressure." To that list she can add one more
item: biggest expectations.
NANCY LOPEZ needs to rethink her plans to work a full schedule
as a television announcer next year. The good manners and folksy
demeanor that so endear her to fans make Lopez dullsville in the
booth, where clarity and critical insight are at least as
important as a famous name.
Tom Watson took time out from his preparations for the Senior
Open in Owings Mills, Md., to throw out the first pitch when the
Orioles hosted the Yankees on June 25, firing a decent heater
down the middle. It was long-overdue redemption for Watson, who
in a previous star turn uncorked a wild pitch at the 1985 World
Series, when his hometown Kansas City Royals were hosting the St.
Louis Cardinals. "The catcher didn't even put his arm up, the
pitch was so far over his head," says Bruce Edwards, Watson's
longtime caddie. "So this time around Tom was very pleased."
In the wake of Mi Hyun Kim's final-round collapse at the Wegmans
Rochester LPGA two weeks ago, the four-year veteran fired caddie
Worth Blackwelder, pushing her number of ex-loopers deeper into
double figures. Other Koreans have been similarly extravagant in
handing out pink slips. Both Jeong Jang and Gloria Park are on
their third caddies of the year, while Hee-Won Han recently
fired her bag man despite being in the top 10 on the money list
at the time.
During the second round of the Murphy's Irish Open, at Fota
Island, Fredrik Jacobson of Sweden aced the 168-yard 11th hole,
earning a free pint of stout for every ticket holder, courtesy
of the title sponsor.
Not since Jose Maria Olazabal first made the scene has a surname
been mangled the way Glen Hnatiuk's was last week. Note to ABC
announcers: It's NATCH-ik.
John Daly took his road show to the Great White North on June
25, competing in the Canadian Skins Games at the Mark
O'Meara-designed Grandview Golf Club in Huntsville, Ont. Sergio
Garcia was the big winner, with eight skins worth $121,855, but
Daly (who took home five skins and $55,987) was the undisputed
press conference MVP, charming the Canuck scribes with his
down-home bons mots. Asked if he was happy to be playing in
Canada, Daly said, "I love to go anywhere they don't charge us a
Former Arizona standout Jenna Daniels sported a Georgia Bulldogs
logo on her bag at the ShopRite LPGA Classic, paying a debt of
sorts. The 2000 NCAA champion's caddie was her former Arizona
coach, Todd McCorkle, who now oversees the Georgia women's golf
team. "It's called recruiting," McCorkle says of Daniels's bag
logo. "I'm working for free, so I figured the least she could do
is give me some free advertising."
MEMBERSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILEGES
The darnedest things turn up in Tour locker rooms. We smuggled
out a guide to the players' booty
The rich just keep getting richer on the PGA Tour, and this
image-conscious organization seems a little sheepish about it.
On the first page of the Tour's pocket-sized booklet outlining
the fabulous rewards that come from its corporate partnerships
is this disclaimer: "The information in this guide is for the
benefit of players and is strictly confidential. We request that
you not share the details of these benefits with anyone who is
not a Tour staff member or player." Right. Here's a list of the
1. AT&T Wireless
A free 1,000- minute-per-month digital wireless service package
that features no roaming long-distance charges. A complimentary
Nokia phone is included.
2. Carey International
The international chauffeur service provides 16 one-way airport
trips a year.
3. IBM ThinkPad laptop computers, equipped with a
custom-designed software program (Tour Links) that features
access to money-list and statistical information, and online
3. Delta Airlines
Twenty percent off published fares on domestic travel, good for
the immediate family. Every tournament winner receives 25,000
SkyMiles as a bonus.
5. John Deere & Co.
Discount of 25% on equipment for use at home.
Half off the suggested retail price of any watch. First-time
winners receive specially engraved 18K gold and stainless steel
Constellation Chronographs with "a retail value of approximately
$4,000 to recognize their tremendous achievement."
7.Palm i705 handheld organizer
Equipped with wireless Internet service plan. Additional Palms
are available at a 20% discount.
8. PGA Tour shops
A 25% discount on all merchandise (excluding golf equipment) at
9. Starwood Hotels and Resorts
Among the many rewards offered are 99,000 complimentary
Starpoints annually (which equal up to 49 nights of free rooms a
year), automatic room upgrades, check-cashing privileges, 4 p.m.
late checkout and a complimentary weekday newspaper.
Note: Favorable press coverage is not included.
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM
THIS WEEK: The U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open have 18-hole
playoffs on Monday, while the U.S. Senior Open has a three-hole
playoff on Sunday. Which format do you prefer?
LAST WEEK: Should the Tour reverse its policy and make public its
fines for player misconduct?
Yes 74% No 26%
--Based on 2,645 responses to our informal survey.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND OPEN HOSTILITY Sorenstam (left) and Pak (right) will try to prevent a three-peat by Webb.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: AARON HARRIS/AP (DALY) DRAGGIN' Daly blew lots of smoke at the Canadian Skins.
COLOR PHOTO: DAN CURRIER/THE NEWS-STAR/AP (PLANE)
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN HADDAD (WATCH)
SEVEN COLOR PHOTOS