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Memories: 1995

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Sorrenstam Comes of Age, Mallon Comes Apart

By Thomas Heath
Special to The Washington Post
July 17, 1995

COLORADO SPRINGS, JULY 16 -- Annika Sorenstam sat in a television booth about 100 feet behind the 18th green, her heart "beating at 2,000" as she stared at the screen to see if Meg Mallon would sink a 20-foot putt and send the U.S. Women's Open into a playoff.

Mallon missed and thousands of spectators cramming the last green at the Broadmoor East course gasped. A few feet away, Sorenstam's blood pressure dropped and she cried. With her first LPGA victory, she had entered the elite of women's golf at 24.

"This is the biggest tournament in the world you can win," the Stockholm native said with tear-stained cheeks. "It has always been a dream for me . . . almost unreachable, untouchable. A lot of people in the world look up to this tournament. So for me, it is the world championship.

"I don't know what I've gotten myself into."

Mallon, who began the final round with a three-shot lead, said she played the same golf that put her at 5 under par after three rounds, but she would rather have been the underdog today.

"I know the nature of the Opens and I know Saturday doesn't win an Open," Mallon said. "It is a lot easier chasing than it is the one being chased. You could say, you just go out and shoot even par for Sunday, but that is very difficult to do."

Coming out on the winning end of a day-long duel with Mallon got Sorenstam the $175,000 first prize.

Sorenstam, the LPGA's rookie of the year in 1994, shot a final-round 68, which put her four-day total at 2-under-par 278, on a course whose placement on the side of a mountain started rolls that played havoc with putts.

The victory takes her out from the shadow of fellow countrywomen Helen Alfredsson, one of the most charismatic players on the tour and winner of the 1993 Dinah Shore, and Liselotte Neumann, who won the '88 Open. With Sorenstam's official arrival, the Swedes are carving out a niche in the LPGA.

"I have had some great players in front of me that broke the ice," said Sorenstam, who maintains a residence in Phoenix. "I think that is what has been needed."

She still has a strong tie to her homeland. She called her parents, Tom and Gunilla, from a telephone in the media room just minutes after winning the title. The Sorenstams in Stockholm had to listen to her win because their television picture had disappeared.

She dabbed at the tears from her eyes and sipped a soda, the silver U.S. Open trophy reaching up to her knees as she talked with her parents.

"My dad was crying, my mom was crying and I was crying, so we didn't say hardly anything to each other," said Sorenstam, who attended the University of Arizona. "They knew what had happened. They listened to it."

Her fiance, David Esch, picked up the trophy and they headed into the interview room to enter the media spotlight. Prior to the U.S. Open, Sorenstam wasn't widely known outside the golf circuit.

She started playing golf at age 12 and was a member of the Swedish national team from 1987 to 1992. She moved to the United States five years ago when she earned a scholarship to Arizona, and she won the 1991 NCAA championship. She won the 1992 world amateur title but failed in her first trip to the tour qualifying school in 1993. But she has come on strong this year, finishing among the top 10 in two tournaments.

"All the pieces in my life are coming together," she said. "I am playing very relaxed golf. My confidence level is very high and overall my game has just come together."

This day began with Mallon in a strong position at 5 under par. Julie Larsen was two strokes back and Sorenstam was tied for fourth place with Pat Bradley at even par. But after Mallon's lead grew to four strokes when Larsen bogeyed the first two holes, Mallon self-destructed. She bogeyed the difficult third hole, then made a triple-bogey 6 on the fourth hole after she plunked her tee shot into the water.

"All of a sudden you are bogey, bogey. Then you are in the water, you've got to hit the shot all over again," Mallon said. "The triples and doubles, that's obviously what comes back to haunt you."

Her triple bogey opened the door to surging veterans such as Bradley and Betsy King -- and to the young Sorenstam, who surged to a three-stroke lead with seven holes to go.

But Mallon steadied herself and began gaining ground as Sorenstam made mistakes.

"Even when Annika got to four under," Mallon said, "I never felt I was out of the golf tournament because I know you have to post it here at an Open to make it official."

Sorenstam showed nervousness while bogeying the 14th and 15th holes and seeing her lead over Mallon dwindle to one stroke. But Sorenstam held par on the last three holes. And that put the pressure on Mallon to make a birdie to force a playoff.

It came down to the last hole and the last player. Mallon's putt rolled to the left and she lost by a stroke.

"I knew I could be aggressive," Mallon said. "I wanted to play 18 more tomorrow."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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