Come play the Kemper Open. Pretty please with birdies on top.
The Washington area and the Kemper Open need to get on Annika Sorenstam's dance card as fast as humanly possible.
On Wednesday, the world's best woman golfer said she would love to get a sponsor's exemption to play in a PGA Tour event. Now we'll find out if any all-male tour event wants to give her that chance. Because she has taken the risk of asking publicly for a spot, don't hang her out to dry, guys. She'll remember who said, "Yes," first.
"If I got an invite, I would say, 'Yes,' in a heartbeat," Sorenstam said Wednesday at a corporate appearance. "It's a great challenge. It's not something I want to do regularly. But it would be a great learning experience."
The old divots at Augusta National don't want a woman member, much less a player. Though within their rights, they have still given the sport an arrogant, elitist black eye. Now, a garden-variety tour stop such as the Kemper, without a dogwood, a magnolia or a billionaire in sight, has a chance to restore the sport's honor. The first event to warmly welcome Sorenstam -- and her amazing 13 LPGA titles last season -- will get red stars from coast to coast.
"Wow, this is certainly something we have to look at," former Kemper Open chairman Ben Brundred said yesterday. "We've got to go to Chicago [to Kemper headquarters] with this idea. You can't decide this in a day . . . but if we don't invite her, my wife will kill me."
As for the PGA Tour, one tournament director said: "I don't think they'd dare oppose it."
Tour sponsors are allowed to give a few exemptions to anyone they think deserving (like the Kemper inviting Casey Martin) or anyone, such as an older star, who would help attendance. How could you deny a loyal sponsor the chance to invite Sorenstam? She would be a license to print money. Her presence might be worth 5,000 extra fans a day, plus a good-news media circus and big TV ratings, too.
"I've never gone out to the Kemper," Georgetown basketball coach Craig Esherick said yesterday. "But I'd definitely go to see her."
Annika is to women's golf what Tiger Woods is to the men's game -- that is, if Tiger won a lot more often by a lot more strokes. How good is Sorenstam? I say she could break par and make the cut at the Kemper from the back tees. Her name might even hit the leader board. I don't think she could win. But I would sure like to find out. This is considered golf heresy, but I'll put my name on it.
"If I pick the right course, I think I could do well," Sorenstam said Wednesday, adding that she could only compete if the course wasn't excessively long and punished inaccurate driving, because she's the LPGA's straightest driver.
We've got just the course. The TPC at Avenel would suit her right down to the ground. The tight, strategic, not-too-long track might have been built for her. Firm June fairways would give her drives extra distance. You roll, girl.
At 6,987 yards, Avenel is one of the few tour stops that's still less than 7,000 yards. Plenty are more than 7,250. The course plays somewhat shorter because of the summer heat. And shorter PGA hitters have always thrived at Avenel. Tom Kite loved the place. Other winners who were far down in the long-driving statistics include Morris Hatalsky, Tom Byrum, Gil Morgan, Grant Waite, Lee Janzen and Justin Leonard. Brains, judgment and touch win more often than brute strength.
Psssst, Annika, the field usually is not too tough either. Tiger never comes, even when he teases us that he might. There isn't a single forced carry you couldn't handle easily. On all but one of the long par 4s, you could run the ball onto the green with a fairway wood or long iron. And there are seven holes where you'd usually hit wedge to set up a birdie: Nos. 1, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13 and 14.
The Kemper should break all land speed records to invite Sorenstam before the line of suitors wraps around the block. Send her roses, a new L-wedge, whatever will do the job. Remember, this isn't just about 2003. And it's not just about Sorenstam. It's about establishing that the Kemper Open is LPGA friendly.
In future, the LPGA might provide other stars who can be drawing cards to events that sometimes lack pizzazz. A light sprinkling of LPGA presence at tour events might help make women stars better known on their own tour while spicing up some PGA events, too. There's golf symbiosis here.
This year, for example, Sorenstam might not want to miss the LPGA Championship that coincides with the Kemper. Yet, if she has no other offers, she might come here. Because Sorenstam seems to have a broader agenda than ego gratification.
Last fall, Suzy Whaley, a Connecticut club pro, won a PGA sectional event from a shorter set of tees than the men. That qualified her for the Greater Hartford Open in July, making her the first woman to play on the PGA Tour.
"I think she's very brave," Sorenstam said of Whaley, who isn't even an LPGA-level player, much less a Sorenstam who sometimes beats entire LPGA fields by more than 10 shots. "I heard an interview that she doesn't expect to break 90. At least she has a goal set, and she knows what's going to happen."
Sorenstam, who shoots 63-67-65 on 6,300-yard LPGA tracks, might not like the idea of Whaley, with the best intentions, putting women's golf in a 93-97-95 light. Or even 83-87-85. Annika could probably shoot 73-77-75 at Avenel with rented clubs. Doesn't she owe it to herself and her tour to set the record straight?
Also, deep down, Sorenstam must know that she really does belong in the proverbial "higher league." Her swing is a one-piece metronome, and her whole game is immaculate.
"I'm playing so well," she said this week. "I don't want to wait too long."
Right now, Sorenstam is well-known, but she's not a fraction as famous as her talent merits. If there was ever a woman in any sport who deserved to play against -- not just "with" -- the best men, it's her.
Plenty of tour events will probably have the good sense to rush forward with "invites" for Sorenstam. But whether they do or don't, the Kemper should try to lead the pack. Tiger dumps us. So, let's take Annika -- this year, next year, any time we can get her.