-- Ten years ago, a shy, slight and relatively unknown Swedish golfer came to Colorado and won the U.S. Women's Open, surprising herself and most of the players in the field. A decade later, the major surprise here would be if Annika Sorenstam failed to add the third leg of her stated goal of becoming the first woman to win all four of her sport's major championships in a single season.
Sorenstam was a 24-year-old rookie going into that 1995 Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. That course is about 50 miles south of the Cherry Hills Country Club here in the Denver suburbs where Sorenstam will continue her Grand Slam quest starting Thursday. This course already has a place in the game's rich lore. In 1960, Arnold Palmer began the final round of the men's Open seven shots off the lead but rallied for the greatest comeback victory in tournament history, and his only Open championship.
"At the Broadmoor, I don't want to use the word fluke, but it was kind of a fluke I won," Sorenstam said here on Wednesday. "I stayed up there and all of a sudden, I was leading the tournament. Once I knew I was leading, I started to make a lot of mistakes. I was just glad it was only a few more holes to play before I would really screw it up."
There have been 61 more victories, including another eight major championships, on Sorenstam's Hall of Fame resume since that first Open triumph, also her first win on the LPGA Tour. And this week, many will be focused on another player who has yet to win her first LPGA tournament, but will try to make some history of her own.
Michelle Wie, at 15, is expected to draw some of the largest galleries of the week. Never mind that she just got her learner's permit to drive or that she just finished her sophomore year in high school. Two weeks ago, she also finished second to Sorenstam by three shots at the LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock in Maryland, the second major of the season, and she is expected to contend here as well.
"I feel like I have a big chance this week," Wie said Tuesday. She's already played in six majors, with three top 10 finishes, and five in the top 14.
Like Sorenstam, Wie also has been up front about her goals. They include playing in the Masters, if only because it's the first tournament she ever remembers paying any attention to as a younger girl, as well as possibly playing regularly against the men on the PGA Tour. She's entered in the John Deere event on the men's tour next month on a sponsor's exemption, trying to make the cut and perhaps even qualify for the British Open, the longest of long shots.
Wie already has been publicly criticized by another Hall of Famer, Nancy Lopez, who wondered out loud at Bulle Rock why Wie hasn't played more golf against her amateur peers and added: "She says she wants to play on the men's tour. Why? It's a little insulting. She should play out here and try to beat Annika first."
Wie has other ideas.
"I think that the one characteristic that I have is the fact that I don't really listen to anyone and that I really believe really strongly in what I do," she said on Tuesday. "I'm not really afraid of anything.
"I started out with a plan when I started playing golf and I stuck with it and everyone knows this. My goal is to play in the Masters and I'm not going to change my goals. I think that's realistic for me. I've been working for that goal ever since I started playing and I feel like every day I'm getting a little closer."
Asked specifically about Lopez's criticism, Wie said she understands she's not ready to compete with men on the PGA Tour. "I'm out there to learn from them. Playing in all the different tours, PGA, LPGA, amateurs, they're all so unique and I feel like I'm a better player learning from all those different kind of players. Even on the LPGA, I still have a lot to learn and I'm still learning from Annika, a lot of the players out here, and that's good for me."
Most players know that Wie may eventually do for their game what Tiger Woods has already done for the men's tour -- more visibility than ever before along with larger purses coming from increased dollars in new television contracts when Wie finally does turn professional. But many players also wonder why that's not happening right now in the Sorenstam era when arguably the greatest player in women's golf history is performing at the peak of her game.
"Annika has done so much for the tour already and she hasn't gotten half the attention she deserves," said Meg Mallon, the defending Open champion.
"That's going to be the big question if she does win the Grand Slam. Are people going to just say 'here she goes again,' or is she going to get to the level of idolatry she basically deserves? I think she deserved it after Colonial, but then she's won 25 times since then and people are blase about it, which is really sad."
Sorenstam keeps insisting she pays little attention to such matters and also tries not to think too much about the Grand Slam, either.
"I'm excited to come here and this is a week I've been looking forward to," she said. "I love the golf course. The way I'm going to approach this is just another week, another golf tournament. I can't deny I'm thinking about [the Grand Slam]. But I want to focus on one thing at a time, and that's this week. Tomorrow is the first day, and I'm going to focus on the first shot and just go from there."
Sorenstam said Wednesday that she knows a little bit about the history of the golf course and Palmer's stunning victory. She's played two practice rounds here and clearly feels confident she'll also have a chance to win on Sunday.
"This is a great golf course," she said. "I think this golf course fits me. It puts a premium on driving and approach shots to small greens. That's really one of my strengths. I'm going to play smart. This is not a course you can overpower. You've got to play smart. I want to make sure, firm decisions and I've got to just let it happen. If I do all that, I'll tell you on Sunday that I'm happy, and if that's good enough or not, we'll find out."