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Mark's Madness: Sorenstam another distortion of women's sporting accomplishments

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

If Annika Sorenstam's brief appearance in the Colonial men's golf tournament ever is honestly summarized, it will have no more historical impact than the annual mixed scramble at your local course. At the end of the day, it was just a woman playing golf with a bunch of men.

Sorenstam didn't win. She didn't come close. She missed the cut. And don't tell me about her courage. The words "courage" and "golf" should never be used in the same sentence.

Fortunately for Sorenstam, her two days at the Colonial never will be honestly summarized. That will be seen to by every female with a newspaper column and/or microphone, and by those "journalists" who depend on golf for a living and have thus become publicists for the game. Hello, Jimmy Roberts.

This is no knock on Sorenstam, who had every right to play in the Colonial. The by-laws of the PGA Tour do not bar women, and sponsors' exemptions are commonplace.

But Sorenstam shot 5 over for two rounds. She stood 96th out of 111. That may be worthy of a pat on the back, but too many people want to put Sorenstam somewhere between Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks when it comes to listing history's significant figures. In truth, she probably trails Pam Anderson.

Sorenstam is, by any estimation, the top player in the LPGA. She may be the best female golfer in history.

Ninety-sixth place was the best Sorenstam could do in a men's tournament, and she did it on a relatively easy course. How is that historical? The idea of her "beating" the men who finished below her is pathetic and a gratuitous reach.

Sorenstam damaged the credibility of women's golf. If the best female golfer in history can't even make the cut at a mid-level men's tournament, why would I want to watch the LPGA? Sorenstam's performance established the LPGA as a minor league. Not that anyone watches it anyway.

Of course, we have distorted the significance of women's sporting accomplishments since women's lib hit.

When Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in tennis' "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973, everyone acted as if King actually accomplished something. All she did was participate in the end game of a con man's big hustle, one which guaranteed Riggs mad wealth whether he won or lost in the Houston Astrodome that night. A 29-year-old female tennis player in her prime should beat a 55-year-old man.

King, of course, did. And, historically speaking, obscured many of the legitimate accomplishments she compiled as one of tennis' greatest players.

I do not understand the obsession with having females compete athletically against men. It's just Barnum & Bailey bunkum. Such events do nothing to truly help women's sports.

Keep this in mind: Sorenstam was not actually competing against men at the Colonial. She was competing against the course. When Sarah Fisher drove at Indianapolis Sunday, she was not actually competing against men. She was driving a car that was competing against other cars.

If you want to see a true athletic battle between men and women, put a Division III men's college basketball team in the WNBA. Or a good boys' high school team. And watch it go undefeated.

Women need to concentrate on furthering their own sports. Their own leagues. Their own events. When a woman crosses over into a man's game, that becomes the high point of women's athletics as far as the public consciousness is concerned.

Women's sports must figure out a way to be entertaining and competitive within their own realm. Women's tennis has done that thanks to Serena and Venus Williams. Women's tennis is more popular than the men's game. That is a far greater achievement than Sorenstam shooting 5 over at the Colonial.

By writing all this, of course, I have guaranteed myself to be the target of horrific venom in the Sports Mailbag this Saturday. Just make sure you spell my name right.

Politically correct America dictates that Sorenstam played great at the Colonial. The scores dictate she didn't, but PC America is more than willing to shout down the facts.

A majority (or, at the very least, a healthy minority) of those reading this column agree with it. But the majority of those people won't admit it. People are afraid to spout unpopular opinions, no matter how logical, well thought-out and educated those opinions may be.

Vijay Singh, Nick Price and Scott Hoch, for example, have been vilified merely for saying, hey, maybe Sorenstam playing at the Colonial isn't such a great idea.

There's no right or wrong when it comes to the matter of Sorenstam playing at the Colonial. There are merely differing opinions.

But people are afraid to speak what they believe to be the truth. It's what Dennis Miller calls "inverted McCarthyism." If you say something that PC America doesn't agree with, you're slandered merely for speaking your mind. We just fought a war over free speech ... well, over oil, actually, but over free speech, too. Yet this country never has been more against free speech as a people, if not as a government. Just ask the Dixie Chicks.

If you don't effusively praise Sorenstam for her bravery at the Colonial, PC America treats you as if you smell bad.

Well, I smell bad anyway. So I'm not afraid to say that Sorenstam's performance at the Colonial -- and especially the favorable fallout over her performance -- was a joke.

Sorenstam has a lot of class and grace. She handled the situation perfectly. And sure, she drew a crowd. TV ratings, too. A freak show always does.

But when you get right down to it, Sorenstam proved one thing and one thing only at the Colonial: She's a very good golfer for a woman.

It was all she ever had a chance to prove.

Mark Madden hosts a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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