HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Another breakthrough for Annika Sorenstam

Annika Sorenstam will break another barrier. Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

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It all started with a phone call.

Lee Trevino started out by saying that 56, 57, 58 and 59 didn’t matter.

But his wife Claudia’s 60th birthday?

She wanted to go on a trip and it coincided with Trevino’s annual commitment to play in the traditional Saturday Greats of Golf at the Insperity Invitational with fellow Hall of Famers Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Bryan Naugle, the executive director of the event, paused for a moment as he was retelling the story. Then he chuckled as he delivered the punch line, which was vintage Trevino.

“I love ya buddy, but you’re not worth a divorce.”

Naugle didn’t skip a beat. He prides the event on being innovative and creative, so he picked up the phone and called Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, who didn’t hesitate.

She said absolutely. She was in.

Talk about perfect timing. Not only is Naugle celebrating the 15th year of the Insperity Invitational this week at The Woodlands, but it also happens to be the15th anniversary of Sorenstam’s appearance in the PGA TOUR’s Colonial National Invitation.

Add in the Masters’ recent announcement of a women’s amateur event next spring and the fact that Champions Golf Club will host the 2020 Women’s Open and . . . Well, it’s not a bad time at all to have the best female player in modern times to be the first woman to play in your Greats field.

She flew in Thursday with Nicklaus and Player for a tournament event and will be paired with them Saturday. It’s a fun event that will have Annika, the Golden Bear and the Black Knight compete in an 18-hole scramble format against three other teams composed of Tom Weiskopf, David Graham and Tony Jacklin; Dave Stockton, Larry Nelson and Hale Irwin; and Fuzzy Zoeller, Charles Coody and Bill Rogers.

“This is the first time I will have the opportunity to play in the same group with Jack and Gary, so I cannot wait to get to The Woodlands and have some fun with these men who were among my golfing heroes,” Sorenstam said.

“It is a tremendous honor to be included in this prestigious group of 12 players. This doesn’t only promise to create special memories for the spectators, but it will be a day I will cherish for the rest of my life as well.”

 In 2003 she was saying similar things about playing at Colonial.

That week it was all about Annika – no last name needed – as the focus not just of the golf world, but the world, was on Fort Worth. She drew a satellite compound of alphabet news networks. Everyone was there to watch her test herself against some of the best on the PGA TOUR on a course she had never played, just seen.

Suddenly, she wasn’t just the standard the LPGA players measured their skills. She was making history.

That she headed home after two rounds didn’t really matter. She shot  71-74-145 and missed the cut by four shots. She also exposed her weakness – putting – but won the respect of the players and the golf world.

She brushed away tears in her post-round press conference that Friday saying, “I’m glad it did it, but this was way over my head. I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was.’’

Actually, she was. With a few more rounds at Colonial Country Club, she might have made the cut. Instead, she simply climbed her Mt. Everest.

“I’ve climbed as high as I can,’’ she said at the time. “And it’s worth every step of it.”

She was 32 at the time and talking about the next phase of her life – a family. She wasn’t going to split time raising children and playing events as Juli Inkster and others have done.

Five years later, she retired having won 72 tournaments, including 10 majors.

Today, her ANNIKA Foundation conducts five major golf events for juniors on four continents and she’s a go-to interview for everything on the game. Not just the women’s game.

So when the Masters announced it’s first women’s event ever, she weighed in.

“As a little girl, knowing you have a chance to play on the greatest stage, it would’ve sent me to the range,” she told Golf Channel. “It’s heaven on earth, there’s no doubt about it. Now you get these young girls who will have their dreams come true.”

Saturday, she’ll get the chance once again to break a barrier – albeit a smaller one. It’ll be history and those girls will be watching.  And dreaming.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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