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