Annika returns to LPGA riding high from Colonial

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

AURORA, Ill. -- Annika Sorenstam walked into a nearby Starbucks a few miles from Stonebridge Country Club outside Chicago and found out in a heartbeat how big a deal her two day jump to the PGA Tour really was.

"Everybody recognized me," she told golf writers gathered at the LPGA's Kellogg-Keebler Classic in Aurora, Illinois. Even though she has been rated the best woman golfer on the planet for several years, Annika says she's never had this kind of attention before. She taped an interview for the Oprah Winfrey Show in downtown Chicago and made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. There's been a tornado of attention and so far, Annika sees no downside to it.

"People tell me I've got their wives playing again," she says. "Someone told me their 4-year old now believes women can do anything men can do."

This is the impact of those two historic rounds at the Colonial Country Club. Annika believes she touched a lot of people, especially women. But she continues to insist she did not go to Colonial to change the world.

"I didn't go there to prove anything, " says Annika. "I did my best and that's what it was all about. It was the best week of my life."

Annika says she couldn't sleep for a couple days after playing with the boys, but she is now more than ready to get back to the LPGA Tour by defending one of her 11 2002 victories at the Kellogg-Keebler. She wants to win tournaments and says she is not going to reconsider her decision to stay off the PGA Tour.

"I played with the best guys in the world and I loved it," says Annika. "I get goose bumps thinking about it."

So, why not do it again? Why not see what you can really do? Tiger Woods has suggested Annika should play several PGA Tour events to accurately test her game against the men. But Annika says the experience gave her what she needed to know and is sure she can play better if she teed it up again at the right courses.

"Oh, definitely. If I played 30 (PGA) tournaments, ones that I picked, I believe I could be in the top 100 on the money list."

That may be a lofty dream. But Annika is clearly confident and knows she gained invaluable experience at Colonial. She may not play again with the boys, but the girls better be ready because Annika is jacked-up to play even more impressive golf.

"Everything is possible. Sky's the limit," she says. "Majors. We've got three more this year and you know, I'd love to win all three."

Other LPGA players are giving Annika a lot of respect and credit for the bold step she took in Texas, but few are ready to travel a similar road.

"I'm pleased to be where I'm playing, " says Lorie Kane who turned down a sponsor's exemption into a Nationwide Tour in Canada.

"I don't want to say no," says Mexico's Lorena Ochoa, "but for the moment the LPGA is my tour."

"If I could just go out and test my game without all the scrutiny, maybe I would consider it," says Juli Inkster. "But the men have their tour and we have our tour. I don't think in the long run it would help us (LPGA) much."

Earlier this year Karrie Webb was approached about playing in the Australian Open, but even Annika's performance hasn't changed her mind.

"I don't have anything to prove," says Webb. "Everyone thinks I should be following in Annika's footsteps, but she did enough for the LPGA Tour with the way she handled herself."

There are exemptions, however. Michelle Wie, the 13-year old long-ball hitter, has already received a sponsor's exemption for a Nationwide event later in the season and has said she ultimately wants to play both the LPGA and the PGA tours.

Time will flush all of this out. But for now, Annika is the queen of golf and her status in the game and her fan appeal are soaring like so many dimpled spheres off the face of her Big Bertha. When she stepped onto the first tee for a pro-am event at the Kellogg-Keebler Classic she found close to 500 fans applauding her arrival. She responded with that accepting, but shy smile we've come to know, a friendly wave, and a ripped drive right down the middle of the fairway.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

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