Sorenstam's week on PGA good for golf

When I was still in elementary school, former tennis legend Bobby Riggs lost to Billie Jean King in a match dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes."

When King prevailed, men tried to brush it off as a fluke, attempting to make a big deal out of the fact that Riggs was in his late 40s and King, the most dominating force on the women's circuit, was more than 20 years younger than her outspoken opponent.

Her victory came at a time when women were second-class citizens when it came to sports.

Opportunities for women in athletics were almost non-existent. Most high school and colleges ignored the need for a women's sports program, and except for gymnastics, ice skating and swimming during the Summer Olympics, the media gave little thought to the coverage of women's sports on television or in print.

Along came Title IX and it was mandated that women have the same opportunities as men (I won't debate in this space whether that goal as been reached).

But in the two-plus decades that have past since Riggs and King met in the Astrodome for that historic match, women's sports has grown by leaps and bounds.

Female high school athletes have a chance play for state titles, college scholarship opportunities are supposed to be equal and many schools pay their women's college basketball coaches six-figure salaries.

There is even a pro basketball and soccer league for women in the United States.

So why would professional golfer Annika Sorenstam want to play against men at this week's Colonial?

It's not because she is trying to make a political statement. Sorenstam isn't some radical feminist demanding a spot on the PGA tour.

That wouldn't be practical.

She is already the most dominating player on the LPGA Tour.

Each year she earns millions and walking away from that kind of money would be down right silly. Nor does she want to play a full-time schedule on the men's tour.

Sorenstam is playing in this week's tour against the men because she received a sponsor's invitation.

Somebody involved with the tournament must really think she belongs, and I to do.

Sorenstam is a great competitor and is looking for a new challenge. (Please don't say Tiger should be allowed to compete on the LPGA Tour because he likes challenges too.)

Sorenstam certainly didn't embarrass herself in the first round, finishing one-under par after firing a 71. She only had two bogies, including one on the final hole of the round.

I hope she plays well enough on Friday to make the cut.

It might be just what professional golf needs to attract everyday fans.

One thing is for sure, Sorenstam's venture has made for great conversation around office water coolers.

Even people who don't know the difference between a driver and a sand wedge are chiming in on this one.

If her attempt to play against the men is a disaster, I'm sure there will be members of the "good old boy" network singing in union a chorus of "I told you so." If she succeeds, they will simply call it luck.

When this is all said and done, Sorenstam will return to the LPGA tour and no doubt pick right back up as the tour's most dominating player.

As for this week, all I have to say is "You go Annika."

Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Daily. E-mail at dgorman@news-daily.com