Sorenstam, Block and the great challenge of golf

May 26, 2023 0 Comments

As in all sports, athletes who take on the seemingly impossible and try to break stereotypes are admired and applauded for their courage.

The ‘Queen of Golf’ Annika Sorenstam (SWE) and PGA Championship star Michael Block (USA) met at Colonial Country Club (par 70, 7209 yards) in Fort Worth, Texas, before the PGA Tour’s Charles Schwab Challenge ($8.7 million purse).

Twenty years ago in 2003, Sorenstam made his first regular PGA Tour start at this event (then known as the Bank of America Colonial), 65 years after Babe Zaharias played in the 1938 Los Angeles Open.

Sorenstam, then 32, was an unstoppable force on the Ladies Professional Golf (LPGA) Tour. She had won five majors, was voted Player of the Year for five years, and in 2001 shot the only first-round 59 ever by an LPGA Tour player. So why did she suddenly find herself on the PGA Tour?스포츠토토

It all started in late 2002 when Susie Whaley, a Connecticut club professional, won a regional PGA of America tournament, the Greater Hartford Open, which was to be played the following summer and was won by a woman. When Whaley announced her intention to compete, the golf world was rocked. The idea of a woman playing from the same tee as the men was unthinkable at the time.

At the same time, the question was asked: why not? Whaley increased her fitness training in the run-up to the tournament and competed, but missed the cut. But her boldness inspired many professionals, and 15 years later, in 2018, she became the first woman to be elected president of the PGA of America.

With Whaley in the news, Sorenstam, the top female player at the time, was asked if she would accept an invitation to play in a men’s event. Without hesitation, Sorenstam said yes. Sorenstam was then invited by Colonial to become a sponsor.

Again, a huge controversy erupted. Vijay Singh (Fiji) said, “If they put Sorenstam in the same group as me, I will withdraw.” Some of her LPGA colleagues also objected. Angela Stanford wrote that the outcome at Colonial would be detrimental to women’s golf. In the days leading up to the tournament, more than 180 reporters signed up for coverage. Sorenstam made back-to-back appearances on talk shows and even the current affairs programme 60 Minutes.

Sorenstam’s first tee shot on the 10th hole, in front of the biggest camera crew of her life, is considered the most pressurised tee shot in golf history. The course was packed with girls wearing stickers cheering her on.

She hit her first tee shot 255 yards with a 4-wood. When she birdied the par-3 13th to move to 1-under, she was at the top of the leaderboard, but two more bogeys in the second round resulted in a 1-over 71. The course measured 7080 yards at the time and he shot a 4-over 74 the next day to slip to a tie for 96th.

Block, 47, came into the tournament with one of the 20 spots available to club professionals at last week’s major, the PGA Championship. He is the head pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Course in Mission Viejo, California, where a one-hour lesson costs about $150 ($200).

In a major known for its over-par and difficult setting, Block shot even par for three straight days and finished tied for 15th with a stunning hole-in-one on the par-3 15th hole on the final day, earning a rousing ovation from golf fans.

The $288,333 ($380,000) prize money would have taken 1922 lessons to earn. He was even offered $50,000 ($66 million) for the 7-iron he used to make the hole-in-one. Netflix has picked up the documentary Full Swing for season two.

The Charles Schwab Challenge immediately invited Block to become a sponsor, and he played the first round in a group with provisional PGA Tour members Min Woo Lee (AUS) and James Cody. He started with back-to-back bogeys on the first three holes and a double bogey on the back, but he also showed some nice trouble shots. On the 10th (par-4, 385 yards), his tee shot landed in the middle of a bridge over a creek. Block hit the ball 114 yards to the concrete and onto the green for par.

The “Challenge” in the tournament’s name is in the spirit of Ben Hogan. Hogan, who grew up in Fort Worth, lost two consecutive tournaments when the event was first held in 1946. In 1949, he was involved in a devastating car accident and underwent more than a dozen surgeries, but his indomitable spirit allowed him to rehabilitate and return to the tour. He won the event three more times in 1952, ’53 and ’59, taking his tally to five. His 1959 victory was the last of his 64 PGA Tour victories and he continued to compete until 1970.

In a tournament steeped in the tradition of challengers, it’s great to see players who have broken the barriers of gender, tour and lesson professionalism invited to compete. Golf fans don’t go to the golf course to watch the scores, even if they are low. They are there to cheer on the challengers and hopefully find the courage and strength to do the same.

JTBC Golf & Sports will broadcast the second round live from 5am on the 27th. Korean players Ahn Byung-hun, who has yet to win on the PGA Tour, and Kim Si-woo, who is looking for his second win of the season, are in good form. Lee Kyung-hoon, Lim Sung-jae and Kim Sung-hyun are the other five players in the field. The third and fourth rounds on the 28th and 29th will be broadcast live from 2am to crown the winner.

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