Women on the PGA Tour a challenge

In golf, you play the ball, not the opponent.

That fact makes golf one of the few viable sports where women can compete with men on somewhat of an even playing field. So, it's not all that surprising that a few LPGA players have taken the plunge and given PGA Tour events a try.

The now-retired Annika Sorenstam, one of the great LPGA champions with 72 titles, including 10 majors, missed the cut the one time she crossed over to play the PGA Tour's Colonial tournament in 2003. And young Michelle Wie has entered the men's forum on numerous occasions, with the 2006 Asian Tour SK Telecom Open being the one time in 13 attempts she's made the cut.

For those women who do try, it's an immense challenge.

On the men's tour, the fairways are generally longer and narrower, the greens harder and faster. It's true women are getting stronger, and technically improved equipment adds length to shots. But for the most part, the men still have more power, and that's a huge advantage. The longer the tee shot, the shorter the approach, which makes it easier to get close to the hole for birdie chances.

"We have a different approach to the game and it's no secret that women don't hit it as far," said Sorenstam, who finished at 5-over-par 145 at the Colonial, four strokes short of the cut. "But you're all still playing from A to B, and I think a lot of the fans can relate more to the women than the men, who can hit it 340."

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Michelle Wie has played in 13 men's tournaments, making the cut just once.

Sorenstam knew the difference before heading to Fort Worth for the Colonial but was eager to see how she would fare in the once-in-a-lifetime challenge. She became the first woman since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945 to give the men's tour a shot.

When it was announced she would accept a sponsor's exemption, it raised more than a few eyebrows: Vijay Singh withdrew from the event in protest, and Nick Price called it "a publicity stunt."

"I wanted to test myself at a high level," Sorenstam said. "I wanted to learn from the guys and what they do. It was one of the highlights of my career. When I left I think that people saw it as, 'Hey, she's not there to show what women can do, but here's an athlete who wants to be better.' And I think they felt that what they witnessed was pretty cool for the sport."

Craig Bowden played alongside the then-14-year-old Wie when she made her first appearance at a men's event in the 2004 Sony Open in her home state of Hawaii.

"I chose to embrace it and had a blast with it," Bowden said. "I accepted the fact she was a competitor. Could a woman win on the PGA Tour? Absolutely not. Could a woman make the cut? Sure. Absolutely."

The big question is whether a woman playing in a men's event is a hole-in-one or a bogey for the game.

Edwin Pope, the award-winning Miami Herald sports columnist who has been with the paper for more than 50 years, believes a woman can't win on the PGA Tour. But he's an avid advocate for women to have the right to try.

"How could it be bad?" Pope said. "I think it's great. I think it broadens the appeal of golf. If women are going to make it anywhere in men's sports, golf would be the logical place."

As for whether the women would be welcome to tee off with the men in the future, the PGA's executive vice president of communications, Ty Votaw, said, "While no woman has attempted to compete in a PGA Tour event recently, PGA Tour regulations do not preclude women from participating in tour events."

Sorenstam, now an entrepreneur and full-time mom, favors a different idea. She would like golf to borrow the combined-event concept from tennis.

"I would love to see men and women playing on the same golf course, not necessarily against each other because you know there is a big difference," she said. "But I think you can still have men and women having separate tournaments.

"I think it would be great for the game."

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