Annika Sorenstam makes golf history at Colonial: A 10-year retrospection

Scott Halleran

Golf Channel’s "Go Annika" special will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the LPGA Hall of Famer’s historic PGA Tour start at Colonial.

When Annika Sorenstam stepped up to her golf ball at Colonial Country Club exactly 10 years ago Wednesday, 4-wood in hand and the world watching, it was all she could to do keep her hands from trembling.

“It was such a buildup,” Sorenstam, the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event since 1945, recalls in Golf Channel's “Go Annika” retrospection of her two historic rounds at the then-Bank of America Colonial. “This is the shot I’ve been practicing for four months. I was nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to keep the ball on the tee because I was shaking so much.”

The huge hype that preceded Sorenstam’s one and only turn with the guys was enormous, but it paled in comparison to the numbers of spectators and media members who turned out to witness history.

“People were in trees, they were up on walls,” Aaron Barber, one of Sorenstam's two playing partners that day, says in the 30-minute Golf Channel documentary set to air Wednesday night.

Barber and Dean Wilson, both tour rookies, embraced Sorenstam and the occasion.

“I came up to Annika and she was real nervous,” recollects Barber, who put his arm around the LPGA golfer and assured her, “we’re all in this together.”

Wilson, also playing before galleries the size of which he had never experienced, purchased and sported a “Go Annika” button in a pre-tourney press conference.

Of course, not everyone was thrilled to have a woman -- even one who owned five LPGA Player of the Year awards and four major championships -- step into their male-only realm. “Go Annika” recounts the “side-show” aspects of the experience, including silly protests by VIjay Singh and Nick Price.

But history has a way of brushing aside those who stand in its way and the two tour vets became footnotes to what took place at Colonial. Indeed, the environment was electric with such anticipation that Sorenstam had trouble speaking to her caddie, Terry McNamara, on the tee.

“She goes to say something to me,” McNamara says, “and her mouth moves and no words come out.”

Long-time Sorenstam chronicler Ron Sirak remembers standing so close to the golfer that he could “see the muscle in her neck twitching.”

The crowd, which was so large news reports said it rivaled the numbers of fans who watched Tiger Woods play Colonial in 1997, fell eerily silent as the woman of the hour addressed her golf ball.

“I was in my tower at 16,” commentator David Feherty says. “I seldom remembering hearing a quietness quite so deafening as that one was.”

When it was go time, Sorenstam striped her tee shot some 255 yards -- about 30 yards longer than normal for her 4-wood, McNamara estimated -- pretended to stagger and faint, and in that moment the 32-year-old from Sweden became America’s sweetheart.

The scorecard will tell you that Sorenstam posted a 1-over 71 on Day One and missed the cut with a 74 in her second round. But what she accomplished at Colonial -- the site of this week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational stop on the PGA Tour -- meant so much more than numbers in little boxes.

“In her 71 that day, in which she made no putts, Sorenstam won hearts for her courage and class and earned respect for her skill,” Sirak wrote back in 2008. “She elevated not only her own reputation but also that of women's golf. That opening drive is the single most exciting moment in sports I have witnessed.”

In addition to going on to win the two succeeding LPGA tourneys, including the LPGA Championship, Sirak believes that Sorenstam proved so much to herself 10 years ago at Colonial that the experience cemented her stature in the world of golf as a bona fide, first-name-only superstar.

“She entered the Bank of America Colonial as a female golfer and left it as a golfer,” Sirak wrote recently about The Round That Changed Everything. “She entered it as a reluctant superstar and left it as a one-word celebrity.”

Golf Channel will broadcast “Go Annika” Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET.

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