Split vote on Annika

Annika Sorenstam, the top-ranked female golfer in the world and the Ladies Professional Golf Association money-list leader, has sparked a bevy of opinions nationwide, including in Coral Gables, with her entry into the Colonial Classic where she will put her game up against some of the world's premier men golfers.

Is this strictly a publicity stunt or is Sorenstam really out to prove she can compete on the men's tour? After dominating the LPGA tour in recent years can Sorenstam make the cut of her first PGA event while at the same time making history? Will the 32-year-old Swede stay afloat in a difficult course or melt under the added pressure of being the first female in 58 years to compete against the men?

Should she or shouldn't she?

Opinions differ on whether Sorenstam is using her ability on the links to enhance her bank account and all the while turning her back on the women's game, even if its just for a weekend. But one thing is certain. The same critics that disagree on the issue will be keeping track of Sorenstam's progress at the Colonial Classic, starting Thursday.

Annika Sorenstam should be getting ready for the LPGA's next stop and not in Fort Worth, Texas playing with the men, according to University of Miami coach Lela Cannon.

While she has no problem with a female athlete wanting to compete against males, Cannon, who has coached the Hurricanes since 1983, says that Sorenstam is betraying the LPGA for financial gain and exposure. Cannon added that Sorenstam's recent comments on being ‘bored' with the women's tour as a motive for wanting to test her skills in the PGA didn't help the situation.

"I have very mixed emotions on the whole thing. Listen I'm not against Annika wanting to compete in the PGA but the timing just isn't right. The last time I checked the LPGA has an event scheduled this week. She could have picked some other time to do this," says Cannon, a two-time South Region Coach of the Year who guided the Hurricanes to a national title in 1984.

Cannon also thinks that Sorenstam is taking the opportunity to capitalize on the abundance of publicity created by her entry into the tournament. Tournament organizers expect a full gallery this weekend and Bank of America, serving as the tournament's sponsor for the first time, is projecting a net of $20 million in publicity alone.

And Cannon says that's just it - a lot of publicity. She notes that Tiger Woods, the men's top-ranked player in the world, and No. 7 ranked Vijay Singh, who last week said that Sorenstam shouldn't be playing in the men's tour before altering his stance, will not be playing in the tournament.

"I think a lot of it is publicity. It's all about Annika. The cameras are going to be everywhere Annika is," said Cannon. "Why isn't Tiger playing? Vijay isn't playing. I just think its real bad timing and it shows a lack of class to the women. The LPGA signs her pay checks not the PGA."

Despite her objection to Sorenstam's participation in the Colonial, Cannon will be interested to see if Sorenstam can make the cut and make a serious dent in the tournament's leaderboard. Cannon will likely be watching the tournament on television along with thousands of viewers throughout the country. But Jason A. Epstein might not be one of them.

Epstein, a member of the Professional Golfers Association and head professional at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, is in favor of Sorenstam's decision to play in the PGA and is of the opinion that the added publicity is beneficial to the sport.

"This is just great for golf. There is no rule anywhere stating she can play in the PGA," says Epstein. "A lot of the comments made about Annika leading up to the tournament have been blown out of proportion by the media. But at the same time I guarantee you there are about 20-25 worried that she is going to finish ahead of them. I can see maybe why they don't want her there but I'll tell you this. She is going to finished ahead some of them."

"This is a case of a player that wants badly to find out how she can do against some of the top men in the world. I do not really see it as a publicity stunt," says Epstein. "I'm all for it and I'll be watching rooting for Annika."

Odds makers in Las Vegas have placed the over/under of what Sorenstam will shoot at 76.5 and many give her little chance of making the cut and playing past Friday. Cannon says that Sorenstam will have a difficult time making the cut, while Epstein isn't so sure.

The Colonial Country Club, home to the longest-running venue on the PGA Tour, is home to one of the toughest courses in the country, which is approximately 700 yards longer than any the average course Sorenstam encounters on the LPGA Tour. A typical LPGA course averages 6,350 yards, while the Colonial is 7,080 yards.

"She's worked extremely hard and is in great shape," says Cannon. "She is stronger than ever but that necessarily doesn't mean she is going to succeed out there. She's going to have to put up with faster greens and longer roughs. She has her work cut out, no pun intended."

Epstein says that being a top player in the sport requires an unflappable mental approach. An approach that he thinks will help Sorenstam in the tournament, win or lose.

"I've never met her but can you can't imagine the level of concentration it takes to accomplish what she has," Epstein said. "I think she's handled all the attention extremely well."

The 32-year-old Swede, who has won 43 LPGA events during her 10-year career, admits she stands little chance of winning the tournament but is eager to find out how she will do. Sorenstam compares playing in the PGA for the first time to attempting to climb Mount Everest.

"I like to compare myself maybe with a mountain climber. This will be Mount Everest for me and I believe I have practiced for years," says Sorenstam. "Nobody expects anything from me. I feel like I have nothing to lose."

Not so, says Cannon.

"I can assure you that there are a lot of women in the LPGA that won't receive Annika with open arms when she gets back because they feel like she is letting the tour down," says Cannon. "It's really not a smart move on her part."

Epstein is rooting for Sorenstam.

"Why can't she play in the PGA? She's a great player and I hope she does well," says Epstein. "She's won 10 tournaments this season. She's blown away the field. I don't see anything wrong with the single fact that she wants to compete with the men. It's great for the game."

Only time will tell.

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