Annika Sorenstam's "last" U.S. Women's Open hasn't produced buzz. Column: Going from Torrey Pines to U.S. Women's Open shows how far ladies game still has to come

EDINA, Minn. - The first thing you notice walking into the media center at the U.S. Women's Open is how it's about a fourth as big as the massive structure erected to corral the press at the men's U.S. Open. The second thing you notice is all the flowers.

There are white wicker baskets of yellow or red begonias at every two-seat desk. They don't let you smell the flowers when you're covering Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson. But at the Women's Open, that's apparently encouraged.

"You can take one home with you," United States Golf Association New Media Editor Ken Klavon joked of the flower arrangements. "They're like a parting gift."

The USGA may be trying to differentiate the U.S. Women's Open from The U.S. Open with the flower baskets, but it needn't have bothered. No one who attended the big show at South at Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course a few weeks ago - or any even semi-big men's pro golf tournament - could mistake what's happening in the leafy suburbs of Minneapolis this weekend for that.

Going from Torrey Pines for Tiger to Interlachen Country Club for Annika Sorenstam's last Open (for an undetermined while) is like switching from a mad house to a tea house. Go ahead and turn down that volume. Twentyfold.

The difference is so undeniably noticeable, so stunningly stark, that the USGA may want to reconsider its tradition of having only a one-week break in-between the Open and the Women's Open. That way it would be a little easier to fool at least those with a Britney Spears-level of awareness into thinking the two events belong in the same galaxy.

"It's definitely a lot easier to see," golf fan Lavon Johnson said, standing right along the ropes of the second hole, watching the women's version of the USGA's dream threesome - Sorenstam, Paula Creamer and Suzann Pettersen - without a soul behind her or anyone close to jostling her.

Johnson and her golfing buddy Joyce Theis have experience attending men's majors in Minnesota. They went to Hazeltine National Golf Club for the 1991 U.S. Open and the 2002 PGA Championship. They know what golf's truly big events look and feel like (right down to the elbow marks left on your side).

The 2008 U.S. Women's Open is not bringing back any of those memories. Instead, it's more like a leisurely stroll in the park.

At the U.S. Open, every possible inch of space with a view became the spectator equivalent of ocean real estate. Bands of people acted like they were on stakeouts that the very future of the free world depended on. Heck, at Torrey Pines during the Monday playoff, a day when only two golfers played on the course, the 18th grandstand stood packed shin to shin three hours before Tiger Woods or Rocco Mediate ever even approached the tee.

Thousands of people decided to sit and stare at an empty green for hours - just for the chance to see two shots.

On a beautiful summer Thursday afternoon in Minnesota, the 18th grandstand at the U.S. Women's Open turned out to be less than a third full. Sit in the right section, and you could feel like one of those guys watching the Florida Marlins from the upper deck at Dolphin Stadium.

Who needs grandstand when you can almost get rope to skirt?

"You can get a lot closer to the golfers," Theis said. "That's really cool."

There are a number of pluses to a tournament where buzz hasn't hit the grounds. Those should be embraced, played up by organizations like the LPGA that instead largely bring an almost comically bloated sense of self importance and denial.

It's much better to be a fan actually attending a women's major than a men's major. You get tons more golf for your dollar. You can see shot after shot rather than the back of someone's head after the back of someone's head. When Creamer hit a good approach early in her back nine Thursday, one fan screamed out, "Yeah, that's the way Paula!" and the fourth-ranked player in the world looked up with a dazzling smile and a raised hand.

You're never getting that kind of love - or usually any acknowledgement period - from a PGA Tour star.

It's time to stop any politically correct pretending that the U.S. Women's Open produces anything close to the excitement you get in a U.S. Open or, often, a Buick Open, for that matter. This league of their own is not in the same league.

When a dream threesome of ladies cannot thrill

A snake line of media so long that the crowds at Torrey Pines couldn't stop commenting on it, again and again, followed the Tiger-Phil dream pairing. USGA Director of Media Relations Craig Smith estimated the throng at 225 press badges strong.

Thursday, the USGA's showcase group of Sorenstam, Creamer and Pettersen found four golf writers following it. And none of the four went anywhere close to the whole 18. Now, this threesome does loom as something of a lame counter to Tiger-Phil (how are Annika and Lorena not playing together?), but the attention difference still speaks to larger truths.

The best female golfers in the world still do not qualify as a must-watch for almost anyone - even with Sorenstam talking retirement (though she's already admitted this week that she'll probably play another U.S. Open in five years); even with Ochoa sometimes threatening brilliance (not that her first round 73 fits this category); even with hype monster Michelle Wie providing you-had-to-see-it comic relief (like that 9 on the par-4 ninth).

The official attendance figure for the first day of this U.S. Women's Open was announced at 20,129, which gives Bear Sterns a run in the creative-accounting department. Of course, the phantom crowds helped guys like Todd Freeman enjoy their day all the more.

"I can identify with the women golfers more, especially now that I'm older and can't hit the ball as far," Freeman said, sitting by himself on the grass in a prime spot on the third hole. "I relate to their tempo and the way they play holes.

"It's really neat to have them come into town."

There are stories like that all over Interlachen, satisfied customers grinning giant. Joyce Theis' college senior daughter Lindsay - who's on the golf team herself at Luther College - marveled at how Morgan Pressel never seemed to let a bad shot bother her. It brought back memories of the times that Joyce Theis and Lavon Johnson used to have little Lindsay drive in the golf cart with them, toting her coloring books.

"She'd put down the coloring book to take a few putts on every green," Joyce Theis said, laughing, bringing that universal I-can't-believe-my-mom-just-told-someone-that look from Lindsay.

That's a great parent-kid golf memory. That's what getting so close to the best women golfers in the world can bring. Everyone should be celebrating the great in this more subdued Open. Instead, golf's powers pretend it's something it's not.

The U.S. Women's Open doesn't need more flowers. Just less sugar-coating B.S.

June 27, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Comments Leave a comment
  • name query

    Roman Fedrich wrote on: Jul 12, 2010

    I watched a bit of this tournament over the weekend and noticed a few international golfers in the field.
    Why then is it More »

    Reply

  • Groupings

    Paul Carlson wrote on: Jun 27, 2008

    You wonder why Annika and Lorerna aren't playing together? The USGA put together the reigning U.S. Women's Open Champion More »

    Reply

      • RE: Groupings

        Chris Baldwin wrote on: Jun 27, 2008

        Paul, that's still not a good reason. They bucked traditon to get Phil-Tiger at Torrey and they should have done the More »

        Reply

  • Oh man ...

    Al Leiter wrote on: Jun 27, 2008

    Mr. Baldwin, the irony of you accusing others of fabricating something is just tremendous. Lot of laughs in Neptune over More »

    Reply