When people describe Annika Sorenstam, they say she's consistent, efficient, mechanical, driven. Makes you wonder: Are they talking about the world's No. 1 female golfer or a Volvo? And when you meet her, you also wonder whether this nice grinning woman in the lime-green golf shirt really could be a sporting machine.
Then you see those biceps, and you figure she could tear your arm off and hit a ball 200 yds. with it. "Oh, and robotic," she adds with a smile. "A lot of people say I'm robotic."
A better word may be bionic--women's golf hasn't seen a player so dominant in decades, if ever. This still means that a lot of people haven't seen her at all, given the modest visibility of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). That will change this week when the five-time Player of the Year and her sublime swing take on Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and other PGA stars at the Colonial invitational in Fort Worth, Texas. She will become the first woman to play in a PGA tournament since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945.
Sorenstam's challenge has sparked another loud round of 19th hole, his-and-hers trash talk in a season already spiked by debate about gender equity. When the guns of Augusta started firing--remember Hootie and Martha?--earlier this year, most of the PGA players tried to jump into the nearest hole to avoid the subject.
This time, though, PGA player Vijay Singh teed off on Sorenstam, saying "I hope she misses the cut"--that is, gets knocked out halfway through the four-round tournament. Although Singh begged for a mulligan, insisting he was misunderstood, it was music to USA and CBS, which will be adding extra coverage to follow Sorenstam, Tiger-like, in what until then had been just another golf tournament. And Singh might be expressing the anxiety the gentlemen may feel when, come Sunday, some of them could be in the running for the First PGA Pro to Get His Butt Kicked by a Skirt trophy.
Sorenstam, 32, insists that going up against the boys has nothing to do with blazing a feminist trail in men's sports. It's about one woman, her game and her purely selfish motives. "I would not have gotten all this attention if I were not a good golfer," she says. "This is a way to push myself to another level. This is for myself."
That self is an absolute perfectionist. "Not just in golf but in everything I do," says Sorenstam, sitting in the plush lounge of her home course in Orlando, Fla. Friends and coaches talk of how when Annika was a teen, other girls would practice one hour after a round and she would put in three; or the time Annika had the flu, threw up on the course and still won. Sorenstam's strength is "her intrinsic motivation," says coach and mentor Pia Nilsson. "Her ability to look honestly at what she can improve is absolutely the best." The evidence: her ripped physique--building more strength has helped her add more than 20 yds. to her drive--and a better short game, which have turned her from a rising star into a golfing supernova.