Annika Sorenstam's Historic Colonial Appearance - 20 Years On

20 years on from Annika Sorenstam's historic appearance at the 2003 Colonial, we look at how she helped shape the women's game

Annika Sorenstam at Colonial in 2003
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Back in 2003 Annika Sorenstam became the first woman in over half a century to tee it up alongside the men in a PGA Tour event at the Bank of America Colonial.  

It's now 20 years since that historic appearance at Colonial and women's golf is a completely sport from what is was back then although still some way off the exposure and rewards found in the men's game.

Fifty-eight years after Babe Zaharias had made the midway cut at the Los Angeles Open, it was Sorenstam who made the next attempt to face the men on the PGA Tour.

It was seen as something of a sideshow back then, with numerous players, most infamously Vijay Singh, not exactly being taken by the idea.

Let's look back at that incredible event two decades ago, and what's happened in women's golf since.

How did Sorenstam get on?

Annika Sorenstam

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The sight of Sorenstam exhaling with relief after hitting her opening Thursday drive down the middle was proof of the pressure the 32-year-old was under. It was a challenge she had not faced in the years where she had dominated previously.

The Swede was paired with Aaron Barber and Dean Wilson, and looked to be making steady progress on the front nine. Her consistency was without question; she hit 13 of 14 fairways from the tee and even bombed one drive all of 282 yards.

Her approach play was also in fine tune, hitting 14 greens in regulation. As expected, the damp conditions did affect distance overall, but it was to be a critical three-putt bogey on the last that thwarted hopes with a one-over-par 71.

Annika Sorenstam at Colonial in 2003

Sorenstam let the emotions out after missing the cut

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In Friday’s second round, Sorenstam’s four-over-par 74 meant a five-over total of 145. She would miss the cut by four strokes.

Three bogeys on the front nine and two on the back meant there would be no repeat of Zaharias’ 1945 feat. To the delight of the galleries, Sorenstam continued in style throughout her damaging round, even firing at pins as she chased birdie opportunities down the closing stretch.

But it wasn’t about the result; her demeanour had shone from start to finish, and her emotions showed as she shed tears on leaving the 18th green.

What they said...

Colonial Forth Worth

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It was a mixed reaction at best, with the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson being a lot more positive than other PGA Tour pros who probably felt a bit more threatened about Sorenstam's presence.

The two-time Major winner threatened to pull out of the tournament if paired with Sorenstam.

Two-time Major winner Vijay Singh threatened to pull out if paired with Sorenstam: “I won’t play. There are guys out there who are trying to make a living What is she going to prove by playing? She doesn’t belong out here. It’s ridiculous.”

Scott Hoch: “Most guys hope she plays well and that what comes out of this is that she realises she can’t compete against the men.”

Tiger Woods: “It would be fairer if she could play four or five tournaments – then you could judge on those results and she’ll get on a roll. In one tournament a lot can go wrong for her.”

Annika Sorenstam and Aaron Barber at Colonial in 2003

Annika Sorenstam and Aaron Barber at Colonial

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kenny Perry: “She’s going to have Tiger Woods’ media. I’m anxious to see how she handles that. I don’t think she really knows what she is getting into.”

Phil Mickelson: “Guys who are having a tough time with this are thinking this is the men’s tour. It’s not. It’s the best tour, for the best players.”

Kelli Kuehne: “She’s looking at it from her perspective. She’s not looking at it overall, to help grow the women’s game. She has a lot to lose and nothing to gain.”

Playing partner Aaron Barber: “She’s a machine. I’ve never played with someone over 18 holes who didn’t miss a shot. When I got the call about the grouping, I was nervous, and then I quickly turned that into excitement.”

Annika Sorenstam on her first tee shot: “Obviously I was very nervous, but I had worked so hard in preparation for the tournament that I had nothing else to lose at that point. Once I hit the opening tee shot, I had a sense of relief. I just let my emotions flow.

Vijay Singh after the event: “It was not an attack on Annika and if it was, it was not put that way. I actually said that if I missed the cut, I’d rather see her miss the cut as well. I don’t want to go back and know that a woman beat me…”

Jesper Parnevik post-tournament: “She played amazing. I guess we have the ‘Shark’, the ‘Tiger’ and now we have the ‘Superwoman’...”

Amazing Annika boosts women's golf

Annika Sorenstam at Colonial in 2003

Annika Sorenstam's Colonial appearance and subsequent career inspired thousands of young girls to play golf

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Despite more calls for her to tee it up again against the men, Sorenstam felt she'd done enough by rattling a few cages, and thought the best way to boost women's golf was to go out and dominate the scene.

“I wanted to challenge myself and didn’t think I needed to do it one more time," said said after Colonial. "I smelled the blood, and that’s what I wanted to do. 

"Since 2003, I had my best years, and I credit that to Colonial. When you’re always being chased, it’s tough to see the path ahead of you. But I saw the path, and I knew where to go.”

And that's exactly what she did, going back to the LPGA and adding another six Majors and 36 LPGA titles to her name in the next five years.

And in a similar way to Tiger Woods, becoming a household name helped her to transcend the game and shine a light on the women's game far more than if she'd played in more sideshow events on the PGA Tour.

There was just something special about her. Overpowering but not overbearing, Annika Sorenstam quickly became the sweet darling of the women’s game as her career blossomed with a smile.

In 2001 she became the first women to shoot a 59, and in 2005 she would win ten LPGA Tour events – a staggering 50% success rate of the tournaments she entered.

By the time she ended her career at the end of 2008, there were no fewer than 10 Majors and 90 worldwide wins in the locker.

20 years on...

Michelle Wie West and Brittney Lincicome are the only two other female golfers to have taken on the men in a PGA Tour event since Sorenstam.

Sorenstam still inspired plenty of people though, and women's golf has taken off in other ways, without needing to go up against the men in the PGA Tour.

"Looking back at this, I'm sure some people will say what was the purpose," Sorenstam said this year. "But I think in the big picture, it was good for women's sports and for young girls to be able to share that story."

"It was just really cool for women's empowerment and saying, 'Gender is not the thing that divides these players,'" Lydia Ko told Golf Channel.

"It’s so unique and that moment is just one of the amazing moments that Annika had, and outside of that, she’s done so many amazing things and she’s grown golf in general, not just in women’s golf. 

"I reckon that she’s a role model not just to girls growing up, and not just a role model to me, but I’m sure junior boys would say, 'One day I want to play like Annika Sorenstam'"

Paul Higham

Paul Higham is a sports journalist with over 20 years of experience in covering most major sporting events for both Sky Sports and BBC Sport. He is currently freelance and covers the golf majors on the BBC Sport website.  Highlights over the years include covering that epic Monday finish in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor and watching Rory McIlroy produce one of the most dominant Major wins at the 2011 US Open at Congressional. He also writes betting previews and still feels strangely proud of backing Danny Willett when he won the Masters in 2016 - Willett also praised his putting stroke during a media event before the Open at Hoylake. Favourite interviews he's conducted have been with McIlroy, Paul McGinley, Thomas Bjorn, Rickie Fowler and the enigma that is Victor Dubuisson. A big fan of watching any golf from any tour, sadly he spends more time writing about golf than playing these days with two young children, and as a big fair weather golfer claims playing in shorts is worth at least five shots. Being from Liverpool he loves the likes of Hoylake, Birkdale and the stretch of tracks along England's Golf Coast, but would say his favourite courses played are Kingsbarns and Portrush.