By Travis Puterbaugh, Curator
As Seen on WomensGolf.com
In 2018, Brittany Lincicome became just the sixth woman in history to compete in a PGA TOUR event, teeing it up for the Barbasol Classic at the Keene Trace Golf Club in Kentucky. Although Lincicome missed the cut, she turned in a memorable performance in the second round, notching birdies on three consecutive holes (6, 7, 8) and an eagle at 17 en route to a second round 1-under-par 71. Lincicome – an eight-time winner on the LPGA Tour – joined the elite group of Annika Sorenstam, Shirley Spork, Suzy Whaley, Michelle Wie and Babe Zaharias in her bold foray into competition with the men.
Although Wie played in eight PGA TOUR events between 2004-2008, it was Sorenstam who became the first woman in 51 years to play in a PGA TOUR event when she accepted an invitation to the Bank of America Colonial in May 2003. After remarking in January 2003 that she would play an event on the PGA TOUR if invited, Sorenstam was soon offered nine sponsor exemptions for events on the TOUR. Ultimately, Sorenstam settled on the Colonial because it fell on a rare week in which she would be not defending an LPGA title.
Heading into the tournament in Ft. Worth, Sorenstam found herself at the peak of her profession and a dominating force on the LPGA Tour. The previous year, Sorenstam became the first player since Mickey Wright in 1964 to win 11 times in a single season. She finished in the top-10 in 20 out of 23 starts with a scoring average of 68.70 – which remains the best in LPGA history. Sorenstam broke her own mark of 69.42 set in 2001. Quite simply, with four Major Championships and 42 career wins already in the bag, Sorenstam craved a new challenge.
“I want to reach my limits,” Sorenstam said. “I want to see how good I can be. This is another way of trying to get better. Not knowing where I’ll finish is part of the excitement. If I knew, why would I do it?”
Jaime Diaz, a reporter for Golf World magazine, called it “a tremendous act of courage… done for the right reasons: an elite athlete trying to stretch the boundaries of her own abilities.”
Sorenstam brushed off criticism that it was just a publicity stunt – either for her or the LPGA – and approached the tournament with a positive attitude and a lot of preparation.
“I changed my practice routine and pushed a little harder in the gym,” Sorenstam said. “I practiced playing a longer golf course, playing longer clubs into the greens, just preparing for what it would be like playing on the PGA TOUR.”
The day arrived on May 22, on what World Golf Hall of Fame sportswriter Dan Jenkins called “one of the most exciting days in the history of the Colonial.” More than 500 media members were credentialed for the tournament, triple the number issued in 2002. Paired with TOUR rookies Dean Wilson and Aaron Barber, Sorenstam found herself under a microscope the likes of which she had never encountered on the LPGA.
On the putting green prior to their round, Barber sought out Sorenstam and told her, “Remember, we’re in this together.” Over their two days playing together, Sorenstam would form lasting bonds with both Barber and Wilson, while thrilling the thousands of spectators in the gallery.
“The electricity in the air was something that I had never experienced before,” Wilson said. “It was the best golf experience of my life.”
Struggling with nerves on the first tee at hole number 10, Sorenstam nevertheless ripped her 4-wood 255 yards straight down the fairway. Over her historic first round, Sorenstam missed just one fairway and had 11 birdie chances of 30 feet or shorter. On the par-70 course, she played a steady round and finished a respectable 1-over-par 71, carding two bogeys on the front nine and a birdie on the par-3 16th.
“Best round all year, man, woman or child,” said Scott Verplank, a five-time winner on the PGA TOUR. “I’m totally impressed. If she came here to get better, she got better today.”
Although Sorenstam struggled a bit in the second round – three bogeys to only one birdie – it did not at all diminish her accomplishments in Ft. Worth. Few golfers, after all, had ever faced so much scrutiny or attention on the Thursday of a non-Major event.
True to her word, Sorenstam never teed it up on the PGA TOUR again, but she did win the next two tournaments she played on the LPGA Tour and captured six more Major Championships before retiring with 72 career wins in 2008. Still, she silenced a few of her doubters in the process and inspired an untold number of women along the way. One of them, a junior golfer from Florida named Brittany Lincicome, followed in her footsteps 15 years later.
“I idolized Annika,” Lincicome said, “and she was inspiring to watch. To have the courage to compete against the men spoke volumes about what a great athlete she was.”