Sorenstam growing into role as face of LPGA

Tuesday, July 8th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma (AP) _ Annika Sorenstam is comfortable now as the face of women's professional golf, although that wasn't always the case.

In May, the Swedish star solidified her position as the highest-profile player since Nancy Lopez when she became the first woman in 58 years to play in a PGA tournament.

``With the Colonial experience, I was myself,'' Sorenstam said in a conference call Tuesday. ``I wanted to do it. It's easier to do it when you do it your way. That's why I'm more comfortable.''

Sorenstam said LPGA officials have long compared her to Lopez, and wanted her to take on the informal public relations chores Lopez performed on tour.

``They wanted somebody to be like her, and here I was,'' Sorenstam said. ``They said, 'Nancy did this,' and 'Nancy did that.' But that just wasn't me. I said, 'I'm just here to compete.'''

Ever since the Colonial, where Sorenstam shot two respectable rounds but missed the cut, the Swedish star said more people are approaching her for autographs and buying T-shirts. Also, more women fill LPGA galleries than before, she said.

``Everything's been positive,'' she said. ``I've gotten used to it. I'm trying to balance that with competition. But I feel worn down.''

She was tired and slightly ill Sunday when she had uncharacteristic trouble on the 18th hole of the U.S. Women's Open. Sorenstam bogeyed the hole when a birdie would have meant victory.

``I haven't had enough time to practice, but I've been playing good golf,'' she said from Vancouver, British Columbia, where she competes this week in the Canadian Women's Open.

In September, Sorenstam will defend the title she won last year in Tulsa. She plans to use the LPGA tournament as a warmup for the Solheim Cup between European and American players in Malmo, Sweden.