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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2003-05-31

I survived Annika Sorenstam at the Colonial
Been there, done that, got the T-shirt

By Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Annika laughs at the driving range.
Seriously. They gave out T-shirts as gifts to the media this year.

Of course, they gave out T-shirts last year, too. On the back, it said, "2002 Colonial Media: It's All About the Golf."

Not so with this year's version. Just a plain old logo and word about the sponsor. Which is a good thing, because "It's All About One Big, Giant Cluster-F&#k" would have offended more than a few sensibilities.

It was apparent from the moment I first set foot on the grounds at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth on Monday afternoon that this was not your father's golf tournament. First of all, in over five years of covering golf, I have NEVER arrived at a tournament on a Monday. Rarely on a Tuesday. And if I get there on Wednesday it's usually just to pick up credentials and track down a player to set up a portrait or something. But in this case she'd be arriving on Monday, playing a practice round on Tuesday, and then have the Pro-Am on Wednesday. That's three days of work, all before Annika ever hit her first official shot at a PGA event.

If we ever found her, that is.

The front of the clubhouse was a buzzing hive of complete, total inactivity. Upwards of 50 photographers, reporters, and TV camera-pointers were sitting there, just waiting for something to do. "She'll be here at five," said one. "Four o'clock and she plays nine holes," came another tip. "What happened to two-thirty?" asked another. "Face it. She's not coming." (Some people just have to see the glass as half-empty, you know.) "If you see a red Mercedes, that's her," another told me. "Oh, shit. Now it's six-thirty." Hurry up and wait. Sleep faster, we need the pillows.

Lance Barrow, the top dog of CBS golf coverage himself, was there-in person-with his crew. As were two PGA Tour media officials. And two PGA tour security guys. And what looked like about half of the Fort Worth police force. Folks, not even Tiger Woods gets this much attention from CBS and the Tour. Club members came and went (the valet parking drop off was right in front of the clubhouse), astonished by the horde assembled before them.

I found Gold Digest staff photographer J.D. Cuban by the front door. Since Digest was paying the bills last week, I figured having two of us next to each other wouldn't do any good, so I went to the other side of the driveway to wait with the AP's Dave Martin. A golfer I recognized but had never met came up to me, clubs in tow, by the valet parking stand.

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Hurry up and wait: (l-r) Kevin Cox, Robert Beck, Jim Gund, and Andy Lyons wait by the first fairway for Annika on Friday afternoon.
"Gee, who are you waiting for, I wonder?" He chuckled.

"Some guy named Jonathan Kaye. Never heard of him. No idea who he is. You seen him anywhere?" I asked.

Jonathan Kaye got this blank look on his face. Then he got the joke. And cracked up. Let the circus begin.

Lee Janzen emerged from the clubhouse with an "Aw shucks" look on his face, mentioning that everyone really didn't have to stay out here all day long just to wait for him.

At which point he was swamped by the throng, hoping for something, ANYTHING, he could say about Annika. Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

Realizing that things had the potential for getting out of hand, workers showed up moments later with steel barricades, and fenced off a path to the front door. I think they went back for a red carpet, but can't be sure because I didn't wait around for their return.

All we needed now were some people in formal attire, and you would have sworn you were at the Academy Awards. As if on cue, the great Dan Jenkins arrived for dinner at the clubhouse, resplendent in a tuxedo.

And then I noticed something else. Lance Barrow was gone. So were the CBS camera guys. And the Tour security guys. One of the Tour media guys was still there. Hmmmm. A diversion, perhaps? But the clincher for me was when I noticed one other person missing: AP photographer David J. Phillip.

Photo by Robert Seale / The Sporting News

Photo by Robert Seale / The Sporting News

Darren Carroll in action at The Colonial.
Something was definitely up. I found J.D. and told him that I was going to go for a little stroll.

Those of us who'd been to Colonial before know that there's a service entrance to the course behind the fourth tee, with a road that leads directly to the back entrance of the driving range. Now, I'm not a smart guy (I just take the pictures, you know), but this wasn't exactly rocket surgery. After a brief walk, I arrived behind the range.

Everyone who was conspicuously absent from the clubhouse was there, including an amused Mr. Phillip. "What took you so long?" he wanted to know. Danny Coulson, the Tour's on-site security director (and my constant foil inside the ropes) remarked in frustration that if I could figure this whole thing out, then anybody could.

But not everybody did. A few more showed up-one or two more photographers, an ESPN crew, and a couple of writers. But the barbarians were still massed back at the clubhouse gates.

At 5:50 P.M. CST, a silver minivan made its way down the service drive. (Note to the guy who started the "red Mercedes" rumor: WRONG!). As the side door slid open, someone shouted "Annika! Welcome to Fort Worth!" And the flashes started popping and the TV crews started running and the elbows started flying and the police started pushing and the whole scrum made its way to the heretofore-empty range.

Where Annika hit a few golf balls. Like any other pro golfer getting ready for a tournament.

Then she went to the practice green, hit some chips, bunker shots, and putts. Like any other pro golfer getting ready for a tournament.

And then she went home.

The word on the street was that Annika, Jesper Parnevik, and Sergio Garcia would play a practice round on Tuesday morning at eight o'clock. So J.D. and I left our hotel at six-thirty, stopped at Starbucks for some jet fuel, and made it to the course before seven.

Photo by Robert Seale / The Sporting News

Photo by Robert Seale / The Sporting News

Darren Carroll hard at work at The Colonial.
Fully wired by a venti Breakfast Blend, I waited at the dogleg in the first fairway as Annika hit her tee shot. Her gallery was enormous, which was pretty remarkable considering the threatening skies and forecast for rain all day, not to mention the fact this was a PRACTICE round. Her tee shot faded into the trees. She walked down the fairway, and the swarm moved with her. She pitched out into the fairway, and the swarm moved again. She hit her third shot just short of the green.

And then the horn blew.

Weather was moving in, and the horn meant to evacuate the course.

For the one (and only) time that week, the Tour's weather guys got it right. No sooner had we made it to the media center than the rain came down in buckets. There was nothing to do but wait for the other scheduled event of the day-Annika's press conference.

The Tour had expanded the interview area this year. My best guess is that it was about five times the size it normally is (they'd doubled the size of the media center, as well). Even that wasn't enough. The press conference was standing room-only, with over thirty TV cameras on tripods at the back of the room. By Sunday, that number would be reduced to exactly one.

Later that afternoon, the threesome decided to tee it up again. At about the eighth tee (and at about 5:00) the moaning started. "They're only going to play nine, right?" "God, I hope so. No way they'll play all eighteen."

That shows how much we know. Annika & Co. putted out on nine, and walked directly to the tenth tee. A long day just got longer.

Wednesday was my lucky day. She was scheduled to tee off at 12:40 in the Pro-Am. It was raining again, of course, but my real assignment for the day was to shoot a portrait of Jesper Parnevik back at the hotel. Jesper had scheduled the shoot for "Sometime between three and eight." So I threw on the AquaTechs, stood in the rain for half an hour waiting for Annika on the first tee, and then made my way back to a nice, dry, air-conditioned ballroom to set up lights and get away from the circus. Sometimes I really hate my job.

Photo by Robert Seale / The Sporting News

Photo by Robert Seale / The Sporting News

The media surrounds Annika.
Then came the big day. Thursday. The day it all became official. The day from hell.

The Tour folks were in a bind. They'd issued 652 media credentials, and-surprise!- everyone wanted to be walking inside the ropes with Annika's group. Normally the Tour issues a different colored sticker for each day granting inside-the-ropes access to writers and photographers, but this was too much. The access had to be limited-for her sake, for the fans' sake, and, frankly, for our sake as well. We just wouldn't be able to get anything done with that many people inside the ropes.

This presented a problem-namely, that there was, aside from Annika, a real, live golf tournament going on, and there were some people who needed to (perish the thought!) cover it. And to do that, they, too, needed to be inside the ropes-albeit with the other groups.

So now what? How do you take 652 members of the media, give them all inside-the-ropes access so they can cover the tournament, but then delineate who can and can't go inside the ropes with Annika's group?

An intelligent, quick-thinking, and enterprising photographer came to the rescue, suggesting to the PGA Tour folks that they use different-colored stickers to indicate who could go inside the ropes with Annika, and who could go inside the ropes everywhere except with Annika. The Tour guys, Todd Budnick and Joel Schuchman, saw this as the brilliant, well thought-out stroke of genius that it was, and adopted the plan.

And so it came to pass on Thursday that 128 of us-74 writers and 54 photographers-were bestowed with the magic sticker with a number and an "A" at the end of it: inside the ropes with "Ms. 59" herself. To put this in perspective, fast forward to Sunday. When the tournament leader, Kenny Perry, teed off at 12:20 p.m., the total number of photographers and writers inside the ropes on the first hole was…

Seven.

For background's sake, it's important to note that there are "regulars" who cover the tour, both writers and photographers, who are walking inside the ropes all the time-the scribes from the AP, New York Times, Golf World, and the Washington Post, to name a few. And photographers from SI, Golf World/Golf Digest, and the wires as well. We all know each other, we all look out for each other, and we all respect the area inside the ropes as our-and, more importantly, the golfers'-"office."

But this week, there were about 110 other folks out there who possessed nary a clue.

One of those 110 was a writer relatively new to covering the tour regularly (he started at this year's Masters, a little over a month ago). But that didn't stop him from yelling (not a good thing to do on a golf course) at Getty Images' Andy Lyons and I that we were "the reason nobody liked [the media] out here." Why, we wondered? Well, he explained to us, rather loudly, that if we would get down and out of the way so that people could see everyone would be better off. Which kind of perplexed Andy and I as we sat (well, knelt, actually) on the ground listening to his rant.

I swear to God, I'd never seen this hallmark of professionalism walking a golf course before in my life. The last green he saw at a Tour event was probably on the outside of a Krispy Kreme box in the media tent-and that's provided he managed to show up before lunch. And now here he was, on the first fairway, telling us how to do our job? Give me a break.

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

A teary-eyed Annika Sorenstam leaves the 18th green at the conclusion of her second round.
It's one thing to get crap from an inexperienced and overanxious writer. You don't expect that. Especially since those of us who've been doing this for a while make a concerted effort to stay down and out of the way, remain inconspicuous, and do everything possible to minimize the effects of our being where we are. What you do expect in a setting like this, however, is the shit you get from the fans.

It's inevitable. Especially when Annika Sorenstam walks up to a green with 128 of us in tow, and we all want to watch and/or shoot.

Yes, I know you've been sitting there all day. Why don't you try standing up for a minute?

Yes, I know you've been sitting there all day. Must be nice. I've been walking around a golf course with all this crap on my shoulder all day.

What do you mean, 'These assholes think they run the place?" If I ran this place, I'd have a chauffeured golf cart, a hot tub in the media center, a parking spot on the first tee, and I'd have cut you off after your twelfth beer.

Yes, I know you paid a lot of money for your tickets. Wait-you actually PAID to sit here? Are you nuts?

It got so bad that at one point on Friday, a fan at the second green screamed at one of the caddies to get out of the way.

Of course, it was initially blamed on a photographer.

Annika played well, but not well enough. By late Friday afternoon, her galleries-and media following-had dwindled in anticipation of her missing the cut. About 600 writers, photographers, and TV "journalists" packed their bags and headed home. On Saturday the Colonial was just another sleepy golf tournament, with Kenny Perry in the lead and nobody else even close. Sunday was just about the most peaceful, relaxing day inside the ropes I'd ever experienced. And I was happy to share it with, at most, twenty of my colleagues-and my "friend" from the first fairway on Thursday was nowhere to be found.


(Austin-based freelancer Darren Carroll covers the PGA Tour for Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest, and Golf World.)



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