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PGA Tour talking future of women on tour

The PGA Tour has never had a policy against women playing in its tournaments, and that isn't likely to change any time soon.

Still, with three women scheduled to play this year - starting with Annika Sorenstam on Thursday at the Colonial - players are starting to question the use of sponsor's exemptions.

"There's plenty of discussion on both sides of the fence," said Olin Browne, one of four players on the nine-member PGA Tour policy board. "It's evenly split."

What does that mean? Probably nothing.

Anyone who had a gripe about Sorenstam becoming the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour can bring it up to the 16-player Players Advisory Council. If the issue festers, it is brought before the policy board.

Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA Tour, said sponsor's exemptions were on the agenda at the PAC meeting last week in Dallas, but that's as far as it went.

"The consensus of the PAC was that sponsor's exemptions as we have it now is fine," Hughes said. "It's beneficial for the players, it's beneficial for the members, and it's beneficial for the tournaments to enhance the field."

Along with Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley qualified for the Greater Hartford Open by winning a PGA sectional tournament for club pros. Last week, 13-year-old Michelle Wie of Hawaii accepted an exemption to play in the Boise Open on the Nationwide Tour.

Hughes conceded some players have raised gender issues, but said that wasn't enough for the tour to keep women out.

"If it has no interest or support, it won't go forward," he said. "My guess is it will not be on the agenda" at the next policy board meeting June 30 in Chicago.

David Toms, who recently replaced Hal Sutton on the policy board, said the gender issue only recently came up.

"When the policy board votes to change anything, it's a huge process," Toms said. "I think this week will give us a lot of feedback on what the future might hold."

Where is the issue now?

"It's not anywhere," Toms said.

EASY DOES IT: Ernie Els says Annika Sorenstam should not expect to impress the other 113 players at the Colonial.

"You have a girl that's so much better than the rest of the girls, if she wants to prove it to herself, I'm all for it," Els said Wednesday from the Volvo PGA Championship in England. "But if she wants to prove something to us, I think she's making a mistake."

Els, who plans to watch the Colonial before he tees off Thursday, said Sorenstam might be disappointed if she misses the cut.

"We are all very competitive, if you're a lady or a man," he said. "Your first challenge will be to make the cut and if you don't make it, I think you fail. Otherwise, why enter? I think she has a good chance. She's chosen a course where she has the best chance of making the cut. It's going to be tough for her to really prove anything in her first event."

KEEPING SCORE: Annika Sorenstam caused a brief stir on the fifth hole of her pro-am round Wednesday when she missed a 10-foot par putt, then picked up.

It was believed that while teams compete for the $10,000 purse, pros also must post a score for an individual competition.

But the tour did away with individual scores a couple of years ago. Since one of her partners already had a bogey on No. 5, Sorenstam didn't need to putt out.

She also picked up a 6-foot bogey putt on No. 7 and a 4-foot par putt on No. 8. Counting those putts, Sorenstam was 1-over through 10 holes when the pro-am was canceled because of increasing rain.

ANNIKA SUPPORTERS: LPGA players Kris Tschetter and Heather Bowie plan to be in the gallery Thursday when Annika Sorenstam tees off at the Colonial to become the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour.

Tschetter, a former TCU golfer, scheduled a trip to Fort Worth to meet with officials of the Hogan Company during Colonial week so she could watch Sorenstam play.

Bowie, who lives in Fort Worth, was already taking this week off the LPGA Tour to attend Colonial before Sorenstam was invited.

CRANE OUT AGAIN: Ben Crane withdrew from the Colonial, the second straight week he has pulled out of a tournament for personal reasons.

A week ago, on the night before the Byron Nelson Championship, Crane's lifelong buddy and pastor who has leukemia was diagnosed with pneumonia and put in the intensive care unit of an Oregon hospital.

Crane was the runner-up at the Nelson in 2002, his best finish on the PGA Tour until he won at the BellSouth Classic in April. He has never played Colonial.

 

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