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Whaley takes her chance against the men

Bo Jackson played football and baseball but never tried a crossover like his golfing partner Wednesday.

Suzy Whaley, a 36-year-old club pro who played briefly on the LPGA tour, will tee it up against the men in the Greater Hartford Open today. She is the first woman to qualify for a PGA event since Babe Zaharias in 1945.

"I think the hardest part of the whole week is getting ready for it," Whaley said after playing with Jackson in Wednesday's rain-shortened celebrity pro-am. "I'm thrilled to be here. It's the opportunity of a lifetime. I refuse to let it be anything else but that."

Whaley earned the right to play against the men by winning the Connecticut PGA section last fall. She was hitting from the shorter women's tees then, but when she tees off in the last group for the first round of the GHO she will be playing the course's full 6,820-yard distance.

She is not expected to make the cut -- or even get as close as Annika Sorenstam did in May when she accepted a sponsor's exemption to play against the men in the Colonial. But Whaley insists her experience won't be diminished, no matter how she plays.

"Let's just have fun with it," said two-time defending champion Phil Mickelson, who noted that Whaley's chances are no worse than the others who played their way into the GHO the same way.

"I don't think that we should worry about how she plays, or what her score is. I think that we should just cherish the fact that she qualified and enjoy the fact that this is a unique circumstance on tour."

Whaley shot 4 over on Wednesday on the par-35 front nine of TPC at River Highlands course, where her husband is the general manager. She three-putted for a double bogey on No. 2 and dropped shots on Nos. 5 and 7; she did not make a birdie, though she had a chance with a 15-foot putt on the ninth hole.

"I didn't hit it as well as I would have liked in the beginning," Whaley said. "I came on pretty strong for the last four holes. I feel pretty good about it."

Although the magnitude of her decision to play has been diminished by Sorenstam's appearance in the Colonial, Whaley was still the star Wednesday. About 100 people followed her along the course, many wearing "Fore Suzy" buttons.

Between shots, she signed autographs and posed for pictures -- always smiling. Since saying she would play, her days have been filled with media interviews and appearances.

"She's trying to please people," said Bucky McGann, her caddie caddie and the father of LPGA player Michelle McGann. "I said, 'Hey, for everything going on, it (the golf) isn't going to be there. This isn't an office atmosphere."'

But McGann believes Whaley will be able to concentrate on her golf when it counts.

"I think she has the personality to do that," he said. "I'm here to make sure Suzy has fun."

Whaley's partners for the first two rounds will be Anthony Painter, who has made the cut in eight of 17 tournaments he's entered this year, and Akio Sadakata, who has played on six of 17 weekends. Sadakata said he hadn't spent any time worrying that he might be part of the sideshow, but he's prepared for it.

"I didn't realize until (Monday) she was playing it," Sadakata said. "I don't see the other people when I am playing golf. I just focus. But I like to hear a lot of claps, yes."

 

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