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Lost balls
Singh reveals himself as a cowardly blowhard. Plus, more of the same from the BoSox
BY CHIP YOUNG

You simply gotta walk the talk. Thatís all there is to it.

Pro golfer Vijay Singh, Fijiís answer to the Mastersí Hootie Johnson, came out last week prior to the Byron Nelson Championship, which he subsequently won, blowing hot air like a monsoon. The gale-force wind was aimed at Annika Sorenstam, the best female golfer in the world, who had the audacity to accept a sponsorís exemption ó so she could play in the Colonial, the PGA tournament beginning Thursday, May 22 in Fort Worth, which has always had an all-male field. Sorenstam was trying to take her game to another level ó or simply gauge the gap between the sexes out on the links. Not since the best woman athlete of the 20th century, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, took on the boys at the 1945 Los Angeles Open, has the better half tried to go head-to-head with male counterparts.

For some reason ó perhaps cultural, perhaps ignorance ó Vijay said that Annika wasnít fit to play in a PGA event, and that if he was eventually paired with her, he would withdraw from the event. What he should have withdrawn was his head ó into his neck ó for looking like a macho fool.

So after Vijay shot off his mouth and swaggered through the Byron Nelson field amid the media clamor he set off, he finally lost a couple of balls ó his own manly parts, not any with Titleist written on them. After Singhís impressive victory, he announced he would be giving the Colonial a miss, because heíd promised his wife he would take a week off if he won a tournament. Right. File that excuse in the same folder with politicians who are in hot water, or when theyíre standing to get shellacked at the polls, they declare theyíre not going to run because they want to spend more time with their families.

Unless Singh is utterly tone deaf, he knew damn well this wasnít the time to bail out. Or he certainly should have. You donít go around spouting off like a testosterone tyrant, railing against an innocent female athlete who is looking for a challenge, and then sneak out the back door to hide under your wifeís petticoats.

For all the potential harm that Sorenstam could cause to her rap and that of the LPGA if she plays poorly, it wonít come close to how Vijay has tarnished his image by ducking the Swedish star. And if Annika makes the cut ó which is a good probability ó he will look even more fainthearted, because she could have conceivably been paired with him. Then, he would have had to follow through on his promise to take his balls ó if he had any left ó and go home.

For her part, Sorenstam has been her usual reserved, affable self. She has been enjoying the attention and appearances on the Today show and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Singh could take some lessons in graciousness from her, such as when she was both candid and self-effacing during an interview with the New York Times: "Itís like Iím coming into their playground . . . But I have great respect for [the PGA players]. I understand how good they are. Thatís why I want to compete against them." The playground analogy is quite appropriate for Singh and the other little boys who have criticized her participation. But as has been often mentioned, if Tiger Woods thought there was a bigger challenge out there than the PGA Tour, heíd be signing up for it before you could say, "Nike."

Fortunately, as the tournament approaches, her supporters ó and even some who have sounded dissonant notes about her playing ó have had many good things to say about her participation. Nick Price, runner-up to Singh in the Byron Nelson, who initially declared it was all a publicity stunt, said, "I wish her the best of luck, I really do. She has a big heart. I donít think I would be able to do what she is going to do next week." Not quite as effusive as Phil Mickelson predicting Sorenstam could finish 20th, but not a bad turnaround.

Much has been made of how the Colonial is the best tour course that Annika could have chosen because of its lack of overall length and many sharp doglegs, which put a premium on accuracy versus crushing the ball. Contrarily, she will have to hit lower irons on approach shots, making it tougher to have the green hold the ball. As has been generally acknowledged, she can afford zero mistakes, and will be looking at a lot of 20- and 30-foot birdie putts, needing to get down in two almost every time, and maybe even sink the odd Lorne Greene bird.

But there is even more to it than defending your sex and organizationís honor in front of an Arnieís Army of media and a national TV audience that will be a presence before, during, and after each round. As PGA player Lee Janzen pointed out to the Times, Sorenstam is playing on a strange course; with people she generally does not know; whom she hasnít ever talked to; and she will be in the womenís locker room all alone, heightening the sense of being a stranger in a strange land. But if there is anyone who has shown that she can bring a laser focus to the course, it has been the player who has ruled ladiesí golf for the recent past.

Meanwhile, Vijay can stay home and possibly watch on TV ó with his wifeís approval, of course, since she obviously had big plans for them this weekend. Or possibly take a look around his backyard for some lost balls.

Could the Boston Red Sox have picked a better time to catch the New York Yankees in the American League East race than the day before the Bronx Bombers come to Fenway for their first series of the year?

The Sox have got to get this approach down. Instead of breaking from the gate like a sprinter, getting their fans hot and bothered by May 1, before starting the inevitable slide to futility, the Olde Towne Team really sneaked up on the Yanks, who came out this year burning rubber down the drag strip. If you werenít really paying attention, your quick take on Boston would be: 1) Bullpen by committee sucks; 2) Nomarís not hitting; 3) Derek Lowe is a one-hit wonder; and 4) Weíre screwed ó how far behind us is Toronto and what does the wildcard field look like?

But this isnít the case. The bullpen actually does save one now and again, thanks to offensive comebacks that defy belief. Nomarís on a 20-game hitting streak, even if his average is still below .300. Loweís slowly coming around. The Sox are tied for first and itís May 20. Yow!

Unfortunately, it looks like the surprising success is just a new opening gambit. We should have seen this coming when Trot Nixon had his brain cramp against Anaheim, tossing the ball into stands after he caught a fly ball for the second out, while the Angelsí runners danced a conga line around the bases in an until-then tight game. Whenever the Yankees come to town, or the BoSox go south to New York, thereís a palpable fear factor at work among the Boston players. Before one could even get the TV turned on during the first game of the head-to-head Monday night, the Sox were down, 5-0, and Casey Fossum looked shell-shocked. You simply arenít going to come back against the Yanks after falling behind that far that quickly, with David Wells on the mound against you.

Itís more of the same old same old from the Red Sox. While Bostonís hitters and pitchers look like so tight that you couldnít pull a greased pin out of their rectums with a tractor, the Yanks walk to the plate confidently, look relaxed while pitching and in the field, and they might actually be having fun out there. Donít expect that from the squinting Garciaparra and Nixon, or the vacant stare of Manny Ramirez.

One moment in the opener seemed to capture it all. With Wells having put a couple men on with two out, there was a conference on the mound. At the end of it, Yanks first baseman Jason Giambi looked at Wells and obviously cracked a joke, and Wells started laughing. He got the hitter to ground into a force out at third, and he looked over at third baseman Todd Zeile, who had made the single-handed play, and started laughing again.

The next time that you see a Red Sox pitcher doing this will be the first since Bill "Spaceman" Lee headed south. Same old, same old.


Issue Date: May 23 - 29, 2003
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