Monday, July 03, 2006

Newport Showcases a True Champion

By Jared Trexler

Many sportswriters surmise women's golf has risen in popularity for two reasons -- an overwhelming youth movement led by 16-year-old Michelle Wie and courses similar in length to those tackled by weekend hackers and corporate executives.

However, the United States Women's Open at Newport Country Club broke from that trend. Surrounded by a group of kindergarten kids on a wet, long track, Annika Sorenstam taught them all the Golden Rule of USGA supremacy.

Hit the fairway. Hit the green. Make par and move on.

While Wie, Jeong Jang and Jane Park among others were bombing tee balls through a heavy fog and into even heavier rough, the silky-smooth Swede calmly went about her business.

You see, it takes more than a controlled game to win America's championship. It takes a controlled mentality -- a rock-solid fortitude without ebb and flow. The highs are never too high, the lows never bring thoughts of jumping off the rock cliffs that hug the Rhode Island shoreline.

You can't blame players like Wie and Jang for outward expressions in the face of overwhelming pressure. The Hawaiian is under a constant microscope, and when the "lefts" entered her mind, a championship dream was over. Jang, or J.J. as she likes to be called, never mentally recovered from a double-hit on a side slope off the 18th fairway during round three.

Both acted exactly like they normally would. They acted like teenagers.

On such a grand stage, the level head of a wily veteran survived the wind and undulation of Newport.

Her game was pretty good as well thanks to some small changes implemented during a "fogged" out Thursday.

"I think this week I've been actually focusing a lot on my game," said Sorenstam. "I've done a lot of changes in my swing; not major changes but just changes."

A stronger grip, staying balanced and releasing her right side were some of the swing changes Sorenstam implemented in winning her third U.S. Open and first in a decade.

In the grand scheme of such a humbling game, this victory is unbelievably satisfying for the world No. 1. After winning two straight titles from 1995, thoughts can creep into a player's mind:
How easy is this? Two U.S. Open titles at the age of 25.

However, golf can't be completely dominated the way MJ conquered hoops or Roger storms through the ATP.

Thoughts of grandeur usually precede bogeys. And Sorenstam was making more of them than usual this year, almost to the point where she stepped foot onto the Williams Davis design as a footnote in the teenage craze.

Ninety holes and five days later, Sorenstam is again hoisting the hardware. After a birdie on the 15th hole Sunday, the Swede raised her fist and brought it to her heart.

A ticker that beats like a champion.

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