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Annika Sorenstam Attracts Sell Out Crowds - 2003-05-24

The top woman golfer in the world, Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, attracted a lot of attention and made a lot of fans both young and old when she became the first woman in 58 years to play in an official U.S. men's PGA (Professional Golfers Association) Tour event. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer witnessed her landmark appearance at the Colonial tournament in Fort Worth, Texas.

The majority of the sell-out crowds of 50,000 on each of the days Annika Sorenstam played came to see her and how well she would do. It was often quite difficult moving around the golf course to watch her every shot.

As she walked down the fairway after hitting the ball off the tee, this golf fan was overheard talking to his friend as he observed the massive following.

"Look this way. That's crazy, isn't it? You know what, I've seen a lot of crowds, but you can turn around and look, this is the biggest gallery I've ever seen. Oh, my God, this is worse than [the crowds that follow] Tiger [Woods], man, unbelievable! " said one fan.

While world number-one men's golfer, American Tiger Woods, did not play in this tournament, he always has huge followings, and it seemed hard to believe that Annika Sorenstam was drawing more attention, but she was. And the crowds cheered nearly everything she did.

"Yeah! Nice Putt. That was nice," reacted a fan.

And there were many fans, like Toni McKegg from Dallas, wearing bright green buttons with blue lettering that said, "Go Annika."

"A friend of mine brought it to me yesterday. It means, 'Go Annika. Go for it.' " she said.

And it was not just women wearing the "Go Annika" buttons. John Reed said both he and wife came out to show their support with the sell-out crowds.

"I'm really pleasantly surprised with how I think the general public has reacted much differently than the (men) PGA Tour players have. And I'm pleasantly surprised to see how much support she's getting," Mr. Reed said.

John's wife Laurie had these comments on Annika Sorenstam playing golf here against the men.

"I think it's wonderful," she said. " I'm a physician and I had to beat the boys in my basic science classes and in medical school, and Go Annika! "

And it was not just adults who came out to see Annika play against the men. Many young girls and boys also came with their parents. And Annika said she noticed.

"It's great to see the little girls. I hope that they feel like when they grow up they can either play golf, but also to follow their dream, follow their heart," she said. "That's what I'm doing. So it's wonderful to see every little one here, either the little boys or little girls, or the ladies or the men who are out here. You know, I'm living my dream and that's what it's all about."

When she decided to accept a special invitation, known as a sponsor's exemption, to play in the PGA Colonial tournament here, there is no way Annika Sorenstam could have imagined just how big an impact she would have, even though she failed to make the halfway cut to be able to play the final two days.

"I've never seen so many people cheer for me and push [pull for me], you know, and it's been wonderful," she said.

And certainly this reporter would agree.