A shot to remember

July 7, 2008

by Matt Kane

There is a reason sports fans wait in lines to get into stadiums and venues, and then spend hours inside that arena waiting some more for something to happen. It’s because, eventually, something big usually happens.

That was the case for me and the two others I was with June 29 at Interlachen Country Club in Edina. for the playing of the 63rd U.S. Women’s Open.

This was a major golf tournament, so one doesn’t really get bored watching the world’s best golfers tee it up and putt it in, but for most of the day, my fellow fans and I didn’t see much out of the ordinary.

And then it happened — a moment that will stand frozen in time.

The most famous female golfer in the world, Annika Sorenstam, gave herself and the fans lined along the 18th fairway and surrounding the green in the grandstands a mement to remember for the rest of their lives.

After having to punch out of trouble after hitting her tee shot into some trees — a seemingly fitting scenerio according to how the rest of ther tournament went — Sorenstam allowed herself and the fans to forget about the five-over-par tournament score she was holding at that point by holing her third shot from 199 yards out for an eagle on what was the final U.S. Women’s Open hole of her career.

For once in my sports-watching career, I was actually in the right spot at the right time. Having secured a bleacher seat near the front of the green, I saw Sorenstam’s ball take its first bounce just shy of the bunker directly in front of me, skid onto the green and disappear into the cup.

When the ball first touched down, about 20 yards shy of the green and on the left edge of the bottleneck between the two front bunkers, I remember thinking she played her shot just as well as playing partner Christie Kerr. Kerr’s ball took the same flight path as Sorenstams’, but Sorenstam’s ball had more speed, and covered more green.

I remember saying out loud, after Sorenstam had to punch out, “Just sink it, Annika,” in a sarcastic sort of way. It turned out, after the ball drop to the bottom of the cup, that there was not a drip of sarcasm in that direction.

There is no doubt in my mind Sorenstam’s eagle on 18 was the best sports play I’ve ever seen in person. And it didn’t even matter in the final tournament standings. Maybe not, but is sure seemed to matter to the thousands of fans and to Sorenstam, herself.

She had to be grinding her teeth for most of the day after struggling, but, I would bet, as soon as that ball dropped in the cup, everything else was forgotten.

It made for a great U.S. Women’s Open for myself. I watched Sorenstam tee off on the first hole, and then saw her win my loyalty when she acknowledged a shout of support from a fan I attended the tournament with by giving a friendly wave, accompanied by eye contact.

Seeing how friendly and appreciative Sorenstam has been with fans in the past, I’m sure, if she still had to putt, she would have greeted the crowd at 18 with a respectful smile as it applauded her on her walk to the green. But it was obvious she was as happy and giddy as a little girl, and that that courtious smile was destroyed by a joyous one when she waved at the crowd, which was throwing off an ovation like no other.

The initial reaction from the crowd was similar to a crowd’s reaction to an overtime goal from the home team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The eagle gave Sorenstam a tournament score of three-over total of 295, a score she would gladly forget, no doubt. Now she can. Because of that unbelievalbe 6-iron shot, Sorenstam can and should forget the 294 other strokes she took over the four day, and just remember that one. That’s all those fans, like myself, on the 18th green at Interlachen Country Club will remember — for the rest of their lives.