Many feel the biggest story in professional golf over the last year was the domination of Tiger Woods in the PGA Tour and world golf scene.
Tiger is incredible, and there is still no limit to what he will accomplish. He won 5 times on the PGA Tour, including The Masters and the U.S. Open, to bring his career victory total to 36. Woods also captured victories in Europe and Asia.
Yet Annika Sorenstam was everything Tiger was on the men's tour, and more. She outdistanced Woods in wins, claiming 11 LPGA titles to bring her career total to 42. She added two overseas victories, claimed her 4th major championship, and reflected back on the 59 she recorded in a pro event just two years ago.
Take that, Tiger.
Still, neither was THE story for 2002. Nor is either THE story of 2003.
Martha Burk's crusade to open membership of the Augusta National Golf Club to women was, and is, the story du decade. Burk, you recall, is chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, and has pushed for the storied Georgia club to admit a female member. One doesn't disparage her ideals, and while many would separate the policies of the Augusta National Golf Club from the golf tournament known as The Masters, the fact is they are intertwined.
One could move a closet full of green jackets from Georgia to Merion, Pebble Beach or Shinnecock Hills, but The Masters wouldn't be The Masters anywhere else but Augusta National.
So assume club president Hootie Johnson wanted to truly diffuse the entire situation and emerge not only with a great tournament but public sentiment as well. One way would be to admit good Martha herself, or Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor or eve Nancy Lopez and send Ms. Burk packing onto another crusade.
Chances are that won't happen. Burk will be in front of the cameras down the street from Augusta National while her supporters hoot, holler and chant against the club's all-male membership.
Hootie will do his thing in his own time. Like a teenager who refuses to cut his hair, pull up his basketball pants or clean his room, Hootie will truly consider a female member when he is darn good and ready. The more pressure put, the more he'll hold his breath, turn blue and vow never to fold. Heaven forbid the players hear protest chants while standing over a treacherous 8-foot par putt.
Yet if Hootie asked, there would be one surefire way to diffuse the tense situation: invite Annika Sorenstam to compete in The Masters. It's not as far fetched an idea as one might think. It would be a stroke of genius.
Can you imagine the coverage that selection would garner? People are falling all over themselves to get a word with Sorenstam these days, based on her acceptance of a sponsor's exemption into the PGA Tour's Bank of America Colonial. There she will become the first woman in 58 years to compete on equal footing against men.
At the Colonial she will play from the men's tee against the best of the rest the PGA Tour has to offer as Tiger is sitting out the event.
But Tiger, an honorary member of Augusta National by virtue of his two championships, will be defending his crown next month in Georgia. Wouldn't it be extraordinary to see the best male and best female golfers teeing off in the same threesome with, say, Jack Nicklaus?
Forget the sports section, this one would be front page, above the fold, breaking news. Even Burk couldn't quarrel with this grouping.
It is not unusual for a woman to play Augusta National as guests of members, for while it has no female member it regularly has females playing its hallowed fairways. Yet having the best male and female players competing side-by-side in The Masters would be a truly historic event.
Can you imagine stuffy Hootie presiding as Woods either donned another green jacket or hoisted one onto the shoulders of the 2003 champion?
Then, with a worldwide audience catching every word, Hootie could smile and gentlemanly announce that Ms. Annika Sorenstam and Mr. Tiger Woods were joining Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the only professionals offered regular memberships to Augusta National.
As that old coot from Texas, a Mr. H. Ross Perot, once said: "Problem solved."