June 25, 2007

A Texas-size Challenge

Within a few short weeks I fear my brethren in the national media are going to be lapping up against my doorstep. This will happen in Fort Worth, the city that gave you Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, not to overlook the ice cream drumstick and washeteria.

I say doorstep because I live just three blocks from the 16th tee at Colonial Country Club, the course that is going to give you Annika Sorenstam, the greatest female golfer since Katharine Hepburn in "Pat and Mike."

In case you missed the news, which is only possible if you've been busy trying to decide whether Renée Zellweger can actually dance, Annika Sorenstam in the Bank of America Colonial, or what I still call the Colonial National Invitation, is going to tee it up in competition against ... yes, men.

Men of the PGA Tour. Men who will be out to prove that Annika, instead of lending herself to this publicity stunt, ought to be taking kids to soccer games or doing whatever it is that women do if they don't happen to model for Victoria's Secret.

This will be the first time in nearly 50 years that a lady golfer has taken on the gents in a PGA Tour event. You'd be aware of this as well if you hadn't been preoccupied with various evildoers and weapons of mass destruction, which, if I had anything to say about it, would also include every precious chef on the planet and his "roasted loin of fallow deer with cranberry bean and squash blossom mousse."

Mildred (Babe) Didrikson Zaharias is who Annika will be up against, really. Babe was the first to take on the gents. It happened in 1945 at Riviera Country Club in the Los Angeles Open, when the greatest woman athlete of the 20th century was still an amateur.

The reason Annika will be going up against Babe is because Babe shot 76-81 in the first two rounds at Riviera in '45 and made the cut. This was after Babe had shot a couple of 76s to qualify for that L.A. Open, something Annika gets to avoid in Fort Worth.

So making the 36-hole cut at Colonial is the goal for Annika. It's the goal the national media has set for her.

Unfortunately, if the scoring is as swift as it was last year at Colonial, she will need to shoot 71-72 to do it, and Vegas mathematicians say the odds on this occurrence are 400 million to one. Well, something like that. Therefore, Smart Money and all of his nephews will bet the Over. But so what? Who cares if she misses the cut? Media-wise, Annika's mere presence for at least two rounds is going to make the 2003 Colonial National Bank of America Hogan's Alley Invitation a surreal happening, an event, an all-skate, a serious luau, the year's "fifth major."

In other words, Vernon Castle's plane is going to crash again, and Pete the Python is going to escape again.

Let me explain.

Despite the fact that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had often visited Fort Worth for RR when it was an old "cattle drive town," the city's dateline didn't jump around the globe until Vernon Castle got killed in an accident there during World War I when he was a training pilot with the Royal Canadian Flying Corps.

Vernon Castle and his wife, Irene, were internationally famous dancers, the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of their day. Irene had also introduced bobbed hair and staying skinny to the world of fashion.

Overlooking some sports events, the city's dateline didn't jump around the globe again until some 36 years later, in 1954, when an 18-foot python named Pete, who was capable of swallowing whole gazebos and jeeps, escaped from the Fort Worth Zoo and stayed missing for more than two weeks. He was eventually discovered back in his cage, weary of looking for chimps, who were otherwise known to him as hors d'oeuvres.

Now will come Annika. Undoubtedly, the Fort Worth dateline will skitter forth again, calling attention once more to my city, a place of friendly people with a self-deprecating sense of humor, a place where real cowboys can be found amid the sophistication of the magnificent Kimbell Art Museum, not to mention the best barbecue and Tex-Mex in the entire world.

It may be time for me to try again to sell the local Chamber of Commerce a slogan I've been suggesting for years: If you want to see Atlanta, go to Dallas — if you want to see Texas, come to Fort Worth.