Nerves had me shaking
I have some really wonderful memories when I look back on my career, but overall, playing at the Colonial as the only woman in a PGA Tour event stands out for a lot of reasons. A major one is simply the journey that led up to it.
I was at a news conference in January 2003 when a reporter asked me if I wanted to play with the men. I didn't hesitate. Given the opportunity, I'd love to, I told them. I was at the peak of my career, I'd been No. 1 for a while, and I was looking for ways to get better and push myself.
Isn't that what we always do in sports -- we play against somebody better than us when we want to improve our own game? It wasn't some conquest for me to prove that women could play against men. I knew I couldn't hit the ball as far or put as much spin on it. But I was confident in my abilities, and this was a way to challenge myself to get better.
Playing in a PGA Tour event for the first time since Babe Zaharias in 1945 brought women's golf to newspaper front pages around the world. It never occurred to me that it would be bad for the LPGA, as some of my detractors suggested at the time (though they all pretty much came around by the time the week was over).
I always think that when women athletes get recognized for our achievements it's a positive thing -- and that's what happened.
Everyone was talking about women's golf, talking about the tour, analyzing my game and discussing what a great athlete Babe was and how far the LPGA had come since her time. It seemed to me it was hardly putting the tour's reputation on the line!
In the four months leading up to the Colonial, I worked harder than I think I ever had to step up my game and prepare. And when the time came, it was like nothing I'd ever experienced.
The crowds were intense -- just so many people! Of course it was still golf, albeit on a longer course, but the hype made it so different. I was so nervous that I was shaking, and I had difficulty teeing the ball up on my first hole. I was a bit out of my element but didn't doubt myself. I knew I had worked hard, and I was ready to perform.
I have no regrets about taking that opportunity to play Colonial. It wasn't something I did for that week -- it was for the long term -- and afterward, I felt like if I had done that I could do anything.
If you want to achieve something in your life, you can't be afraid to go get it. I could have easily said no, and people wouldn't be talking 10 years later about me playing that week in Fort Worth. Dwelling on the potential negative impacts won't get you anywhere.
Yes, I could have stumbled on the first tee. Or, rather than stripe a 4-wood down the middle, hit a snap hook into the massive gallery. I could have failed to break 80. But I didn't. I knew that I had prepared to the best of my ability and was ready to show the world what it really meant to "play like a girl." You have to have the courage to get better and achieve things in your life, whether you're a sportswoman, pursuing a new career path or starting a family.
Putting yourself in a position where you're nervous and testing yourself will almost always yield lifelong benefits. I learned so many lessons at the Colonial that I continue to use today as I build my ANNIKA-branded businesses and raise my two young children. I'll always cherish it.