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No Slam, no history – but plenty to ponder

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – The 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills was a fascinating convergence of golf history, featuring the past, present and future:

• A 47-year-old Ben Hogan made his last run at the tournament he had won four times.

• Arnold Palmer, 30 years old, staged the first of his legendary charges and won his only U.S. Open title.

• And Hogan played the final 36 holes with "a fat kid who should of won this tournament by 10 strokes," Bantam Ben said about 20-year-old amateur Jack Nicklaus, who was the runner-up to Palmer.

Ironically, the victory at Cherry Hills put Palmer halfway to the Grand Slam, a bid that would fail with a second-place finish at St. Andrews a month later.

In Sunday's U.S. Women's Open, already halfway to the Grand Slam, Annika Sorenstam saw her dream end at the course where the Palmer legend began. Meanwhile, a trio of teens made a strong statement that the LPGA is about to get younger and better.

It was after Palmer began the final 18 holes of the 1960 U.S. Open seven strokes back, drove the downhill par-4 first green and went on to shoot a 65 and win the championship that he became a larger-than-life character. On Sunday, in the final round of the U.S. Women's Open, Sorenstam tried to make some magic by abandoning her strategy to play a 5-iron off the tee on No. 1 in favor of hitting the driver. The decision resulted in a penalty stroke when her ball found the tiny ditch snaking down the right side of the fairway. For all intents and purposes, Sorenstam's charge was over.

Magic, she found, is not forced onto an event but rather has to be coaxed out of it. Michelle Wie, the 15-year-old prodigy, also ran out of magic Sunday, staggering home with an 82.

But two other teens – Morgan Pressel, 17, and Brittany Lang, 19 – finished tied for second, two strokes behind winner Birdie Kim, making a loud statement for the future of women's golf.

One of the strengths of Sorenstam's game is she fully understands she is an imperfect person in the pursuit of perfection. She understands that greatness is achieved only when greatness is the goal, and that's why she so publicly admitted her desire to sweep the Grand Slam. But she also admits her fears, and in that way takes a major step toward conquering them.

On Wednesday evening, Sorenstam chatted with her longtime mental coach, Pia Nilsson, admitting she was nervous about the task ahead in the U.S. Women's Open.

"Just be yourself," Nilsson told Sorenstam.

"Are you sure that's all I have to be?" Sorenstam responded.

The answer, proven decisively in the most difficult of tournaments – and in an event that has broken her heart many times over the past nine years – was that while simply being herself was more than enough, sometimes some things are beyond her control. Luck, for instance.

The patience Sorenstam was able to maintain in the first round as she grinded out an even-par 71 slowly eroded in Friday's second round, eaten away by the frustrations of having a series of well-stroked putts stay out of the hole, and a succession of horrible lies each time she missed the fairway.

Poised nicely at one over par with three holes to play – including a par-5 – she missed the fairway on No. 16 with a 4-wood off the tee, had to chip out and made bogey. She missed the fairway again on No. 17 with a 4-wood, once again chipping out, this time slamming the club to the ground and shouting something in Swedish in an unusual loss of composure. She then finished with her third consecutive bogey when her 7-wood approach shot to the 18th green found the thick green-side rough.

Sorenstam, teeing off two hours before the leaders on Saturday, was positioned perfectly to put some pressure on the inexperienced leaderboard by getting off to a fast start. When she made a 10-foot par save on No. 1 and rolled in a 25-foot birdie on the second shot, it appeared that would be the case.

But a three-putt bogey on No. 3 – from 15 feet – and a four-putt double bogey on the sixth hole – 50 feet, to 10 feet, to 5 feet – turned the rest of the day into damage control, which she managed with a solid 35 on the back nine. She finished the day with a 73 for a six-over-par 219 overall – five strokes off the lead.

Saturday became, instead, a day of youth, as Pressel and Wie ended up tied for the lead going into the final round with Lang four strokes back.

When Palmer made his heroic comeback at Cherry Hills, he not only erased a seven-stroke deficit but also jumped over 14 players, including Hogan, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Julius Boros, Billy Casper and Nicklaus.

Dan Jenkins of Golf Digest, who was at the 1960 U.S. Open when Palmer made his charge, said, "Nicklaus was the Michelle Wie of his day." By that he meant he was young, gifted and strong.

What Sorenstam saw emerge at the U.S. Women's Open was a whole bunch of Nicklauses on the horizon. The message out of Cherry Hills is that the incredibly talented Wie is not the only teen sensation in the pipeline of players ready to join the LPGA. The fact that Pressel and Lang tied for second in the U.S. Women's Open could be as significant as Nicklaus' finishing second in that U.S. Open 45 years ago. It is a sign of things to come, and for women's golf it is a good thing.

Ron Sirak is executive editor of Golf World magazine