<
>

Whaley taking pressure in stride

CROMWELL, Conn. -- Bo Jackson played football and baseball but never tried a crossover like his golfing partner Wednesday.

Suzy Whaley, a 36-year-old club pro who played briefly on the
LPGA tour, will tee it up against the men in the Greater Hartford
Open on Thursday. She is the first woman to qualify for a PGA event
since Babe Zaharias in 1945.

''I think the hardest part of the whole week is getting ready
for it,'' Whaley said after playing with Jackson in Wednesday's
rain-shortened celebrity pro-am. ''I'm thrilled to be here. It's
the opportunity of a lifetime. I refuse to let it be anything else
but that.''

Whaley earned the right to play against the men by winning the
Connecticut PGA section last fall. She was hitting from the shorter
women's tees then, but when she tees off in the last group for the
first round of the GHO she will be playing the course's full
6,820-yard distance.

She is not expected to make the cut -- or even get as close as
Annika Sorenstam did in May when she accepted a sponsor's exemption
to play against the men in the Colonial. But Whaley insists her
experience won't be diminished, no matter how she plays.

''Let's just have fun with it,'' said two-time defending
champion Phil Mickelson, who noted that Whaley's chances are no
worse than the others who played their way into the GHO the same
way.

''I don't think that we should worry about how she plays, or
what her score is. I think that we should just cherish the fact
that she qualified and enjoy the fact that this is a unique
circumstance on tour.''

Whaley shot 4 over on Wednesday on the par-35 front nine of TPC
at River Highlands course, where her husband is the general
manager. She three-putted for a double bogey on No. 2 and dropped
shots on Nos. 5 and 7; she did not make a birdie, though she had a
chance with a 15-foot putt on the ninth hole.

''I didn't hit it as well as I would have liked in the
beginning,'' Whaley said. ''I came on pretty strong for the last
four holes. I feel pretty good about it.''

Although the magnitude of her decision to play has been
diminished by Sorenstam's appearance in the Colonial, Whaley was
still the star Wednesday. About 100 people followed her along the
course, many wearing ''Fore Suzy'' buttons.

Between shots, she signed autographs and posed for pictures --
always smiling. Since saying she would play, her days have been
filled with media interviews and appearances.

''She's trying to please people,'' said Bucky McGann, her caddie
and the father of LPGA player Michelle McGann. ''I said, 'Hey, for
everything going on, it (the golf) isn't going to be there. This
isn't an office atmosphere.'''

But McGann believes Whaley will be able to concentrate on her
golf when it counts.

''I think she has the personality to do that,'' he said. ''I'm
here to make sure Suzy has fun.''

Whaley's partners for the first two rounds will be Anthony Painter, who has made the cut in eight of 17 tournaments he's entered this year, and Akio Sadakata, who has played on six of 17 weekends. Sadakata said he hadn't spent any time worrying that he might be part of the sideshow, but he's prepared for it.

''I didn't realize until (Monday) she was playing it,'' Sadakata
said. ''I don't see the other people when I am playing golf. I just
focus. But I like to hear a lot of claps, yes.''