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THIS CHALLENGE COULD TEE OFF WNY GOLFERS

First off, I want to make it clear that this is not some cheap publicity stunt. I'm not trying to blaze a trail for mediocre male golfers, and I certainly don't intend to make a mockery of the women's game.

But after playing golf for three years, I'm ready for a new challenge. I broke 100 for a second time last week with a 99 at Terry Hills. I had a hole-in-one last year at Moon Brook. I know how to dress, how to act, how to mark my ball on the greens.

It's time to expand my horizons, to test my limitations. With Annika Sorenstam as inspiration, I'm taking on the women. I've challenged Ann Luhr, the reigning Buffalo district women's champion, to a match on her home course, the Cherry Hill Club in Ridgway, Ont., in the next few weeks.

"I'll do it," Luhr said.

There is one small stipulation, though. Luhr has to go back and play from the regular men's tees, the whites. I get to play from the ladies' tees. Hey, I'm only trying to make this a fair fight. Luhr is 4-foot-11 and averages about 210 yards off the tee, or a good 30 yards past my typically sorry tee shots.

"See if you can get a couple of the other gals out, too," I said. "Bring 'em on."

Perhaps I should have done a little research before making that bold suggestion. Cherry Hill has for years been home to some of the area's top female players. Claire Moeschler had won 15 women's club championships at last count. Lolly Lenahan is still going strong at 75, with a sharp tongue and an even sharper short game.

Whoever shows up, I won't be intimidated. I've waited my whole career for this opportunity. Cherry Hill is well suited for my game. It's not terribly long and rewards accuracy. Playing from the reds, I should get on some of the par-4s in two. The greens are tough, but I'm sure my competition will be kind enough to share some local knowledge.

Women are good that way. I found that out three years ago, when I played with three women at Park Country Club for my golf series. The ladies were gracious and helpful, though honest to a fault. I'm sure Luhr won't be saying "That's good with me" when I'm lining up a 3-foot putt.

There are no "gimmie" putts with the women, which is probably one reason why men accuse them of playing too slowly. Women honor the sport. You can learn a lot about the game, and about yourself, by playing with them. That's why the PGA players should feel privileged to have Sorenstam in their midst this week at the Colonial.

No doubt, there will be women seething when they hear about my challenge. They'll say I have no business at the red tees, and that I ought to go back to playing against hackers of my own gender. But there's no reason for them to feel threatened.

To borrow a phrase from Sorenstam, this is mainly about curiosity. I'm curious to know how I'll do from the ladies' tees. Will my drive still be the shortest, as is typically the case against men? Will I imagine the women snickering over my shoulder on the men's tee and shank my drives?

Do I have a chance?

"No," Luhr said with a laugh.

"Are you serious?" said Bob DiCesare, the News' golf columnist. "Oh my God, she'll kill you. She'll shoot no worse than 85. Sorry, you've got no chance."

Luhr said there are maybe five holes at Cherry Hill where the ladies' tees make a significant difference. The course measures 6,401 yards from the white tees and 5,726 from the reds. She figures she'll shoot two to four strokes above normal, which should put her at around 82. It's true. I'll be a big underdog. The top women at the club will probably be lining up to get a piece of me.

Let's just hope it's not too much of a zoo out there. I've experienced the pressure of trying to break 100 with a community paying attention. But I've never known pressure like this. The scrutiny will be intense. Maybe I'll sneak in the back door when I show up at the club, like Sorenstam did Monday.

But I won't pull a Vijay Singh and back out at the last minute, using my wife as an excuse. I issued the challenge, and I accept the responsibility that goes along with it.

"I think the men's golf community of Western New York cringes at the thought of you representing us," DiCesare said. "And let me say this for the record: I hope you don't make the cut."
e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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