10 things we'd like to see on LPGA
Last year, when we made a wish list of 10 things we hoped to see from the 2013 LPGA season, one of them certainly was not "Grand Slam chase." Who could have foreseen such a thing?
After all, no LPGA player had won as many as three majors in a season since 1986. And if a true run at a Grand Slam had not been achieved by the likes of Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak or Lorena Ochoa, how could anyone have anticipated it would happen in 2013? And that it would come courtesy of a shy, non-flashy player who had just ended a four-year victory drought in 2012?
This is what's great about sports, though: You sometimes get what absolutely nobody expects. South Korea's Inbee Park won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women's Open last year.
Her magic then blew away in the gusts of St. Andrews, but the attention she brought to the LPGA Tour was a welcome surprise. She finished with six victories and the LPGA Player of the Year award, and will open 2014 by continuing her reign at No. 1.
We won't wish for another run for the Grand Slam because the odds of that are truly ridiculous. But here are 10 (reasonable/possible) things we'd like to see this year on the LPGA Tour.
Inbee has another good year
Park had to push herself way outside her comfort zone to do all the interviews, appearances, etc., that went with being ranked No. 1 and making a run at the Grand Slam. It wasn't always easy, but she handled it very well and became more comfortable as a spokeswoman for the LPGA.
While we definitely don't expect another year like 2013 from Park, let's hope that all she learned about herself and her game are lessons that keep paying off for her in 2014.
International Crown catches on
The Solheim Cup has been very good for the LPGA and should continue to be. But since that USA-Europe team competition leaves out the tour's many Asian stars, the LPGA needed another such event that is more inclusive.
The International Crown will be an eight-nation event, with four players per team. There will be no captains; the players will make all their own decisions. In theory, it's a really cool idea. It brings in elements of the Solheim (playing for country/being on a team) while having a significantly different structure.
But will fans and viewers embrace it out of the gate? Or will it take a few years to catch on? The first Crown will be July 24-27 at Caves Valley Golf Club outside of Baltimore. The nations that will compete are the United States, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Thailand and Taiwan.
Fantastic finish for the "Globe"
The LPGA is introducing a new season-long points system in 2014 called the Race to the CME Globe. It will culminate at the year-end CME Group Tour Championship, and the winner will pick up a $1 million check at that November event in Naples, Fla.
Players will earn points throughout the season, and then there will be a reset before the final tournament. It will still give the points leaders the advantage toward ultimately winning the Globe, but puts much more emphasis on the season-ending event.
It's possible that on the final day of the LPGA season, a player could be in position to sink a putt worth $1.5 million. That would be the case if someone won both the first-place check for the tournament and the points championship.
Yani Tseng gets groove back
Tseng finding her A-game again is one of the things we hoped to see last year, but it didn't happen. So it's on the list again this year.
Tseng, who was the dominant force in women's golf in 2011 and into early 2012, has not been able to rediscover her strong, consistent play. The most recent of her 15 LPGA victories was in March 2012.
She had four top-10 finishes last year, earning $405,068, which is OK for an average player. For the former world No. 1? It's still baffling how Tseng has steadily plunged down the Rolex world rankings. She's now 37th. Seriously.
U.S. Women's Open goes well at Pinehurst
The Women's Open has been held at the nearby Pine Needles three times, but being at North Carolina's Pinehurst No. 2 is a first. The United States Golf Association decided to experiment this year by putting the men's and women's U.S. Opens back-to-back on the same course.
Are LPGA players more excited or worried about this? If you ask around, players lean toward "concerned."
"A U.S. Open course gets chewed up like crazy," said Brittany Lang, who competed collegiately at Duke and knows North Carolina golf courses well. "In the South, in the summer, with the heat ... I don't know how they are going to do that. Most of the players I've talked to have said, 'How is there going to be any grass left?' But we're excited to play Pinehurst, for sure."
How well can the USGA and the Pinehurst crew take care of any course damage in the three days between the finish of one event and the start of the other? How big will crowds be for the women after the men just played there?
All those involved in this experiment are among the best in the golf business. This will be a big test for them, but they're prepared and should be helped by both the climate and the course in regard to a quick "recovery" between events.
Karrie Webb or I.K. Kim wins a major
For different reasons, it would be great to see either of these players take a major title in 2014. For Webb, who turned 39 in December, it would be an appropriate bookend to her Hall of Fame career. Webb already has won seven majors, but the most recent was in 2006. Still, she's been in the hunt since then, with six top-five major finishes. That includes a tie for fifth in the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year.
For Kim, it would be good karma that should be due her. She had an agonizing finish at the Kraft Nabisco in 2012, when she missed a 1-foot putt on the 72nd hole that would have given her the title. She then lost in a playoff. But at just 25, Kim should have several major opportunities still ahead. She has had top-five finishes in four of the five majors, with the exception being The Evian Championship. Kim was second at the U.S. Women's Open last year.
Women's British retains audience
It's unlikely the event will get the kind of attention it did last year. Park was going for the Grand Slam, and the tournament was held at mega-historic St. Andrews. Still, the boost received by this event -- which has been an official LPGA major since 2001 -- was nice to see. More people in the United States and Europe were paying attention.
This year, the Women's British will be held at Royal Birkdale in England, which has been host to the event four times previously. Since it became an LPGA-sanctioned event in 1994, the tournament generally has been held in August or late July. This year, though, will be the earliest in the season for the Women's British, July 10-13.
LPGA Championship's moves pay off
The order of the majors is different this season than last, and that's especially a big change for the LPGA Championship. This major tournament dates to 1955. Other than a stretch in the 1960s when it was held in the fall, this mostly has been a May or June event. It's been held in June for the past 15 years.
But this year, the LPGA Championship will be held in the month of August for the first time, and it's changing courses, although staying in the same city. The LPGA Championship has been in suburban Rochester, N.Y., since 2010, but was held at Locust Hill Country Club. That course was a longtime LPGA tournament host before it became a major site. This year, though, the major will be at Monroe Golf Club. It is a Donald Ross design that opened in 1924 and is near Rochester's most famous course, Oak Hill.
Suzann Pettersen pushes for No. 1
The Norwegian star had a terrific 2013 season, leading the European team to its first Solheim Cup victory on U.S. soil and winning four tournaments. She also got the second major title of her career at The Evian Championship.
Pettersen is No. 2 in the world rankings behind Park, with Stacy Lewis -- who briefly was No. 1 early in 2013 -- in third. Pettersen has never taken the top spot in the rankings. She will turn 33 in April; could this be the year she reaches No. 1? It won't be easy, but she has said it's a career goal.
Unfortunately for Pettersen, she won't be able to compete in the International Crown because Norway didn't qualify.
A successful return to Michigan
The LPGA Tour hasn't appeared in that state since the Oldsmobile Classic in 2000. Obviously, Michigan has had its economic difficulties. But the LPGA will be back there this year, with the Meijer LPGA Classic in Belmont, Mich., Aug. 7-10.
This event should get a good field as it's the week leading into the LPGA Championship. The event before the Meijer is the International Crown, the team competition that is limited to 32 players. So you'd expect most players would want to sharpen their games at the Meijer before they go to the LPGA Championship.
The LPGA has worked at gradually replacing the holes that were created on its domestic schedule, in large part by the global financial crisis. Returning to Michigan is good news for the tour and for the state.