10 players to watch in 2014
Inbee Park was the main story of the 2013 LPGA season. But in the long-lens view, the glory in pro women's golf actually was spread out.
Park had a run at a Grand Slam after winning three majors, and then was the tour's player of the year. Stacy Lewis won the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average (69.48) and picked up her second LPGA major victory.
Suzann Pettersen achieved a career goal in helping Europe secure a Solheim Cup victory on U.S. soil, and she also won the second major title of her career.
And teenage sensation Lydia Ko won her second LPGA event while still an amateur and then turned pro near the end of the 2013 season.
We'll have a more in-depth profile of Ko as she enters her first full year as a professional while currently ranked No. 4 in the world. But here are 10 other players we think could have big seasons in 2014 (listed in alphabetical order).
Na Yeon Choi, South Korea
She didn't win in 2013 but had eight top-10 finishes, including two second-place results. She earned nearly $1 million and, at 26, is just entering the prime of her career.
Yet you get the sense talking to "NYC" that she feels some pressure about her results from fans and media back home in South Korea. She has such promise, and with seven career victories -- including one major, the 2012 U.S. Women's Open -- she's already fulfilled some of that. But Choi probably needs to try to tune out the questions from her supporters and instead focus on her game. Easier said than done.
"Actually when I was a rookie, I didn't [fear] anything," Choi said near the end of last season. "But right now I'm kind of like scared to play, or I'm thinking too much. So I really want to go back to how I started golf or when I came to the LPGA Tour -- that kind of demeanor."
Shanshan Feng, China
Fittingly, she won the inaugural LPGA tournament held in her homeland in Beijing. That triumph came in early October and included two rounds of 64. Then Feng closed the LPGA season with a victory in the CME Group Titleholders, which had a first-place check of $700,000.
Feng, 24, is a very good irons player who can really go low when her game is on. It's part of why you aren't surprised if she's in contention at a major. She has the ability to score well on the tougher courses.
She also has a very funny, outgoing, likable personality and is popular with fans. Feng had 10 top-10 finishes in 2013, her most during one season on the LPGA Tour.
Caroline Hedwall, Sweden
Nobody did more damage to the United States during the Solheim Cup than Hedwall. She went the distance for Europe and won all five matches she played in. She's the first player for either side to earn five points in one Cup competition.
The 24-year-old is still seeking her first LPGA victory, but the way she played in the Solheim would suggest it can't be too far away.
"It gave me a big boost of self-confidence," Hedwall said. "I think I've played really solid, and I'm getting closer week to week to winning a tournament out here. And that's my goal. It feels like I belong out here."
Stacy Lewis, United States
As the Vare Trophy proves, she's one of the most consistent players on the LPGA Tour. And she's used to being in contention.
"My goal every week teeing it up Sunday is to have a chance to win," Lewis said. "I've back-doored a couple top 10s, but for the most part I've been right there having a bunch of chances to win. You knock on the door enough times, eventually you'll get there."
Lewis made the cut in 25 of 26 events in 2013 and led the LPGA in top-10 finishes with 19. That included three victories, one of them her second major. Lewis took the Women's British Open with stellar ball-striking and putting at crunch time in the final round at St. Andrews.
Lewis' other major title was the 2011 Kraft Nabisco, and she has top-six finishes in the other three majors. Lewis had a brief taste of the No. 1 ranking in 2013, and she would like to get it back.
Inbee Park, South Korea
Her 2013 season changed her career and her life. But how will it impact her future? Park's six victories, including three majors, made her the face of the LPGA last year and the leading money winner ($2.46 million).
But as great a season as she had, Park did not win after June. After the season ended, she went home to South Korea and then to Australia to prepare for this year. She will not play in the season-opening tournament in the Bahamas.
Park grew more comfortable with her role as the No. 1 player, and she gave a great speech after winning the LPGA Player of the Year award. Will 2014 be a time when she builds on everything she did in 2013? If nothing else, Park has set the bar high for everyone, especially her countrywomen.
"Every Korean player got motivated from Inbee," Choi said. "We grew up together. I can remember when she was young, she played really the same as right now. She was very calm and was a good putter then, too."
Suzann Pettersen, Norway
She said part of her success in 2013 came from not being as hard on herself as she always had been in the past. She tried to "mellow out" just a bit. She also changed some of her practice habits, focusing more on the putting green.
"I'm very disciplined; I'm very structured," Pettersen said. "I guess the easier part is I know what's needed for my game to be able to win on a weekly basis. I probably didn't know that my [early years] on tour."
She had four victories among 15 top-10 finishes and was second in scoring average and money earned. And she's ranked No. 2 in the world. Pettersen would like to exchange those "2s" for "1s." It's long been clear she has the talent. It's the mental game that's been more difficult for her, but her accomplishments in 2013 might have put her over the top there, too, for 2014.
Beatriz Recari, Spain
She had two victories in 2013, including one of the most exciting finishes of any of the tournaments, when she beat Paula Creamer by one stroke in the Marathon Classic in July. Then in August, Recari was a feisty, fun, emotional spark plug for Europe's winning Solheim Cup team.
Recari, who will turn 27 in April, has a next step to reach, though, and that's playing well in major championships.
She hasn't competed well in the majors -- her only top 10 came in the newly elevated Evian Championship last year. Other than that, her best major finish is a tie for 19th at the 2013 LPGA Championship.
So Yeon Ryu, South Korea
She had 10 top-10 finishes but didn't win in 2013. However, Ryu -- the 2012 LPGA Rookie of the Year -- is one of those players you're never surprised to see in contention.
The 2011 U.S. Women's Open winner, Ryu had sort of a feast-or-famine performance in the 2013 majors. She finished in the top four in three of them but tied for 17th and missed the cut in the other two.
Lizette Salas, United States
At 24, she's on the cusp of becoming a consistently competitive pro. A college standout at USC, she did not rush into a professional career. She's steadily made the climb and is still seeking her first LPGA title.
In 2013, Salas played her first full-schedule LPGA season, making 23 cuts in 24 events. Her best finish was second, one of her seven top 10s of the season. All in all, it was a pretty special year for Salas. She had her best finish in a major, finishing sixth in the Women's British Open. And she made the U.S. team for the Solheim Cup for the first time.
Lexi Thompson, United States
Yes, she is still going to be a teenager this season; Thompson turns 19 in February. This is her fifth year as a pro, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see her have a "major" breakthrough in 2014. Thompson has two top-10 finishes in majors.
Her first LPGA victory was in 2011, when she was 16. Two more came late in 2013, in October and November. It seems like she may have turned a corner, especially in her course management and short game. Considering how young she still is, it's understandable that nuance has been more elusive than power thus far for Thompson.
But that appears to be changing.
"I've worked extremely hard in the last year and a half, trying to get more consistent in my game, and it's finally paying off," said Thompson, who played pretty well for the losing U.S. side in the Solheim Cup. "You come out here and expect to win, but this is the best competition in the world. So you just have to be patient with it."