All the talk about whether women pros have the strength and the
length to compete against men seemed beside the point last week
as the LPGA awoke from its 16-week hibernation by breaking a
bunch of scoring records at the Welch's/Fry's Championship in
Tucson. Wendy Doolan, a long-hitting 34-year-old from Australia
who had won only once before in her eight-year career, at the
2001 LPGA Champions Classic, came from two shots off the lead
with a 65 on Sunday to finish 21 under par with a record total of
259 and win by three, over Lorie Kane and Betsy King.
That was the biggest number to fall at the Dell Urich Course at
Randolph Park, a short (6,176 yards), par-70 municipal course
with wide, fast-running fairways and minimal rough. Other tour
records set or tied last week included best 54-hole score, a 192
by Kane, and a 28 by rookie Young Kim of South Korea on her
second nine holes of the tournament, which equaled the LPGA mark.
In addition, the cut (three under) was the lowest on the LPGA
tour in five years, and 79 players made it.
The grounds crew feverishly watered the fairways after play had
ended last Saturday in an attempt to slow down the pros, but that
and a rainstorm on Sunday had little effect. By tournament's end
25 rounds of 64 or better had been shot, and the field average
stood at a strikingly low 68.70. Said sixth-place finisher Meg
Mallon, who shot a 60 in the second round, "It was such a fun way
to start out the season."
Annika Sorenstam, the former Arizona Wildcat who dissed Tucson
for a practice round at Colonial, was hardly missed. (Sorenstam
makes her 2003 debut at this week's Safeway Ping, in Phoenix.)
While everyone was wondering if she could hang with the big boys,
the 5'5" Doolan, one of the LPGA's longest hitters, showed that
she could, averaging 285.0 yards off the tee, including 290.5 in
the first round. "Wendy's clubhead speed is as fast as a man's,"
says Mallon. "She has one speed--hit it hard."
All of the players clearly enjoyed themselves at Randolph, but no
one had more fun than first-year player Christina Kim, an
animated Korean-American who celebrated her 19th birthday by
shooting a 62 on Saturday. The timing of Kim's arrival on tour
couldn't be better for the LPGA, which has been searching for a
Korean--or a player of Korean descent--with loads of personality
to bridge a perceived gap between the growing number (18 and
counting) of Korean players and U.S. fans.
Kim, born and raised in San Jose, was a hit with the Tucson
galleries almost immediately, and by Sunday, she and her father,
Man Kyu, who caddied for her, were playing to the fans even
though Kim was in contention. During Sunday's rainstorm, for
example, Kim's group was put on the clock for slow play. Turning
to her 52-year-old dad, who was lagging behind with the bag, Kim
said loud enough for everyone to hear, "Chop! Chop!"
Kim, playing in the final pairing, was actually tied for the
lead on the 3rd hole but couldn't get any traction thereafter.
She closed with a 70 to end up in a tie for fourth. "I was scared
witless," said Kim. "I psyched myself out when I realized that no
one was playing behind me."
Kim was first noticed in 2001, when she shot a 62 at the U.S.
Girls' Juniors, setting a USGA championship record. She earned
her tour card last year by finishing second to Lorena Ochoa on
the Futures tour money list. Then, to prepare for this season,
she spent the last six months playing rounds with her dad at 21
of the tour stops on the 2003 schedule. Among the highlights:
playing Wykagyl Country Club in New Rochelle, N.Y., in February
in three inches of snow.
Currently, Kim is taking four classes on the Internet through De
Anza Community College in Cupertino, Calif., in addition to
playing a full LPGA schedule. That's a heavy load, but
expectations are high. "She's going to be the best woman in the
world," says Man Kyu. "She's going to graduate and get a master's
and a Ph.D. and play golf." --Yi-Wyn Yen
COLOR PHOTO: WILY LOW/AP FRESH FACE The animated Kim celebrated her 19th birthday with a62, and tied for fourth in her first LPGA start.