The most important tournament in women's golf, the U.S. Women's
Open, will be played this week, but forgive us for feeling a tad
underwhelmed. The Open is usually a lone jolt of excitement in a
summer otherwise dominated by uneventful events named after
various supermarket chains and fast-food franchises, but this
year the LPGA has provided almost unrelenting intrigue. The
national championship is just another big week on what has become
golf's magical mystery tour. A playoff between Annika Sorenstam
and Michelle Wie probably will not happen, but the way things are
going, would it really be such a shock?
A few years ago the LPGA made a big deal of celebrating its 50th
anniversary, but the sharpies in Daytona Beach should be
trumpeting a different milestone this season. It was 25 years ago
that a spunky, supremely talented 21-year-old rookie named Nancy
Lopez introduced the LPGA to casual sports fans. Now women's golf
is on the front page of The New York Times; a story about Wie
accompanied by a color photo appeared in last Saturday's edition.
She was competing at the ShopRite Classic, outside Atlantic City,
where she shared top billing with Sorenstam, who this year has
emerged as unquestionably the second-biggest star in golf. (Tiger
Woods remains the top draw, for now.) So many fans wanted to
catch a glimpse of the LPGA's present and future star that
delighted ShopRite tournament officials had to hastily print more
tickets. In the end, Angela Stanford, 25, was the story, as she
won the first tournament of what looks to be a standout career.
It will likely be at least five more years before Wie begins
playing the LPGA full-time, and Sorenstam may leave the tour
within a couple of years to start a family. But worry not for the
future of the women's tour, because those two players, however
charismatic, are only part of the show. Lopez has said that the
ideal LPGA ambassador looks like a woman but swings like a man,
and we are entering a golden era that features such young talent.
Many golf fans we know would rather watch a slow-motion replay of
Grace Park or Beth Bauer or Natalie Gulbis or Lorena Ochoa making
bogey than have to sit through yet another David Toms birdie.
Park, 24, has enjoyed a breakout season, winning a thriller at
Kingsmill with a long putt on the final hole and pushing
Sorenstam to a playoff at the LPGA Championship, while Ochoa, a
21 year-old rookie, has dazzled with her pyrotechnics.
The last hurdle for these youngsters is to break through in a
major championship, but that isn't likely to happen this week.
Seventeen of the last 21 majors have been won by the fearsome
foursome of Sorenstam (three), Juli Inkster (four), Se Ri Pak
(four) and Karrie Webb (six). That's another sign of the LPGA's
good health--what more can a tour ask for than to have its best
players shine in the most important tournaments?
These days every women's tournament comes with a host of
subplots, and so it is with the Open, which returns to Pumpkin
Ridge, in North Plains, Ore., site of an epic national
championship six years ago. That was Lopez's last hurrah, during
which she just missed winning the one big title that eluded her.
Sorenstam missed the cut in 1997, when she was straining to
become the first woman to win three straight Opens. Back then she
was still mousey and camera-shy, and her poor play was in part
the result of having been overwhelmed by the three-peat buildup.
Sorenstam's public persona has blossomed along with her game, and
these days she is golf's most enjoyable superstar, as Woods's
mood has been soured by a shaky knee, a suspect putter and
conspiracy theories to explain his weak driving.
Woods will try to find his form this week at the 100th Western
Open, where six other players in the top 10 of the World Ranking
will also be competing. It should be a great tournament.
Hopefully it won't be too overshadowed by the Women's Open.
COLOR PHOTO: HARRY BENSON (LOPEZ) SILVER ANNIVERSARY The LPGA last enjoyed this kind of buzz in '78, Lopez's rookie year.
COLOR PHOTO: JAY LAPRETE/AP (JANZEN) LEE JANZEN
COLOR PHOTO: KOOPMAN/CORBIS (BULLET)
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL (JOHNSON) RICHARD JOHNSON
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT SEALE/TST/ICON SMI (PRICE) NICK PRICE
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL (TOMS)
The decline of the European tour can be summed up in two words:
Philip Golding. The 16-time Q schooler won the French Open. No
wonder Michael Campbell is returning to get his groove back.
THE NEW MATH David Toms outlasts the competition to win in
(TERMINATOR - BULLETS) + NERVOUS JESPER CLONE + 72ND HOLE MISCUE
= [DAVID TOMS OUTLASTS THE COMPETITION TO WIN IN MEMPHIS]