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Monday, February 6, 2012
The 10 LPGA stories worth wishing for

By Mick Elliott

Tseng Yani
Yani Tseng won her fifth major at the age of 22.

After winning her fourth and fifth career majors last year at the tender age of 22, is Yani Tseng just getting started? Is teenager Lexi Thompson, with an LPGA title already pocketed, ready to become the American superstar women's golf so desperately needs?

What could be the LPGA's best storylines for 2012?

After more than its fair share of recent struggles, the oldest professional league in women's sports began a determined makeover last year under commissioner Michael Whan and carries buoyant optimism into Thursday's first round of the season-opening Women's Australian Open.

Where the tour's positive anticipation eventually leads is anybody's guess, but there are a few things golf might really enjoy seeing.

1. Unrivaled rivalry

Tour golf is at its most riveting with a rivalry. From Hogan-Snead, Palmer-Nicklaus and Woods-Nordegren to Sorenstam-Ochoa, nothing makes golf fans happier than taking sides.

After Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa retired as No. 1 and No. 1a of women's golf, the LPGA has been without a battle royal. Nothing could help the tour more than an ongoing queen of the mountain duel.

Lexi Thompson
Lexi Thompson won her first LPGA title at 16.

Thompson already is the most interesting American after winning last year at age 16 on a sponsor's exemption. Now, beginning her rookie season, picture her going head-to-head against Tseng in the final round of a major, or two or three. That would be compelling.

2. Second take

Paula Creamer came onto the LPGA Tour like a whirlwind in 2005, winning twice as an 18-year-old rookie. By 2008, she had racked up eight LPGA wins and two other victories on the Japan LPGA.

But, after a thumb injury and a few other assorted maladies, she has won just once since and was shut out last year. She will turn 26 this fall.

The junior golf star from Southern California has matured greatly since her monster start and finished last season with a deep reflection.

"I'm growing up," Creamer said as the season ended. "I'm learning a lot, not necessarily on the golf course, but about myself and things that happen. This isn't a 'normal' life for anybody, and you have to grow up very fast out here. As a part of that, balancing everything is such an important factor and something I've really had to learn the last year."

It's growth that deserves reward.

3. Just do it or not

Michelle Wie, college student and pro golfer, is scheduled to graduate from Stanford this spring. Finally, she will have a solo focus. No one should be criticized for earning a college degree, but golf has grown tired of waiting for Wie, 22, to live up to the hype.

In June 2003, Wie, 13, won the Women's Amateur Public Links, becoming the youngest person, male or female, to win a USGA adult event. Later that summer, she made the cut at the U.S. Women's Open, the youngest player to do so.

On that promise, Wie turned pro shortly before her 16th birthday, accompanied by an enormous amount of hype and endorsements. But rather than compete regularly in women's golf, she began a series of men's tour appearances -- none successful.

By the time she committed to playing totally against women, much of Wie's glamour had diminished, and with two wins in three seasons on tour, little has been reclaimed.

Now, with golf as a primary focus, will we finally see the real Michelle Wie … or have we already?

4. Calling Christina Kim

Just win, baby, please.

The funniest, warmest, most honest personality on the LPGA is a plus-sized woman with only two wins in nine seasons on tour.

Speaking for golf fans and golf writers everywhere, make it a bundle.

Kim's autobiography, "Swinging from My Heels: Confessions of an LPGA Star," co-written with Alan Shipnuck, was published in 2010 and remains a must-read for all golf fans. She's always entertaining, self-effacing, funny and honest.

We'd like to hear more from her.

5. Once more with feeling (and icy stares)

Arguably the most dramatic final day of LPGA golf in 2011 was produced in the Sybase Match Play Championship, where Norway's Suzann Pettersen and the U.S.'s Cristie Kerr -- both ultra-intense and competitive -- went 18 holes before Pettersen won 1-up.

Leading 1-up and with Kerr facing a 10-foot birdie attempt on the par-5 18th, Pettersen curled in a left-to-right 15-footer for birdie to seal the victory that ended her 20-month drought.

Pettersen went on to win a second time in 2011 and climb to No. 2 in the world. Kerr sagged and went winless for the year.

A second get-together would be a sequel worth seeing.

6. Inkster history

Juli Inkster turns 52 this year, and her last of 31 career LPGA victories came in 2006. She deserves one more.

Few players in women's golf have performed over the long haul like Inkster, and it would be nice to see her longevity go down in history. A victory would make Inkster the oldest LPGA champ, besting Beth Daniel, who in 2003 won at age 46 years and eight months.

7. We are the world

Although obviously premature, if not totally incorrect, a news story last year said the LPGA had tentatively scheduled an Olympic-style competition for this summer, seeking to capitalize on the tour's Far East muscle and interest level.

The fact the event does not appear on this year's schedule does not make it a bad idea.

After 19 of the top 30 women in the world rankings were left at home during last season's Solheim Cup competition between the United States and Europe, a worldly gathering that would include the LPGA's growing Asian talent base would not only be good business but also very interesting.

8. Just for the fun of it

How about a final-round pairing of Ai Miyazato and Mika Miyazato at the U.S. Women's Open?

Both women are from Okinawa, Japan, although they are not related. Wouldn't it be fun to hear Johnny Miller handle that one?

It's not that farfetched. Both are ranked among the top 25 in the world -- Ai No. 11 and Mika No. 24.

9. Another 59

Sorenstam remains the only woman to post a magic round of 59, while five PGA Tour pros -- Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby -- have accomplished the feat.

Although Sorenstam may never have an equal in the LPGA, she would happily share the number for the interest and discussion another 59 would provide.

Sorenstam's record score came in the second round of the 2001 Standard Register Ping in Phoenix. She carded sides of 28-31 on the par-72 Moon Valley Country Club course.

Four players since have come close, posting rounds of 60: Creamer in the first round of the 2008 Jamie Farr (33-27); Anna Acker-Macosko during the final day of the 2004 Longs Drugs Challenge (31-29); Sarah Lee in the first round of the 2004 Welch's/Fry's Championship (29-31); and Meg Mallon in the second round of the 2003 Welch's/Fry's Championship (30-30).

10. Continued growth

After offering only 23 events last year, the LPGA's 2012 schedule boasts 27 tournaments and a $6.6 million bump in prize money. Also, all 18 events in North America will have live weekend television coverage.

A 30-event schedule in the immediate future is pretty much mandatory to provide tour stability.

LPGA commissioner Whan agrees.

"As soon as we get to 30, I'll probably say 33 is the right number," Whan said at last year's season-ending Titleholders. "But, right now, yes, I'd say 30 is our immediate goal."