Good, bad and ugly of LPGA season
As the 2013 LPGA season comes to a close, let's take time to look back at a year that was good, bad and ugly ... and let's make it very clear that there was a lot more good than bad or even ugly. This tour is on the rise.
For the first time in history, a South Korean player earned the LPGA's player of the year honor.
When you think of the impact Hall of Fame member and fellow South Korean Se Ri Pak has had while never winning the player of the year award, what Inbee Park did in 2013 is truly amazing and should further inspire generations of girls in her homeland.
The USA's Stacy Lewis won her second career major championship, the Women's British Open, and also won the Vare Trophy for the season's low scoring average, a first for an American since Beth Daniel in 1994. In my opinion, this is the toughest award to win because it takes yearlong excellence, not just domination in any one part of the season or in major championships.
Huge credit goes to Suzann Pettersen for making the race for the player of the year award compelling until the penultimate event of the season. Most people had written that competition off by mid-July. Park won three major championships but still could not etch her name onto the award because Pettersen won three times through the fall, including the Evian Championship, the season's fifth major. Pettersen kept the LPGA in the domestic golf conversation, even when the tour headed to Asia for its fall swing.
Teen superstar Lydia Ko was granted LPGA membership after turning pro earlier this fall. The LPGA was swift to grant membership to the young Kiwi after she had captured the U.S. Women's Amateur and two LPGA titles, passing on more than $1 million in earnings while she remained in the amateur ranks. What a fresh infusion of attitude for the LPGA from this kid -- and yes, she is all kid -- who talks openly and easily in news conferences about sweating out high school exams and really only wanting a new camera after cashing her first paycheck as a pro last weekend. Love this youngster, and she absolutely loves golf. She's the real deal.
Let's talk about another kid with endless potential to move the LPGA forward: Lexi Thompson. She emerged from the USA's first loss on home soil in the Solheim Cup a different player: full of confidence and ready to go win, and win BIG. She won two events near the end of the season, the last coming in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational against an extremely strong field with a birdie on the last hole to win by one. Shocker if she doesn't have a monstrous 2014.
And now let's look at 2014: The LPGA has released its schedule for next year with four new tournaments, 32 official events, an all-time-high total for purses, a global match-play event, improved geographic fluidity and an inventory of courses that may be the best ever. These include Lake Merced in California, Caves Valley in Maryland, Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Women's Open, Monroe GC in Rochester, N.Y., for the LPGA Championship and Royal Birkdale in Southport, England, for the Women's British Open. Great courses produce great champions, and this schedule, coming back from the lowest of lows during the previous commissioner's disastrous run, is phenomenal.
The number of Americans in the top 10 in the world rankings.
Only Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson are on that list. That is simply not good enough. As a broad statement, many of the Americans don't seem to be as focused as many of their competitors and seem a bit too content with being good instead of great. Maybe this is because the global success of the tour has made a very nice living possible by just being good, when great is needed to reach the pinnacle.
I don't know how to solve this, but commissioner Mike Whan needs American players like Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel to step up for their American-based tour to take off. They are recognizable and solid players, but they have not come anywhere near reaching their potential. When players like them move up the leaderboards and rankings, look out. Whan will be armed with what he needs to take the LPGA to the next level. The remaining holes in the schedule will become easier to fill with events in the U.S., at quality venues and at better television viewing times. The entire tour wins when they win.
My other "bad" item would be the lack of decisiveness and clarity on behalf of the LPGA when it came to defining a Grand Slam. The tour added a fifth major in 2013, the Evian Championship, and when Park won the first three major championships of the season, there was too much gray area when it came to defining the Slam. This was an incredible opportunity, maybe one that will never come around again, that the organization, in my opinion, did not take full advantage of.
Yani Tseng's precipitous and lightning-fast drop from No. 1 in the world to No. 29.
On March 11 of this year, Yani was at the top of the rankings and now she's not even on the first page. She got the yips with her greatest weapon, her driver, and as a result was forced to play defensively all year. In essence, she now has the shanks with her confidence. I hope this ends quickly because she is an incredible talent and one the LPGA really needs.
Besides the all-red uniforms the U.S. Solheim Cup team wore while being shut out by the Europeans on the Saturday afternoon of the matches, my only other ugly would be the format that is still in the playbook for the 2016 Olympics. My identifier when I think of the Olympics is about team and country, not individuals doing exactly what they do almost every week of every year. The most compelling events we have in golf are TEAM events: Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup, Curtis Cup, Walker Cup, not 72-hole stroke-play events. Golf's return to the Olympics could be beautiful if a team format were incorporated.
Thank you for letting me come into your world this year through espnW, and I wish all of you a blessed Thanksgiving and holiday season as we prepare for 2014.