LPGA's global game is growing
Little by little, the LPGA's world footprint keeps getting bigger.
No professional sports league -- men's or women's -- can claim a more global presence, and this past week was a perfect example.
While Japan's Momoko Ueda was on her way to winning the Mizuno Classic in Shima-shi, Japan, in a three-hole playoff over China's Shanshan Feng, the tour was announcing a future tournament stop in Australia.
Showing the LPGA's growing international depth, Ueda and Feng finished regulation play tied at 16-under-par 200 after three rounds.
On the third playoff hole, Ueda, buoyed by a swelling crowd of flag-waving Japanese fans around the last green, hit her approach to 15 feet, then rolled in the putt.
Ueda acknowledged that it was her day.
In regulation play, she hit an errant shot on the ninth hole that ricocheted off a fan's head and bounced back onto the fairway. Ueda birdied the hole.
"The man told me he was OK and said, 'I just want to see you play. I don't have time to go to the hospital. Just do your best,'" Ueda said in the postmatch news conference.
Ueda, whose win at the 2007 Mizuno Classic earned her a spot on the 2008 LPGA Tour, won her second LPGA title on familiar soil.
Meanwhile, the entire tour will win with the addition of the Australian tournament to next year's schedule.
The ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open will be played Feb. 6-12 at Royal Melbourne in conjunction with Golf Australia and Australian Ladies Professional Golf, adding an official LPGA event in Australia.
"I think it's great for women's golf in Australia and it is something we really need right now," veteran Karrie Webb, a native of Queensland, Australia, told reporters. "It's just going to raise the level of excitement for the event and the profile of the tournament."
With a number of solid young professionals coming out of Australia and competing around the world on the Ladies European Tour, the LPGA Futures Tour and the Japan LPGA, Webb says the new tournament will be especially beneficial to those young pros and top amateurs who aspire to play on the LPGA Tour.
"They will get to see what it's like to play an LPGA event on their home turf, and they will have the chance to compete against LPGA pros," said Webb, who has offered sponsorship for rising young Australian pros for the past several years. "It will give them something even bigger to shoot for."
Be like Yani
The impact of Yani Tseng's world No. 1 ranking on golf in her native Taiwan was on early and full display this past week in the LPGA's Mizuno Classic.
Teresa Lu, who is playing this year on the Japan LPGA and has one runner-up finish, was one of the early leaders and said many of her countrywomen will be following Tseng's lead.
"After Yani came along, everyone practices so hard. Even me!'' Lu told reporters. "The way she plays golf is very powerful. It has changed women's golf. Before Yani, women's golf was about tempo and grace. Now, it is more powerful."
In an effort to play more powerfully, Lu has changed her game.
"Yes, I hit the ball farther," she said. "But my back is also in pain."
Japan is noted for being golf-obsessed, but the fan support shown last week made a statement.
Fans waited in line all night during the week for the chance to be among the first 150 spectators allowed to pose each day with Mizuno Classic players -- and paid money for the photo ops.
The money raised will be donated to various charities in Shima-shi as well as to the earthquake relief fund in northern Japan.Can't do that in Jersey
The LPGA's global image was well spotlighted in Japan. Contestants in the Mizuno Classic were invited to take a boat ride and experience Japan's "Ama" divers before the start of the tournament.
The Ise (pronounced EE-say) region of Ago Bay has been known for its pearl cultivation since the 1800s and is the home base of the famous Mikimoto pearls. The female divers, known as Ama, which translates as "sea woman," dive deep into the bay and can remain under water for several minutes as they collect various types of seafood -- a thousand-year-old method of fishing known as sumoguri.
The divers plucked dozens of cultivated oysters from the bay and dumped them into a bucket, allowing each player to select an oyster for opening. Most of the oysters contained cultured pearls, which the players were allowed to keep.
"It's wonderful to go off the golf course and hotel property and take in the local sites," said LPGA player Amanda Blumenherst of Arizona, who added a pearl to the engagement diamond she received last week. "You hear so much about the pearls in this area. It's just nice to do something fun and different than golf."
Added Vicky Hurst of Florida, who also took the trip onto Ago Bay: "We travel all over the world and play golf every week, so I wanted to take advantage of being here in Japan. It's nice when you get to learn something while you're out traveling, plus, we got a free pearl."
By the numbers
63: First-round score by Sakura Yokomine, whose 9-under-par round broke the previous course record of 8-under 64 shared by Stacy Lewis, Lorena Ochoa, Akane Iijima and Momoko Ueda. Yokomine received a bonus of 300,000 yen for the week's low score.
6th: Place finish by Lewis and Mina Harigae, the field's low Americans, at 12-under 204 and 4 shots back.