The Norman Transcript

April 30, 2014

Women’s golf riding momentum of its brightest stars

By Doug Ferguson
The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Except for a major that lacked drama in the final hour, rarely has the entire month of April delivered so much excitement. Some of the biggest names and brightest stars won all the tournaments, one after the other, even as one of the tour’s best players was sidelined by a back injury.

At least that’s the story on the LPGA Tour.

“It’s a neat time,” said Mike Whan, in his fifth year as LPGA commissioner. “It’s neat for the players, too. We’ve got a lot of big guns playing some of their best golf.”

The month began with a curious decision to put Paulina Gretzky — known in hockey circles as the daughter of The Great One, and in golf circles as the fiance of Dustin Johnson — on the cover of Golf Digest. It’s almost as if the LPGA staged the best protest possible by showing the magazine what it was missing.

Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie shared the 54-hole lead in the first major of the year at the Kraft Nabisco. If that wasn’t compelling enough, right behind were English teen Charley Hull and Se Ri Pak, the youngest player inducted into the Hall of Fame and who was missing only this major for the career Grand Slam. Thompson built a big lead early and took the drama out of the back nine to win by three, giving her four LPGA victories and a major at age 19.

Thompson spent her early teens playing against PGA Tour-caliber competition — mainly brother Nicholas. Wie spent part of her early teens playing on the PGA Tour. Wie, still the most transcendent figure in women’s golf, bounced back by winning two weeks later in her native Hawaii. It was her first win since graduating from Stanford, and it put Wie at the top of the LPGA money list for the first time.

And then it got even better.

Lydia Ko, a two-time winner on the LPGA before she even turned pro, had quite the week in San Francisco. She was on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people (no, Paulina Gretzky was not among them). She celebrated her 17th birthday. And she capped it with a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Lake Merced to hold off Women’s British Open champion Stacy Lewis.

“Stars drive sports,” Whan said Monday afternoon. “When LeBron is in the championship game, when Michelle and Lexi are battling for a major, when Tiger plays, it makes a difference. Everybody thinks they know who those stars are. Three years ago if you would have asked me, I wouldn’t have said Lydia, Lexi and Stacy. They have built themselves into stars. People always say, ‘Can you market her?’ I don’t get to choose to do the marketing. They’re the ones who do that.”

Whan also spoke about stars at the end of last season, when three players were vying for top awards in the final tournament and the commissioner had just announced a 2014 schedule that restored some vitality to women’s golf.

“I think sports are at their absolute best — and it doesn’t happen that often — when the best athletes in that sport are having the best years of their lives,” Whan said that day in Naples, Fla.

Maybe there’s more of the best than even Whan realized.

The rest of the year hasn’t been too shabby. Karrie Webb, another Hall of Fame member and the only woman to capture five of the LPGA’s majors, has won twice. So has former major champion Anna Nordqvist. Of all the LPGA winners this year, Jessica Korda has the lowest world ranking. She’s at No. 25.

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