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Top players teeing off in Rochester

Rochester Business Journal
June 18, 2010

There are few, if any, tournaments on the LPGA Tour that the players and their fans enjoy as much as the annual 72-hole event at Locust Hill Country Club.

Almost from its inception in 1977, the tournament has been one of the best-if not the best-attended on the women's tour, drawing in the neighborhood of 90,000 spectators for the week. That and the quality and immaculate condition of Locust Hill's golf course are reasons why so many of the best female golfers on the planet look forward to playing here.

If this tournament were a number on a golf scorecard, it would be a double-eagle.

Ah, but this year's tournament is an exception-and that is a positive, not a negative. The 2010 tournament isn't just the Wegmans LPGA, it is the LPGA Championship presented by Wegmans. At least for this year, it is one of the four major women's tournaments, along with the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the U.S. Women's Open and the Ricoh Women's British Open.

This year, none of the LPGA Tour's top active players has been debating whether she should tee it up in Rochester or just take a week off and chill out. There's no question that each will be here for her tee time on Thursday, June 24.

Two players who will be missed: Lorena Ochoa, No. 1 in the world through the first five tournaments on the tour this year, and former No. 1 player Annika Sšrenstam. Both have retired, although Ochoa, 28, whose retirement began after the Tres Marias Championship in her native Mexico at the end of April, seemed to leave the door open slightly to playing a few more tournaments.

Still, the field in Rochester will be gushing with big names from all over the world and the talent they bring with them. Spectators will be watching many future LPGA Hall of Famers.

A few decades ago, the LPGA had maybe a dozen players who dominated the tour-Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Sandra Haynie, Carol Mann and JoAnne Carner, to name a few. Picking a winner, especially in one of the majors, was nowhere near the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket.

Back then, the pool of talent was relatively shallow, but now it is too deep to measure. In addition to the many excellent U.S. players, there are more than 120 from 25-plus countries on the LPGA Tour, including 50 or so from Korea. And as anyone who keeps up with the women's tour knows, they can play.

No doubt, it will be the best field in the history of any women's tournament played at Locust Hill.

There will be defending champion Anna Nordqvist of Sweden, who shot 15 under par last year and won the 2009 LPGA Championship by four strokes over Lindsey Wright. Of course, Wright will be here as well. Then there's Yani Tseng of Taiwan, who won the Kraft Nabisco back in early April (her second career major win), one stroke ahead of Suzann Pettersen of Norway. The field will include U.S. Women's Open champion Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea, also the 2008 Wegmans LPGA winner, and reigning Women's British Open champion Catriona Matthew of Scotland.

It is obvious that the women's game has changed dramatically. The LPGA, like the men's PGA Tour, is no longer dominated by Americans. The field at Locust Hill, though, will include the cream of the U.S. crop, including Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, Juli Inkster, Brittany Lincicome and Natalie Gulbis.

The talent on the LPGA Tour is so overwhelming in this century that there are too

many potential champions to mark anyone as the favorite to win at Locust Hill. Or, to put it another way, with Sšrenstam and Ochoa not in the tournament, there are so many favorites in the field there are virtually no favorites.

This LPGA championship will be decided not by any one player's overall talent but by who's hot and who's not during the week of the tournament. Last year, there were 29 tournaments on the LPGA Tour-and 22 different tournament champions. The only multiple winners were Matthew, Ochoa, Nordquist and Jiyai Shin of South Korea.

Back in the day, when the LPGA Tour was dominated by two Ws-Wright and Whitworth-the numbers were much different. Wright won 44 tournaments during one four-year stretch, and Whitworth won 35 over the next four years.

Starting in 2001, Sšrenstam was right there, winning 43 tournaments through 2005. Now, though, there is no doubt that the championship is wide open. With no obviously dominant player in the field-and thus no intimidation factor-each of the 150 players entered must believe she can win.

It just depends which ones bring their "A" game.

 


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