Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 1, 2017

American Women Show That They Can Play Too

A NOTE TO READERS:  As previously advised this post is one day early.  The upcoming usual Sunday post will be delayed until Monday, with the regular schedule resuming on Thursday, February 9th.  As always, you have my deepest appreciation for your continuing support.

Golf is an international sport, and plenty of American golf fans are used to cheering for foreign-born golfers, from Gary Player to Greg Norman, from Laura Davies to Annika Sorenstam, and from Rory McIlroy to Lydia Ko. But even as LPGA commissioner Michael Whan has first resuscitated and then grown his Tour, there is no question that the LPGA’s popularity in this country has been hampered by the lack of Americans in its top ranks.

There is also no question that after collapsing in the midst of the Great Recession, the preeminent women’s professional golf tour has come back strong since Whan took over in January 2010. When his unlamented predecessor resigned six months earlier there were just fourteen events on the LPGA’s 2010 schedule. This year’s campaign has thirty-five tournaments including four new stops. Eleven of the returning tournaments on the 2017 schedule have increased purses. That list includes the U.S. Women’s Open where the USGA will offer $5 million in prize money, the largest purse in LPGA history. Total prize money this year will top $67 million. The 2017 schedule also includes the biennial renewal of the Solheim Cup, with teams from the USA and Europe squaring off at Des Moines Golf and Country Club in August. Ticket sales are up 60% from the same time four years ago, when the event was last held in this country.

But it is also true that a significant part of the LPGA’s resurgence has been fueled by Whan’s willingness to expand the Tour beyond this country’s borders. The season began last weekend in the Bahamas, and now moves to Australia and the Far East. The first LPGA tournament on home soil doesn’t take place until the middle of March. After the Tour’s final major, the Evian Championship in France next September, the LPGA again moves to New Zealand and several Asian countries for the better part of two months before finally returning home for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida.

That focus on the western side of the Pacific Rim is understandable given the current rankings of women golfers. The top ten players in the Rolex Rankings include five Koreans and one golfer each from China, Thailand and New Zealand. American Lexi Thompson and Brooke Henderson of Canada are the only two top-ten golfers not from a country on the far side of the Pacific Ocean. Along with the fifth-ranked Thompson, Stacy Lewis at number thirteen and Gerina Piller at number nineteen are the only Americans in the top twenty. To the casual fan Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie are arguably the two most recognizable American women golfers. Both have won the U.S. Women’s Open; the former in 2010 and the latter three years ago. But Creamer is currently ranked eighty-eighth and hasn’t won in almost three years; while Wie has gone winless and fallen all the way to one hundred eighty-third in the world since her victory at Pinehurst.

All of which makes what happened last weekend at the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic entirely unexpected but wholeheartedly welcomed by golf fans in this  country. American Brittany Lincicome opened with a 64 on Thursday, matching what was then the course record, and then followed that up with a 65 in the second round to set a new 36 hole scoring record for the tournament, which is now in its fifth year. Her second round included a hole-in-one at the 161 yard 12th hole. Despite those low numbers Lincicome’s lead at the halfway mark was just one stroke over Thompson, thanks in part to the new course record and personal best 61 that the 21-year old carded on Friday. Her bogey-free round featured ten birdies and an eagle on the 6,625 yard, par 73 Ocean Club layout on Paradise Island. It was the first round of 12-under par in LPGA history, second lowest in relation to par only to Annika Sorenstam’s 13-under score of 59 back in 2001.

On Saturday more Americans joined the scoring party. Both former world number one Lewis and Nelly Korda, an 18-year old Tour rookie and younger sister of LPGA regular Jessica Korda, returned scores of 10-under 63; while Piller shot her second straight 65. That left Thompson and Lewis in a tie for the lead, one shot ahead of Piller and two ahead of Lincicome, while Korda vaulted up the leader board into a tie for sixth place.

Five of the six players in the last two groups off the tee in Sunday’s final round were Americans, and at day’s end they were the first five names on the tournament’s final leader board with another American, 25-year old Austin Ernst, just behind in seventh. Winless since 2014, Lewis was in a three-way tie for the lead until her second shot at the par-4 14th hole caught a palm tree and ricocheted into a waste area. She closed with a 71 for a third place finish at 25-under par. That was one ahead of Piller, who matched Lewis’s final round score, and two ahead of Korda, who had the best Sunday score of the five with a 67.

A birdie on the final hole gave Lincicome a 68 and a share of the lead at 26-under with Thompson, who closed with a 70. The pair returned to the 18th tee for sudden death, which Lincicome won with yet another birdie on the par-5. It was the seventh LPGA Tour win for the 31-year old Florida native.

The results also marked the first time that five Americans topped an event since 2011. One tournament doesn’t make a season, and it’s worth noting that the field for the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic was missing several of the women in the world ranking’s top twenty. Still the red, white and blue final leader board was a happy change for U.S. golf fans. When the LPGA season resumes in Australia in two weeks, perhaps a few more will be watching to see if their home-grown heroines can keep it up.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Nice piece. What do you mean nothing on Sunday? That really screws things up for me! J


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: