This could certainly be considered a transition year for the LPGA Tour. The tour kicked off last week in Thailand and continues this week at the HSBC Women's Champions tournament in Singapore. Then comes a three-week gap before players return to action in California. There are several of these gaps in the women's schedule this season, with sponsors dropping out and tournaments being eliminated from the schedule. Will that be the pattern in the years to come, or will the LPGA recover from a rough two years? Which players could emerge as popular marketing tools for the tour? A look at those topics and more as the 2010 season moves forward:
Top five story lines
1. New commissioner takes over: Michael Whan takes over for embattled Carolyn Bivens, who rubbed sponsors the wrong way. It is Whan's job to smooth things over with sponsors, and so far he has made some progress. He has added some title sponsors and signed a television-rights deal to show events in South Korea. Whan, 44, is a former marketing director in golf and hockey equipment. It will be his job to add tournaments in the future and keep the LPGA global.
2. Michelle Wie: She decided to play full time on tour for the first time last year, and she won the Lorena Ochoa Classic. It was her first professional win and, more important, it could mean she is on the way to being the tour's next Annika Sorenstam. The LPGA needs a star, and Wie, 20, could fill the void.
3. Can Brittany Lincicome repeat? Tampa Bay isn't a hotbed for LPGA players (Tampa's Beth Bauer hasn't been on tour since 2007 and Kristy McPherson recently moved to Tampa from Columbia, S.C.). But we do have Seminole's Lincicome, right, who won the tour's first major last year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. If she can repeat, or perhaps take another major, she will start to be mentioned as an elite player.
4. Will sponsors stay on board? The goal is to bring tournaments back to the tour. It has lost events in Hawaii, Florida, Arizona, Virginia, Oklahoma and South Carolina since 2008, when there were 34 tournaments. There are 25 full-field events this year. Clearly, the economic downturn had something to do with that. Some sponsors, both minor and major, have climbed back on board, especially in foreign markets. If they stay, then purses and television coverage may go up.
5. Will South Koreans continue to dominate? Much was made by former commissioner Carolyn Bivens about South Korean players not being able to speak English. It was an issue because they won so much last year. Jiyai Shin, left, won three times in 2009. There are 48 South Koreans on tour, and they have combined to win 71 times (24 by Se Ri Pak). Expect more South Koreans to top the leaderboards.
Players you should know about
You know the big names, but here are some players you might not know who could make a big splash.
1. Ai Miyazato: She has already won this year, last week's event in Thailand. Miyazato, who is from Japan, has been a pro since 2006 but didn't get her first win until last year. She already has won more than $3 million on tour, so she is going to be around for a while.
2. Amanda Blumenherst: A rookie out of Duke University, she was the medalist at LPGA qualifying school. She was a three-time NCAA player of the year and was a member of the 2006 and 2008 Curtis Cup teams. In other words, Blumenherst is ready to win this year.
3. Gwladys Nocera: Technically a rookie, she has spent seven years on the women's European Tour. She won 10 times on that tour and was a member of three Solheim Cups. She attended New Mexico State, so she is familiar with the United States.
4. Mina Harigae: She had a tremendous amateur career in California and also topped the Futures Tour money list last season. She won three times on the Futures Tour last year, but this is clearly a step up. Still, expect her name on leaderboards throughout the season.
5. Angela Stanford: She started 2009 with a win and stayed solid all season. She had 11 top-10 finishes and earned more than $1 million. She has been on tour since 2001, but it seems she is just starting to feel comfortable and confident.
|Tournament||Date, location||Defending champion|
|Kraft Nabisco Championship||April 1-4; Mission Hills Country Club, Rancho Mirage, Calif.||Brittany Lincicome|
|LPGA Championship||June 24-27; Locust Hill Country Club, Pittsford, N.Y.||Anna Nordqvist|
|U.S. Women's Open||July 8-11, Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club||Eun-Hee Ji|
|Women's British Open||July 29-Aug. 1; Royal Birkdale Golf Club, South Port, England||Catriona Matthew|
LPGA is around the world … but not in Florida
If you would like to see the LPGA in person, prepare to travel. The tour does not come to Florida, but it does go to 11 countries during the 25-tournament season (The Mojo 6 in Jamaica in April is not a full-field event). Aside from the United States, the LPGA goes to Thailand, Singapore, Jamaica, Mexico, France, England, Canada, China, Japan and South Korea. Of the 26 tournaments this year (including the Mojo 6), 13 are played in the United States. The LPGA was in Orlando two years ago for the Ginn Open, but that tournament has been discontinued.