GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. – For one week, Michelle Wie, Cristie Kerr and the rest of the U.S. players on the LPGA Tour don’t have to answer one question: When is an American going to win this year?
Kerr made the question moot on Monday, capturing the rain-delayed State Farm Classic in Springfield, Ill., for the first LPGA Tour win by an American since Wie won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November.
“I sent her a text after she won, saying ‘Way to step up for the Americans!”’ Brittany Lincicome joked Thursday, a day before the start the $1.5 million ShopRite LPGA Classic at the Bay Course at Seaview.
Victories have been few for the Americans over the past year. Prior to Wie’s win, the last official win by an American was posted by Kerr at the Michelob ULTRA Open at Kingsmill in May.
Kerr believes the days of American women dominating the tour are over—at least for now.
“I think that there’s a couple of us Americans that can challenge for Rolex Player of the Year and top of the money list, but we’re outnumbered,” said Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion. “We need to continue to build LPGA girls’ golf programs in the states and get as many girls playing in the states as possible.”
Kerr said other countries seemingly provide more money to develop women’s golf.
“Here it’s like you need to be somewhat middle class to upper class to be able to afford to play golf,” she said. “It’s an expensive sport in the United States. There are a lot of other things that kids do. Girls do soccer now and softball. In Korea, golf is it. So we need to get girls focused on playing golf in the states.”
Meg Mallon, a member of the tour since 1987, was quick to point out that only eight official tournaments have been played this year and that the competition might be the keenest of any sport.
Mallon said that six or seven years ago, the tour was concerned whether it was heading in the right direction.
“What’s happened is that we have truly become an international tour,” Mallon said. “We have the best player from every country playing on tour and we’re the only tour that can say that. Having said that, it would be great to have an American player come out and dominate. It would help our tour and generate more interest on the American side. It would be a win-win.”
Mallon insisted that not having a dominate American doesn’t hurt the women’s tour.
“You know what? Greg Norman carried the PGA Tour for a long time, so I don’t think it’s an American thing,” Mallon said. “I think it’s a charisma thing.”
The leading player on the tour this year has been Ai Miyazato of Japan. The 24-year-old has won three times and earned $605,238.
South Korean players have won three other events and Yani Tseng of Taiwan also won before Kerr got the U.S. on the board earlier this week.
Miyazato downplayed the lack of American winners this year, saying the competition is intense for everyone.
“There are so many Asians playing well right now, it might seem like the Americans are having difficulty winning,” said Miyazato, who is hoping to emerge as the No. 1 player on tour in the wake of Lorena Ochoa’s retirement.
Two-time U.S. Solheim Cup member Christina Kim said that while Jiyai Shin of South Korea holds the No. 1 spot in women’s golf, the tour is wide-open now.
“Any week, anybody can win,” said Kim, who is still looking for her first victory.
If Wie could improve her putting, she has the potential to emerge as the next great American.
Wie also believes there are victories coming for Americans, too.
“I think everything goes in waves,” Wie said. “And hopefully the time will come very soon.”
The Americans will have a leading player returning to their ranks this weekend, with Paula Creamer playing for the first time in almost three months. She was sidelined with an injury to her left thumb that required surgery.
An eight-time winner on the LPGA Tour, she played 11 holes on Thursday and left the course with an ice bag on her hand.
“Every shot hurts,” Creamer said. “Just because I am not grimacing doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It will be like that for a while, but I have to get it loosened up and the only way I can do that is to play.”
One other sidelight for the return of the ShopRite Classic after a three-year hiatus will be the professional debut of 15-year-old Alexis Thompson of Coral Springs, Fla.
The 54-hole tournament is scheduled to end Sunday.