International Players Dominate LPGA Majors

By Associated PressJune 30, 2008, 4:00 pm
U.S. WomenEDINA, Minn. -- Morgan Pressel, one of only six Americans to win an LPGA major this decade, had finished her week at Interlachen and was leaning against a clubhouse door when she watched the solemn march of Stacy Lewis and Paula Creamer toward the 10th tee.
 
Uh-oh, she said quietly as she studied their expressions.
 
Pressel is friends with both players and didnt need to see a scoreboard.
 
Lewis and Creamer, the first all-American final pairing at the U.S. Womens Open in five years, played the front nine at Interlachen in a combined 81 shots. Both made double bogey on the par-5 second hole. Creamer made another double bogey at No. 9, and her face was as pink as just about every article of clothing she wore. It wasnt pretty.
 
The state of American golf on the LPGA Tour doesnt look that much better at the moment.
 
Inbee Park, a 19-year-old South Korean, became the latest international player to win an LPGA major on Sunday when she limited her mistakes to only three holes and closed with a 2-under 71 for a four-shot victory. She was the only player among the final nine groups who broke par in the final round.
 
There are five majors remaining this decade, starting with the Ricoh Womens British Open at Sunningdale in four weeks. Americans already are assured of their lowest output in the majors, a statistic skewed by the massive influx of international players on a tour that really is the only show on earth for womens golf.
 
Americans have won at least 30 majors in every decade, but in this one they have won only eight out of 35.
 
Juli Inkster, who celebrated her 48th birthday a few weeks ago, and 45-year-old Meg Mallon have two each. Sherri Steinhauer, who turns 46 at the end of the year, has another. The other three belong to Cristie Kerr, Hilary Lunke and Pressel. For Lunke and Pressel, it remains their only professional victory.
 
It sure didnt look this dire three years ago at Cherry Hills, when young Americans were all the rage.
 
Pressel was a 17-year-old amateur in the final group of that U.S. Womens Open, tied for the 54-hole lead with 15-year-old Michelle Wie. Creamer, 18 at the time, was another stroke behind. Natalie Gulbis was having more luck with calendar sales than trophies, but her game was slowly getting noticed.
 
Sunday at Interlachen presented a great chance to change the perception.
 
Lewis is just getting started, and even though the U.S. Womens Open was her professional debut, the 23-year-old Texan expected more. After spending seven years in a brace, then having surgery to put a steel rod and five screws into her vertebrae, Lewis won an NCAA title at Arkansas last year and tied for fifth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
 
She shot 78 in the final round, and while the double bogey at No. 2 was a setback, she could never get comfortable with the pace on the greens and didnt make a birdie until the 13th hole.
 
The bigger disappointment was Creamer.
 
She is still only 21, and acts surprised that some have declared her the best LPGA player without a major. But this is her fourth year on tour, and Creamer already has won six times. She often boasts about knowing how to win at every level, but she has yet to arrive on the back nine of a major as a serious threat.
 
The harder the golf course, the better I feel, she said before the final round.
 
The Womens Open is known as the toughest test in golf. In the two times Creamer has gone into the final round one shot out of the lead, she has shot rounds of 79 and 78. She is 19 over par in the final round in the last five Opens.
 
She markets herself in all things pink, but the real payoff is winning a major.
 
Creamer was a two-time winner as a rookie, playing a starring role at the Solheim Cup and spoke confidently of going after Annika Sorenstam at the No. 1 ranking. Now that the 37-year-old Sorenstam is retiring, Creamer faces an even tougher climb.
 
The new No. 1 is Lorena Ochoa, a 26-year-old Mexican who has been on tour only two years longer than Creamer, yet already has won 23 times, including two majors, and has enough points for the Hall of Fame.
 
Perhaps even more daunting is that three of the last seven majors have been won by players younger than Creamer'Park became the youngest Womens Open champion at 19; Yani Tseng of Taiwan became the youngest winner of the McDonalds LPGA Championship at 19; and Pressel won the Nabisco at 18.
 
This is no time for Creamer to panic, although this loss could leave scars.
 
Lewis could use Interlachen as a springboard. She is as close to anything as a defending champion this week in Arkansas, where she led with a 65 after the first round before the rest of the tournament was rained out and wiped out of the record books. At least she could keep the trophy.
 
And more young players are in the pipeline.
 
Vicky Hurst failed to qualify for the Womens Open, which was shocking, but only a minor setback. While Park was winning the Womens Open, the 18-year-old Hurst won her third Duramed Futures Tour event this year, even though she just graduated from high school.
 
She is a major talent.
 
But until Hurst, Creamer, Lewis or anyone else wins a major, she will be only a major prospect. Golf is loaded with those.
 
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