A Year to Remember
Sorenstam began making headlines even before the LPGA began its season with her announcement that she would become the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour at the Bank of America Colonial in May.
By the time the event took place in late May, Meg Mallon had already had a chance to shoot 59, Frances Patricia Meunier-Lebouc had won her first career major after outdueling Sorenstam at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and Candie Kung had won the first of three titles in what would become a breakout season.
Sorenstams foray into the mens professional golf realm was well-documented by media around the world, creating an unprecedented buzz around the LPGA that carried through to the seasons final two weeks ago.
Six other women also competed against the men in the professional ranks in 2003: Suzy Whaley; Michelle Wie; Jan Stephenson; Laura Davies; Se Ri Pak; and Sophie Gustafson.
By years end, Sorenstam had put together yet another stellar season that included her sixth career Rolex Player of the Year award, completion of the LPGA Career Grand Slam and entrance into the LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame. She thrust the LPGA into the national spotlight like never before and led the way in what evolved into arguably the LPGAs most publicized and successful year ever.
Sorenstam finished the season with six wins, 15 top-10 finishes, a season-best $2,029,506 in earnings, two major championship titles (McDonalds LPGA Championship Presented by AIG, Weetabix Womens British Open) and the title of LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame member.
Sorenstams win at the Weetabix Womens British Open made her just the sixth LPGA player to achieve the LPGA Career Grand Slam, and her win at the Mizuno Classic was her third straight at that event. But Sorenstam wasnt the only player to shine in 2003 and wasnt the only storyline that emerged.
An Open to Remember
Who would have thought a struggling player looking for her first top-10 finish of the season would join a third-year player coming off her first career victory and an established veteran to make the U.S. Womens Open one of the most memorable in the events 58-year history?
Thats just what Hilary Lunke, Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins did at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore., in early July. The trio finished 72 holes in a three-way knot after Stanford made a clutch birdie putt on the final hole of regulation.
One day and 18 holes later, Lunke dazzled a national television audience when she trumped yet another 18th-hole Stanford birdie putt with one of her own to become the 14th player in LPGA history to make the U.S. Womens Open her first career victory and the first player to emerge a champion through the sectional Open qualifying system. It was a U.S. Womens Open for the record books and one that will not soon be forgotten.
Koreas Pak had another impressive season, winning three times, taking home her first career Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, finishing second on the ADT Official Money List and inching to within one point of the 27 needed to qualify for the LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame. Pak now has 21 career titles heading into the 2004 season.
Mexicos Lorena Ochoa came out of the gates in her rookie year by making 16 consecutive cuts and leaving little doubt as to who would take home the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award.
She went on to record eight top-10 finishes, including a pair of runner-up finishes, missed just one cut all season and ran away with the top rookie honors. Ochoa didnt fare too poorly against the rest of the Tour either, finishing ninth on the ADT Official Money List with more than $800,000 in earnings. Few doubt if she will win on the LPGA Tour; when and how many times are the only questions.
Europeans Take Back Solheim Cup
Sweden was the site for the eighth staging of The Solheim Cup, Sept. 12-14, and the European team, inspired by a hobbling captain, Catrin Nilsmark, wrestled the Cup back from the U.S. squad with a 17 1/2-10 1/2 victory. Top-notch play from nearly every player on the European team helped close the gap in the U.S. teams all-time lead in the event to 5-3.
40 and Fine
The leaderboards were jammed all season long with names of players past the age of 40 who made their presence felt on a weekly basis. LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame members Beth Daniel and Juli Inkster led the charge.
Daniel won the BMO Financial Group Canadian Womens Open in July (one shot ahead of Inkster) to become the LPGAs oldest tournament winner at 46 years, 8 months and 29 days. Inkster (43) won twice: LPGA Corning Classic, where she tied the LPGAs record for lowest final round with a 62; and the Evian Masters, her 30th career title.
Inkster finished the season fifth on the ADT Official Money List with more than $1 million in earnings, while Daniel finished eighth. Mallon (40) carded the only 60 in LPGA history at the season-opening Welchs/Frys Championship and finished the season with a one-stroke victory over Sorenstam at the ADT Championship. Mallon recorded eight top-10 finishes and finished 12th on the final ADT Official Money List.
In addition, 44-year-old Rosie Jones finished 10th on the money list thanks to nine top-10 finishes, including a win at the Asahi Ryokuken International Championship at Mount Vintage in May.
Koreas Grace Park had a career year that included her fourth LPGA title at the Michelob Light Open at Kingsmill in May, a career-best $1,417,702 in earnings that was good enough for third on the final money list and 19 top-10 finishes.
Park finished the season with 46 rounds in the 60s, which tied Kelly Robbins LPGA record set in 1997, and 403 birdies, marking just the second time in LPGA history that a player eclipsed the 400-birdie mark in a single season (Maria Hjorth, 408 in 1999).
Amazingly, Parks season could have been even better, as she nearly earned her first major championship title at the McDonalds LPGA Championship Presented by AIG, where she lost to Sorenstam in a sudden-death playoff, and she finished .08 points behind Pak in the race for the Vare Trophy.
The aforementioned Kung, who became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the LPGA Takefuji Classic in April, had a record-setting season of her own.
She finished with three wins after back-to-back triumphs at the Wachovia LPGA Classic hosted by Betsy King and the State Farm Classic in August, more than $900,000 in earnings to finish sixth overall and eight top-10 finishes. In just two seasons on the LPGA Tour and at the tender age of 22, Kung has amassed 13 top-10 finishes and more than $1 million in earnings.
Koreas Hee-Won Han, the 2001 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, also became a Rolex First-Time Winner after winning Julys Sybase Big Apple Classic presented by Lincoln Mercury. She would win again at the Wendys Championship for Children at Tartan Fields over Wendy Ward in a thrilling three-hole, sudden-death playoff in August and finished the season with 11 top-10 finishes.
Han finished fourth on the money list with $1,111,860 in earnings, marking the first time she had eclipsed the $1 million mark in single-season earnings. Her breakout year bordered on the colossal, as she also recorded three second-place finishes.
In addition to competing in a pair of mens professional events, Wie, now 14, took on the LPGA Tour seven times in 2003 and won headlines and legions of fans with her smile and 300-yard drives.
Wie burst onto the scene by tying for ninth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March after a third-round 66, and then went on to make the cut in five of her next six LPGA tournaments. She was one who shared national headlines and television exposure with Sorenstam and can be expected to be seen on fairways for years to come.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.