A Leap for Major Champions Baby Steps for the LPGA

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The LPGA Tour season might best be defined by leaps and bounds, although that's more literal than figurative.
 
Karrie Webb hit the best shot in women's golf this year -- maybe the best shot in all of golf -- when her pitching wedge from 116 yards on the final hole of the Kraft Nabisco Championship landed a yard in front of the pin and crept into the cup, sending her into a playoff that she won.
 
Even more memorable was the raw emotion of Webb sprinting to caddie Mike Paterson and leaping into his arms.
 
'I think my heart just about jumped out of my chest, because it was aching for five minutes,' she said.
 
Ten weeks later, Se Ri Pak matched her in more ways than one. She won the LPGA Championship in a sudden-death playoff (over Webb), hitting a hybrid 4-iron from 201 yards that stopped 3 inches from the cup. After an uppercut, she also leapt into her caddie's arms.
 
'First time I jumped on the golf course,' Pak said.
 
How much of a leap forward the LPGA Tour made as an organization remains to be seen.
 
The start could not have been much worse. LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens picked an unnecessary fight with the media that led to a one-day boycott in Hawaii and strained her relationship with the people who publicize a tour in dire need of publicity.
 
It could not have ended much better, with a novel format at the ADT Championship that paid $1 million to a rookie from Paraguay who closed the deal at Trump International.
 
Along the way, there was a mixed bag of successes and failures:
 
Majors
The first three majors were decided in a playoff, which alone is compelling stuff. What added to the sizzle was the number of players who had a chance to win those majors in the final holes, including 16-year-old Michelle Wie at the Kraft Nabisco, LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women's Open.
 
Lost in Webb's magic at Rancho Mirage was coming from seven shots behind on the last day to match the largest comeback in the history of LPGA majors. And while the LPGA Championship came down to Webb and Pak, there were 10 other players separated by two shots on the back nine at Bulle Rock.
 
The U.S. Women's Open turned into a marathon between Annika Sorenstam and Pat Hurst, who played together the final 54 holes over two days. And while the playoff was a snoozer (Sorenstam won by four), the Swede ended a 10-year drought in the showcase event of women's golf.
 
Star Performance
Sorenstam's standards are so celestial that winning three times, including the U.S. Open, and finishing third on the LPGA Tour money list with nearly $2 million constitutes a bad year.
 
It's healthy for any sport to have a revolving door of stars, and Lorena Ochoa finally shoved aside Sorenstam. The question now is how long the 24-year-old Mexican stays there. Ochoa swept all the major awards with six victories, a 69.24 scoring average and more than $2.5 million to win the money title. The only thing missing was a major, and that could be around the corner.
 
Webb, meanwhile, won four times and went over $2 million for the first time in her career.
 
How's this for star power? Three major champions are Hall of Famers (Pak won't be inducted until next year).
 
Rookies
The good news is that six rookies finished among the top 24 on the LPGA Tour money list, and Julieta Granada (No. 4) set a record for rookie earnings at more than $1.6 million.
 
But that figure was skewed by the $1 million payoff at the ADT Championship. And the rookies who had the best year were not the players getting all the attention at the start of the season.
 
Morgan Pressel had only one finish in the top three and failed to register a top 10 in any of the majors. Ai Miyazato had three good chances to win, but blew up in the final round each time, including the LPGA Championship. The best rookie was Seon-Hwa Lee.
 
Solheim Slump
They were the American faces of the future on the LPGA Tour after leading their team to victory in the Solheim Cup, but all of them -- Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim -- were an afterthought this year.
 
Gulbis has never won on the LPGA Tour, and keeping that streak going was hardly newsworthy.
 
The surprise was Creamer, who was second on the money list as a rookie and vowed to replace Sorenstam at No. 1. But she piled up far more endorsements than victories, never contended in a major and her only consolation was becoming the first LPGA player to crack $1 million without winning.
 
World Ranking
The LPGA Tour finally released its world ranking, and two things happened.
 
First, there was outrage that Wie was ranked No. 3 despite having not won on the LPGA Tour. Then, everyone yawned.
 
The rankings began with a minimum requirement of 15 tournaments, which explained why Wie was listed so highly. They were tweaked in the summer to make it a minimum of 35 events, which is why Wie is now No. 10.
 
But there was never a debate about No. 1 (Sorenstam), and the rankings have so little relevance that even the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship did not rely exclusively on them.
 
Drug Testing
The LPGA Tour made headlines at the end of the year by announcing it would begin drug testing in 2008.
 
Ultimately, this is a good move to eliminate any questions about golfers using performance-enhancing drugs, even though there has never been any evidence. The peculiar part was the rush to make an announcement, especially since the LPGA does not know what it will test for or how it will test its players. It said details would follow, which smacks of grandstanding.
 
Business leaders typically do research first, develop a plan, then make an announcement.
 
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