LPGA carries on without Ochoa Blasberg


LPGA Tour _newMOBILE, Ala. – The Bell Micro LPGA Classic will have two big voids, for vastly different reasons.

The tour had already braced for the loss of newly retired star Lorena Ochoa, but now moves on without Erica Blasberg as well with the tournament starting Thursday.

The 25-year-old Blasberg died Sunday in suburban Las Vegas, and her agent said she had been all set to attempt to qualify for the field at Magnolia Grove on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

Blasberg had competed in only one LPGA event this year.

“She was more than a golfer,” said Michelle Wie, who played on the Curtis Cup team with Blasberg. “She was a really great person. She was always really sweet. Obviously (I’m) really sad about it.”

Police haven’t said how Blasberg died or if they suspect foul play.

The grieving competitors, meanwhile, will refocus on trying to fill the large hole left by Ochoa.

The event will be played on the 6,532-yard, par-72 Crossings Course. The tournament wasn’t held last year while the course underwent heavy renovations, much of it focused on the back nine.

New water features were added and a number of sand bunkers were moved, redone or eliminated.

Angela Stanford has good memories of the course where she took a one-stroke win over Shanshan Feng in 2008.

“The course has changed, but still a bunch of good vibes,” Stanford said. “You’re hitting some similar shots. The greens are firm, and it seems like in certain spots it’s a little bit longer. So I think it’s going to be interesting. For me, personally, it almost seems a little more difficult because you’re gonna have to be more strategic about how you hit your irons into these greens.”

All but one of the top 11 players in the world in the world rankings, including 22-year-old Jiyai Shin, who supplanted Ochoa in the No. 1 spot. The South Korean golfer said that new ranking supplies motivation.

“I feel like there’s nothing different, just my status is different,” Shin said. “My mind, my skill is the same but just my thinking changed because I have to keep the number one now, so I need more training.”

Morgan Pressel is coming off a win in Japan LPGA’s Salonpas Cup, while No. 2-ranked Ai Miyazato got her third LPGA Tour title of the season at the Tres Maria Championship two weeks ago in Ochoa’s sixth-place finale.

No. 6 Anna Nordqvist withdrew on Tuesday because of illness.

Wie, who is ranked No. 8 and coming off a third-place finish in Mexico, thinks the burden of replacing Ochoa falls on everyone competing.

“I think we all have a responsibility for that,” she said. “I think all of us, including me. I’m just trying to play as well as I can and provide the best golf out there. Trying the play the best I can.

“Hopefully that provides a lot of entertainment and brings the tour to a whole new level. I think all the players are really striving towards that. We’re just all just working together to make a better product.”