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.