This Could Be the LPGAs Best Season Ever


In a year that was ushered in under the dark cloud of a reduced tournament schedule and claims that the LPGA Tour was not marketing itself to full potential, LPGA Tour Commissioner Ty Votaw and his band of merry touring professionals managed to make us forget about trivial controversies and focus on the matter at hand.
Golf ... womens golf that is.
The 2002 LPGA season was an even greater success than the preceding year in which Annika Sorenstam left the world marveling at her golfing prowess. Gone were the memories of Catrin Nilsmark donning hot pants and raising eyebrows. Gone were the ominous thoughts of a declining LPGA Tour.
Now that the 2002 season has officially come to a close, all that can be seen are growing purses, better venues and yes, the LPGA Tour even added a feather in its cap when it garnered Michelob, a former PGA Tour partner, as a sponsor. Commissioner Votaw closed the year with an upbeat speech on the state of the Tour, saying he was bullish. And who can refute his claims that the Tour is in, perhaps, the best position its ever been during the LPGA Tours 52-year history?
After all, Sorenstam did it again. She did the unthinkable. Left us scratching our heads at her achievements, for the second year in a row, wondering how much more she was capable of.
After winning eight tournaments, setting or tying 30 LPGA scoring and money records as well as her historic round of 59 at the Standard Register PING in 2001, she topped her performance this year with 11 LPGA Tour titles, 13 victories worldwide, matched and surpassed the Babe (Babe Zaharias) official career win record by one(42), earned her fifth Player of the Year titles and Vare Trophy title and became the first person, man or woman, to finish the season with a scoring average below 69 in competition. She finished with 68.70, breaking the old record of 69.42.
Im a little in shock, I think, Sorenstam said after her 11th victory. I play golf because I love it. I know inside what Im capable of. And last year was a wonderful year, but I was determined to prove that I could do it again or even better.
Even though Sorenstam dominated the Tour, earning 45.45 percent of all the prize money at the 23 events she entered this year, there were many other standout performances this season.
Juli Inkster, a 28-time LPGA champion and LPGA Tour Hall of Famer, amazed all with her U.S. Womens Open victory this summer. It was her sixth major championship victory and was achieved at the ripe old age of 42. The U.S. team (15 points) brought home the Solheim Cup with an outstanding victory over Europe (12). Rookie of the Year Beth Bauer had such a banner year that she managed to qualify for the season-ending ADT Championship, where she finished with a respectable tie for 11th place. She is without a single victory this season. Her best finish was a tie for second at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic, but Bauer is one of many up-and-comers that have the commissioner grinning about the future.
Karrie Webb managed to cross the $1 million mark in season earnings, winning two titles along the way and recording 10 top-10s. She turned what was otherwise a lackluster year into a banner year with her 27th career title win at the Wegmans LPGA Classic. The Aussie then went on to win her fifth major championship title at the Weetabix British Open, becoming the first woman to win Career Grand Slam.
Se Ri Pak took home four victories this season, including her second McDonalds LPGA Championship. Pak is just one title away from completing her career Grand Slam. A win at the 2003 Nabisco Championship will complete her goal.
It was a year of many surprises. The reduced tournament schedule that Commissioner Votaw unveiled just one year ago turned out to be a savvy business decision that only served to strengthen the field at each event and the sponsorships of those events. Yet, while the LPGA was enjoying the fruits of its labors, the rest of the world was getting a wake-up call.
Martha Burk came out of nowhere and put the world of golf in a tailspin with her June correspondence to Augusta National, which included strong implications of discrimination because there were no women members.
Given the recent news from Augusta, it is clear that women will not be admitted anytime soon, Votaw said while giving his opinion on the matter. The news is disappointing because the highly charged rhetoric on both sides of the issue had become a distraction that is damaging the game of golf.'
In my capacity as commissioner, and with the full support of the LPGA Board of Directors, I want to express our wishes that Augusta National do the right thing and admit women as members.
The commissioner has every right to be perturbed. After implementing his master plan - 'The Five Points of Celebrity: Performance, Approachability, Appearance, Passion and Joy and Relevance,' and finially seeing the results of the LPGA Tour's hard work - Votaw must endure yet another storm that has a negative effect on the perception of womens golf.
Counterbalancing the blow-by-blow accounts of Augusta are more recent and uplifting stories of Suzy Whaley, the pro at Connecticuts Blue Fox Run Golf Club in Avon. Whaley received an invitation to play in the 2003 Canon Greater Hartford Open after shooting 68-72-71-211 at Ellington Ridge C.C. to become the first woman to win the PGA section Championship.
It took a long time to make this decision, she said. I understand the historical implication of this decision and the importance it has for women golfers.
Whaley is a sign of a changing climate in womens golf worldwide. Raquel Carriedo, Marine Monnet and Suzanne Pettersen ' all former players of the Evian European Ladies Tour (LET) - represent the changing face of the LPGA Tour.
They are three of five stand out LET players ' the other two being Iben Tinning and Paula Marti - that have chosen to compete in America starting in 2003. All five endured q-school and three of the five, Carriedo, Monnet and Pettersen, managed to play their way into exempt status at qualifying school -Tinning and Marti earned non-exempt conditional status. These young players continue the trend of foreign flavor on the LPGA Tour that has helped make it the premier ladies golf tour in the world.
The commissioner closed the year on a high note with his superstar Sorenstam wowing the crowd right to the bitter end, then Votaw announced what was in store for 2003. He sited 23 full-field events with at least $28.7 million up for grabs in prize money.
Fans of the LPGA will be treated to a schedule of events consistent with 2002, one of the most thrilling and successful seasons in LPGA history, Votaw said.