You never knew what lurked around the corner this past LPGA season.
From surges to swoons, from breakthroughs to comebacks, from heart-thumping moments to heart-breaking ones, the women’s game offered up a series of storylines with more plot twists than a Brian De Palma film.
Here’s a look back at some of the surprising turns in 2012:
The American woman’s return: Nobody was talking about Stacy Lewis when the year began, even though she broke through to win her first major championship (Kraft Nabisco) in 2011. Lewis noticed that, and she gave everyone something to talk about at year’s end. She was the LPGA’s story of the year, becoming the first American woman to win the Rolex Player of the Year award since Beth Daniel 18 years ago. Lewis led an American surge with her four victories helping U.S. women claim eight LPGA titles this year. It was the most LPGA victories by American women in a single season since they won 10 times in ’08.
Kimchi power: Korean cabbage (kimchi) apparently has the same mystical powers as Popeye’s spinach. Na Yeon Choi won the two biggest first-place checks in women’s golf this year. She took home $585,000 winning the U.S. Women’s Open and $500,000 winning the season-ending CME Group Titleholders. Choi told reporters her mother cooked her kimchi all week at the Titleholders, leading her caddie (Jason Hamilton) to credit “kimchi power” for her biggest drives. Choi wasn’t the only South Korean feasting on success this year. South Koreans won eight LPGA titles, equaling the Americans for most by any nation in 2012. South Koreans won three of the four majors with Choi, Sun Young Yoo (Kraft Nabisco) and Jiyai Shin (Ricoh Women’s British Open) claiming them. Fellow countrywoman Inbee Park didn’t win a major this year, but she won the LPGA money title and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. So Yeon Ryu was the Rolex Rookie of the Year winner.
Yani’s rough patch: After opening the year with three more LPGA titles, giving her a terrific run of 15 worldwide titles in 15 months, Yani Tseng stumped everyone, including herself, with an unexpected swoon. She missed back-to-back cuts in the summer, went 12 consecutive rounds without breaking par and five months without recording a top-10 finish. Nobody saw that coming, but Tseng showed signs she’s close to returning to form with two third-place finishes and a fourth-place finish on the Asian swing this fall. She’s still the No. 1 player in the world, a title she carried nobly this year, even in her struggles, but she will have to find her winning form to hold on to the top spot next year with so many players picking up their games.
Another Far East force: Ten years from now, we may be talking about “Shanshan’s kids” the way we talk about “Se Ri’s kids.” Shanshan Feng’s victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship may prove to have the same inspirational effect Se Ri Pak’s U.S. Women’s Open victory had on young South Korean female golfers. Feng, 22, became the first player from mainland China to win an LPGA event, and she made it doubly impressive doing so in a major. “I think, in the future, China will be one of the strongest countries in golf,” Feng said after winning.
A shocking miss: Blame the Indio effect. How else do you explain I.K. Kim missing a 12-inch putt at the 72nd hole that would have won the Kraft Nabisco Championship? The mysterious force blamed for drawing putts toward the city of Indio in the Coachella Valley pulled so much more with it in the year’s first major. It pulled a player’s most cherished hopes and dreams with it. The dizzying finish was so stunningly inexplicable it made Kim’s head hurt as much as it made her heart ache. At least that’s what it looked like as Kim staggered off the 18th hole after missing a putt that couldn’t be missed. She put her hands on her head as if she were trying to contain a memory more brutal than a migraine. Kim’s nightmare became Yoo’s dream come true as Yoo claimed her first major.
Baby-faced closer: Lydia Ko became the youngest winner in LPGA history at 15 years, 4 months and 2 days old when she claimed the CN Canadian Women’s Open this summer. Ko, born in Asia and raised in New Zealand, won holding off the best women in the game on a nerve-racking Sunday. “You would never have known it was the final round of an LPGA event,” said playing partner Stacy Lewis. “She played like she had been there before.”
The hardest kind of loss: Two months after being diagnosed with West Nile virus, long-time LPGA rules official Doug Brecht died in October. “Few people truly make the world a better place,” Dottie Pepper said. “We just lost one.” Brecht, 62, was devoted to the tour in his 22 years with the LPGA.
The graduate: Michelle Wie pulled off an impressive feat in spring, graduating from Stanford while playing the LPGA. Now there’s the difficult business of graduating to another plane on the tour. Wie found fulfillment pursuing life as a Stanford undergraduate; now comes the challenge of finding fulfillment as an LPGA pro. Wie missed 10 cuts in 23 starts this year with just one top-10 finish. What she needs most now is a doctorate in putting.
Slow-play blues: Thinking she was 3 up with six holes to go in a Sybase Match Play Championship semifinal this summer, Morgan Pressel was hit with a slow-play penalty at the 13th tee. She was stunned to learn the loss of hole meant she was just 1 up on Azahara Munoz. Pressel lost her momentum and then the match. “Pace of play is an issue, but in that situation, I’m not sure it should have been called,” Pressel said. “I’m a little upset, and I think I have a right to be. It was an unfortunate situation that could have changed the whole outcome of the tournament.” Pressel looked like a good bet to claim her third LPGA title, but her season would only grow more difficult with a hand injury making it the toughest year of her seven years on tour.