China Syndrome melts down LPGA rookie hopes


PRATTVILLE, Ala. – Jessica Korda’s season might suddenly be rushing to a close.

And she’s not alone.

The LPGA rookie is among rank-and-file hit hardest by Monday’s unexpected cancellation of the Imperial Springs LPGA event in China. The tournament was scrubbed just a little more than two weeks from its scheduled start. The news means this week’s Navistar LPGA Classic could be Korda’s last start of 2011.

Korda’s 90th on the LPGA money list. The top 80 at season’s end gain Category 1 priority status for tour access next season. The higher Korda finishes on the money list, the more events she’s qualified to play in next year.

Coming to Navistar, Korda thought she was assured of at least two more starts to improve her standing. She was in the field for the now non-existent China event, which was scheduled to feature a $2 million purse.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan broke the news to players on Tuesday.

“It stinks, because you never know when you’re going to be in your last event,” Korda said.

Korda said she heard rumors of the possible cancellation of Imperial Springs on Monday. An LPGA email confirmed it on Tuesday.

“You read it, and you just get really disappointed, because you realize, all of a sudden, this could be your last week out here,” Korda said.

The news was even harder on 20-year-old rookie Amelia Lewis.

At 105th on the money list, Lewis learned Monday that she had moved up from first alternate to gain the final spot in the limited field at Imperial Springs. Her joy lasted less than 24 hours.

“On Tuesday, Mike Whan walks up to me on the driving range and tells me there’s no China event,” Lewis said. “I got to enjoy the idea of playing in China for one night.”

The LPGA featured 34 official tournaments in 2008. The Imperial Springs cancellation leaves 23 official events on this year’s schedule.

As a rookie, Lewis has gained access to only seven events this season. She’s made five cuts and earned $29,301 in money winnings.

Korda, 18, ranks 90th in money with $45,763 in 13 starts.

Back in ’08, Kris Tamulis finished 90th in money and made $117,139 in 21 starts.

Though top 80 in money gains Category 1 priority status next year, top 70 is a magic number.

“That just about gets you into every event,” Lewis said.

If Korda doesn’t crack the top 80 this week, she still has a chance to play one more event. She is third alternate for the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship during the Asian swing in October, but she’s not sure she wants to fly to the other side of the planet as an alternate now that China’s off the schedule.

“I’ll make the decision whether I want to do that when we’re done with this event, and I re-evaluate with my team what is going to happen,” Korda said. “I understand part of this is my fault. I didn’t play as well as I wanted to play and didn’t make enough money to get into these last events, but I was really looking forward to playing in China. It’s just really unfortunate we can’t.”

After Navistar, there are six events remaining on the LPGA schedule, four in Asia, one in Mexico and the season-ending CME Group Titleholders in Orlando.

Whan had no recourse dealing with the cancellation. The China Golf Association didn’t inform him until Monday night. He said he felt for his players.

“I know how much it means to have that opportunity to play again, to play for a big purse, to play on a world stage,” Whan said. “I’m not here to cancel events. It’s frustrating for them. It’s frustrating for me. I told the players we will be back [in China]. It’s a market we are going to succeed in long term.”

Whan said the cancellation wasn’t due to title sponsorship issues with Imperial Springs.

“We have a four-year agreement with Imperial Springs,” Whan said. “To their credit, they built an incredible facility. They built an incredible purse. They paid for that up front. They were ready to go. It wasn’t a sponsor problem or a money problem. I think it’s possible we could be at Imperial Springs, but as you can guess a lot of things still have to be worked out.”

Why the late cancellation? There have been issues reported with the Chinese government’s involvement and the approval process. Beyond that, Whan said he’s not at liberty to discuss details.

“It’s not completely clear,” Whan said. “I think it’s something we will be able to talk about a little bit more in the future.”

For Korda and Lewis, this season’s future is short.