PITTSFORD, N.Y. – So who’s going to stop the Asian Express?
The Wegmans LPGA Championship begins Thursday with the Far East looking to win its ninth consecutive major championship in women’s golf.
A year ago, Asia completed its first sweep of the majors in women’s golf, winning all four in a single season for the first time. With South Korea’s Inbee Park winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship to start this year’s major championship season, another sweep may be in the offing. With Rolex No. 1 Park among seven Asians in the top 10 in the world rankings, odds favor the Far East again this week at Locust Hill.
The Americans, though, come eager to plant their flag in major championship terrain.
“It would be huge for the Americans to be able to pick off a couple majors for the rest of the year,” said Cristie Kerr, a two-time major championship winner.
No American has won a major since Stacy Lewis claimed the Kraft Nabisco Championship at the start of the 2011 season.
The LPGA Championship is becoming almost as difficult for Americans to win as the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Kerr is the only American to win the LPGA Championship in the last 12 years. Before Kerr’s runaway victory here in 2010, no American had won the tour’s flagship event since Juli Inkster in 2000.
“I’ve said this before,” said Kerr, 35. “If you look at the number of Americans that have played 10 events or more on tour 10 years ago versus now, you’ll see a dramatic difference. We do have a lot of great Asians on our tour, and they have their numbers. That’s why you’re seeing a lot of Asians win majors.”
Lewis and Kerr are the only Americans who have held the Rolex No. 1 world ranking.
Kerr won her major at Locust Hill in a staggering 12-shot rout three years ago. She arrives with that memory still fresh and with the glow of her Kingsmill Championship title last month still with her.
Lewis, the Rolex world No. 2, brings the momentum of two victories already this season.
What’s the Asian domination say about the LPGA?
“We’re global,” Lewis said. “That is the nature of our tour right now. I don’t think it’s a horrible thing. I just think they’re great players. You look at the list of winners, and they’re all great players, so it’s not really a surprise.”
But . . .
“I am looking to end that trend,” Lewis said.
Lewis, 28, hasn’t had the same success as Kerr at Locust Hill, but she has a good track record here. Lewis tied for second behind Feng in this event last year. She tied for sixth the year before. She has three top 10s at Locust Hill in four starts.
Plus, Lewis seems groomed for majors. In her first start as a professional, she led going into the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen before tying for third. She made her first LPGA title a major when she won Kraft Nabisco.
“I think, more than anything, my game sets up for majors,” Lewis said. “Hit it pretty straight, hit a lot of greens. I’m a grinder. I don’t give up. I think that’s what kind of keeps me in contention is I don’t give up out there.”
Lewis has finished T-8 or better in five of the last nine majors.
“I love hard golf courses,” Lewis said. “I love the challenge of just, maybe, a couple under par winning a tournament. I think that’s great.”
At No. 11, Kerr is the second highest ranked American in the Rolex world rankings. While Kerr has won two majors, she has been a factor in so many more. She has finished T-5 or better in majors 17 times in her career, and she likes her form coming into this week.
“I’m putting in the work,” Kerr said. “Mentally, I feel like I’m in a good place, and that’s all you can really hope for when you tee it up. Then, the rest is up to you really doing what you’re trained to do. I feel like I’m ready.
“I love to win.”
So do the Asians. That’s the challenge again this week.