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LPGA Season Starts with One Subject in Mind

LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw ticked off a list of story lines he believes will make this one of the best seasons ever in women's golf.
He started with Annika Sorenstam. He didn't get much further.
'I hear skepticism,' Votaw said.
For good reason.
Is there any LPGA Tour story besides Sorenstam?
After a three-month break from tournament golf (excluding the Skins Game in Hawaii), the LPGA Tour starts Thursday in Tucson, Ariz. Sorenstam will wait one week before making her season debut in Phoenix.
Not that it will matter.
Some might notice that Karrie Webb is in better shape than ever after a strict diet and fitness program. She has won at least one major championship each of the last four years and might be ready to challenge for No. 1 in the world.
Still, she'll be asked: 'What do you think of Annika playing against the men?'
Laura Diaz has made huge strides every year since her rookie season, winning twice last year. If the pendulum keeps swinging in her favor, this might be the year she breaks through and wins a major.
'Do you think women's golf will suffer if Annika doesn't make the cut at Colonial?'
Se Ri Pak has been the second-best player the last two years and could become the youngest woman, at 25, to win the LPGA's career Grand Slam.
'Would you like to play a PGA Tour event, like Annika will?'
Get ready for all Annika, all the time.
Asked if he's concerned the LPGA Tour might turn into a one-woman show, Votaw replied, 'Any more than Tiger is a one-man show?'
The men got tired of talking about Tiger Woods, but only until they realized how much he helped their bank accounts grow.
The year Woods turned pro, Tom Lehman won the money list with $1.7 million. Thanks to two television contracts negotiated since Woods arrived, three players already have earned more than $1.8 million this year after just 10 tournaments.
'The guy has brought so much into our sport -- money, popularity, more people,' David Toms said. 'How can you get tired of talking about him?'
Sorenstam won't bring the LGPA Tour more money, just more attention, which in some respects is just as valuable.
'Just being in the fray, being noble in her pursuit of testing herself -- people will admire her for that and will follow the LPGA like never before,' Votaw said.
Will other players get tired of talking about Sorenstam at every stop?
'Some will,' Votaw said. 'Some will have a harder time seeing the forest through the trees. That happens on any issue.'
The LPGA Tour has a dynamic crop of rookies, starting with Lorena Ochoa of Mexico. Beth Baeur and Natalie Gulbis, both in their second year on tour, give the tour hope that the brightest young stars won't have to carry a passport.
The Solheim Cup will be played in Sweden. The major championships are played on outstanding courses -- Pumpkin Ridge for the U.S. Women's Open, Royal Lytham & St. Annes for the Women's British Open.
Still, the only thing on anyone's calendar is the last week in May, when Sorenstam will become the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour.
That has caused more media coverage than when Sorenstam became the first woman to shoot 59 in 2001, or when she won 13 times around the world last season, the most by a golfer in nearly 40 years.
Votaw doesn't think it's fair, but he doesn't have his head in the sand.
'If this is what captures the public's imagination, if this is what brings more eyeballs to the LPGA, then anyone who questions how good this is for women's golf is being shortsighted,' he said.
The LPGA will have its players' meeting on Monday in Phoenix, and Votaw plans to bring a book 'the size of the New York City Yellow Pages' crammed with articles written in January and February about Sorenstam and her decision to play in the Colonial.
'We didn't play any tournaments in January and February,' he said. 'I'm going to place it with a loud thud on the table at the meeting -- the point being, people are talking about the LPGA, and we should all be thankful.'
Votaw sees progress in other areas.
The LPGA Tour is in the second year of a five-year plan. Attendance was up 12 percent last year (the goal is 15 percent every year), but television viewers increased 20 percent and the Web site had traffic increases, too.
The average purse is $1.27 million, the highest in history.
The real spike comes over the next two months. The LPGA Tour has eight tournaments before the Colonial, and Sorenstam is playing in six of them.
Attention on the LPGA Tour figures to be higher than ever. The question is how long it will last after Sorenstam's PGA Tour debut.