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What Will Unfold in 2004

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- After a record-setting and much-publicized 2003 season, its anyones guess as to the stories that will unfold in 2004 for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). One thing is certain - the LPGA Tours 2004 season should offer an array of interesting and exciting headlines from start to finish. Heres a small sampling of what to look for this season.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika SorenstamThe question is already being asked. What more can Sorenstam do to leave her mark on the game of golf? She is already the Tours all-time leading money winner, a member of the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame, has completed the LPGA Career Grand Slam, led the European Team to Solheim Cup glory on two occasions, competed on the PGA Tour, won 48 LPGA career events and has more Rolex watches than immediate family members. Sorenstam has done it all, but she will tell you what she wants: the Grand Slam, which is being referred to by some folks as the Sorenslam - to win all four major championships in the same year. Only two players, Babe Zaharias in 1950 and Mickey Wright in 1961, swept the majors in the same year, years in which there were only three and two major championship, respectively. It is a lofty goal for Sorenstam, but if she has taught golf fans around the world anything, it is to dream big and go bigger. In fact, it doesnt seem so far-fetched considering she won two majors last year and finished second and fourth in the other two.
Depth of the Tour
If 2003 was any indication of the future of the LPGA, the talent pool across the board will be very deep for many years to come. Young, emerging stars Candie Kung, Angela Stanford, Hee-Won Han and Hilary Lunke all became Rolex First- Time Winners and began to carve out their place on Tour. Not to be outdone, 40-something veterans continued to show that experience and maturity go a long way in making a career. Beth Daniel, Rosie Jones, Meg Mallon and Juli Inkster all won in 2003 and show no signs of slowing down. Will youth continue to be served in 2004, or will experience prevail and help itself to seconds?
International appeal
The LPGA showcases the best womens golf the world has to offer. In 2004, there will be 96 international players representing 24 countries on Tour, and if recent history is any indication, then a good number of these players will end the year as an LPGA tournament champion. Last year, international players representing five different countries accounted for 23 wins on Tour.
Rookie class
With 29 LPGA rookies (13 exempt, 17 international), success is in the cards for these newcomers, and the battle for the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year will be tight. Aree Song, the 17-year-old who requested and received permission from the LPGA to try and qualify for the Tour before her 18th birthday, will garner a lot of attention'not only for her age, but for her game as well. Song, who nearly won the U.S. Womens Open last year as an amateur, is a star in the making. She has made the cut in all six majors she has competed in, and no one will be surprised if she becomes the first rookie since Dorothy Delasin in 2000 to register a win. Shi Hyun Ahn is already one step ahead of Song in that she already has a win under her belt. Ahn, 19, won the 2003 CJ Nine Bridges Classic as a non-LPGA member and now is in the unique situation of beginning her rookie season as an LPGA tournament winner. Rookies Ju-Yun Kim and Reilly Rankin gained exempt status for the 2004 season by finishing in the top five on last seasons Futures Tour money list. They both know how to close out tournaments, as Kim won one title on the Futures Tour and Rankin two last year.
LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame
Karrie Webb is already a lock for the LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame. She has earned the requisite number of points to qualify (27) and is merely waiting to fulfill the 10- year membership requirement. Webb will qualify during the 2005 season. However, a handful of other players are on the cusp of getting those priceless points needed to reach the prestigious LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame. Three wins in 2003 and her first career Vare Trophy have put Se Ri Pak within one point of the LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame. One win is all she needs before waiting for the Hall of Fames 10-year membership requirement, which she would meet in 2007. Laura Davies has 25 points, which leaves her just one major championship win shy of gaining entrance. Dottie Pepper, who returned last year from shoulder surgery that sidelined her in 2002, has 21 points. A player receives one point for each LPGA official tournament win and two for each LPGA major tournament victory. One point is given for each Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honor earned. Entrance into the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame is limited to players who meet the following criteria: must be an active LPGA Tour member for 10 years; much have won/been awarded at least one LPGA major championship, the Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honors; and must have earned 27 points.
Career Grand Slam and Super Career Grand Slam
Six players have achieved the prestigious LPGA Career Grand Slam: Louise Suggs; Mickey Wright; Pat Bradley; Juli Inkster; Annika Sorenstam; and Karrie Webb. Webb, who completed the LPGA Career Grand Slam in 2002 when she won the McDonalds LPGA Championship Presented by AIG, became the first player in LPGA history to achieve the Super Career Grand Slam when she won the 2002 Weetabix Womens British Open. Those active players closing in on the LPGA Career Grand Slam include Laura Davies, Meg Mallon, Se Ri Pak and Jan Stephenson, who all need to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship to achieve the Slam. If Pak accomplishes this task this season, she would become the youngest player in LPGA history to complete the LPGA Career Grand Slam (Webb currently owns that record). LPGA Tour and World Golf Hall of Famers Patty Sheehan and Betsy King both need to win the Weetabix Womens British Open to achieve the LPGA Career Grand Slam. Those closing in on the Super Career Grand Slam include Inkster, who only needs to win the Weetabix Womens British Open, and Laura Davies, Mallon and Stephenson, who need to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Weetabix Womens British Open.