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End of an American Drought

LPGA Tour _newORLANDO, Fla. – YouTube wasn’t invented yet.

Neither was Facebook.

Nobody ever heard of Harry Potter, South Park or American Idol.

It was 1994.

John Travolta was resurrecting his acting career with the release of 'Pulp Fiction', Miley Cyrus was in diapers and Justin Bieber was born.

It’s the year an American last won the LPGA’s Player of the Year award.

“It’s pretty unbelievable that’s the last time an American won it, and that it was 16 years ago,” Hall-of-Famer Beth Daniel said Saturday night from her home in Delray Beach, Fla. “Every time I hear that, I think, `Wow.’”

Daniel was the last American to win the award.

With Cristie Kerr making a strong run this season, Daniel’s name keeps coming up in Kerr’s bid to end the American drought. Kerr’s right there, the Rolex Player of the Year honor within her reach. She must win the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship Sunday to win the award or the American drought extends to a 17th year.

Cristie Kerr
Cristie Kerr has hopes of winning the LPGA Player of the Year award. (Getty Images)

“Tomorrow is what it is, guys,” Kerr said. “It’s the last tournament. It’s the last round of the year.

“God has given me the talent and the heart and the will and the desire, and I’m a grinder. I’ve got all the things to make me successful tomorrow. I just have to go out and do it.”

The Rolex Player of the Year Award is points based, but forget the points. It’s a three-player race on Sunday.

It’s down to this: If Kerr wins, she’s the Player of the Year. If Na Yeon Choi wins, she’s the Player of the Year. If neither wins, Yani Tseng takes home the honor.

Kerr’s three shots off the lead, Choi’s seven back and Tseng’s way, way back.

The fact that the award could come down to a heart-thumping, stomach-churning and nail-biting finish brings back a flood of memories for Daniel. That’s exactly how the race ended 16 years ago when she edged out England’s Laura Davies. The race came down to the final hole of the final tournament that year. It came down to a single putt.

Trailing Daniel by one point in the POY race going to the ’94 Japan Queens Cup, Davies found herself over a 6-foot birdie putt at the final hole. She needed to make the putt to tie for fourth to gain enough points to overtake Daniel as Player of the Year. But, Davies left the putt short. Daniel was in the clubhouse watching on television.

“I felt bad for Laura,” Daniel said. “You want to win on a high note. You don’t want to win on a low note.”

Daniel, however, found the honor satisfying because she wasn’t at her best that season. It wasn’t like 1990, when she won seven times and felt in such command of her game. She had to battle to win four times in ’94. She also won her third Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year.

“Player of Year and Vare Trophy, those awards meant a lot to me,” said Daniel, a 33-time LPGA winner. “They meant a lot because they measure an entire season. Every shot counts.”

Daniel said she never imagined American dominance was about to end after she won Player of the Year in ’94. Daniel’s win was the seventh in a row for Americans, the 28th in the 29-year history of the award.

In ’95, Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam was Player of the Year. In ’96, Davies won it. Sorenstam, Australia’s Karrie Webb and Mexico’s Lorena Ochoa all took turns winning it after that.

“It seemed like Annika was just getting started Monday qualifying back then,” Daniel said. “We were just starting to see Se Ri Pak. Karrie Webb was just starting out. Lorena Ochoa came along later, and those four pretty much dominated.” Like Daniel, Kerr can double up on her awards. She's also in the running for the Vare Trophy. She needs to post a Sunday round that's three shots better than Na Yeon Choi's to claim low-scoring average for the season.

Daniel says she would love to see Kerr turn the tide back to the Americans on Sunday.

“I always pull for Cristie,” Daniel said. “I have a lot of respect for her game. She knows I’m cheering for her.”