You know the old adage in the women’s game: The LPGA season doesn’t really begin until the ShopRite Classic.
OK, so it’s not so old, but that’s what this week feels like with the 54-hole event beginning Friday at Seaview’s Bay Course in Galloway, N.J., like the LPGA season is beginning in earnest.
After a stop-and-start, stop-and-start opening to the season, the LPGA is gearing up for a summer run with six events in June and July, three of them major championships, including the Wegmans LPGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open in back-to-back starts.
The top 10 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings would all be teeing it up this week if not for Suzann Pettersen’s withdrawal due to sickness, a lingering malaise from a battle with the flu.
“It’s nice to actually have a normal schedule coming up now,” Paula Creamer said in a telephone interview on the eve of the ShopRite LPGA Classic. “I’ve always liked to play in as many tournaments as I can. I feel like I do my best when I’m playing a lot, when I’m competing a lot. It’s been a difficult stretch because the schedule’s been so up and down. Finally, we can get some momentum going.”
Entering the sixth month of the year, Creamer’s played just six stroke-play events. She’ll play that many in June and July alone.
If a player gets hot now, she could put a strong grip on all the tour’s big prizes.
With the three majors coming up, there’s a lot of money, Rolex world-ranking points and Player-of-the-Year points to be won, not to mention Solheim Cup points.
The four richest purses of the year are played in consecutive events in June and July: Wegmans LPGA Championship ($2.5 million), U.S. Women’s Open ($3.25 million), Evian Masters ($3.25 million), Ricoh Women’s British Open ($2.5 million).
“You want to be able to peak when you have to in the majors, you need to get points, to move up the boards,” Creamer said. “At the same time, you want to play well every tournament.”
Creamer, who will defend her title at the U.S. Women’s Open at the Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado next month, is looking for some swing changes to kick in and spur a productive summer run. She’s reporting feeling healthy, with intestinal maladies and injuries finally behind her. The ShopRite was Creamer’s first tournament back after surgery on her left thumb last year. She finished seventh and three weeks later won her first major.
“I want to be the No. 1 American, and I want to be the No. 1 player in the world, but that's not going to change overnight,” Creamer told reporters at ShopRite on Thursday. “I know that it's going to take some time.”
Like most of the elite players, Creamer plans to play every event this summer.
With so much at stake in this two-month window, there’s pressure to make something happen beginning this week.
World No. 1 Yani Tseng will be guarding against trying to force the action.
“I felt a little pressure [being No. 1],” Tseng said. “Now I feel I’m ready to go and ready to rock.”
Tseng missed the cut at the Avnet LPGA Classic in her last stroke-play start. She’s battling a sore shoulder that unexpectedly developed this week but expects to be ready to play Friday.
“When you become No. 1 in the world, you can start feeling like you have to play well instead of wanting to play well,” said Gary Gilchrist, Tseng’s swing coach. “I think she was starting to try too hard on the greens and was getting frustrated.”
Gilchrist’s working with Tseng on being comfortable with the expectations and pressure that come with the No. 1 ranking.
“I’m trying not to think too much about rankings and those kinds of things,” Tseng said.
Getting comfortable with mounting pressure is key to all the LPGA pros with the stakes so high this summer.