The great American hope: LPGA Kia Classic Preview
By Vince Robitaille
If one were to inspect the future of the game, said one would quickly notice that, if the Eastern promises hadn’t been fulfilled already – a rather self-explanatory case could be made that it has been for quite some time, if only, by quickly glancing at the current Rolex World Rankings – they shall be in a fortnight. As a matter of fact, two lone Americans are currently part of the top 10 amateur players and the uproar-inducing duo that shall take the LPGA by storm, come 2014 – date at which Yours Truly expects them to turn professional, that is, of course, if the Reggie Bush-type investigation presently being led by the USGA, doesn’t accelerate the process – namely the Jutanugarn sisters, are amongst the army of Australasians and South Africans individuals who, in all likelihood, shall cement the need for an adjustment of the current Solheim Cup format, no matter how exalting it might have proved itself last summer; I did pull off my best Severiano impressions upon witnessing Pettersen’s monstrous putt on 17th and Hedwall’s comeback halve. While the power balance will continue to shift towards dawn, the real question is not who will make up the top 25, but who has what it takes to put a halt to the seemingly inevitable transformation of the LPGA into a yearlong chase for the No. 2 spot on the money list. The Kia Classic providing us with the first full field of the season, a quick flyover of its American offerings shall enable us to isolate who might just, keeping up with our previous installation’s gunslinger allegory, have enough bullets to take down sharpshooting Yani Tseng.
While the natural choice, nowadays, seems to point towards Evian Masters winner, 17-year-old Lexi Thompson, Yours Truly would shift his gaze, when it comes to identifying the Great American Hope, towards a Florida-native making her return to action five weeks after literally bursting through the front door, reminding everyone of the tremendous upsides and potential she showcased through her amateur days, in a clutch performance; landing her first professional victory in Melbourne. Ergo, I’d invite you to pay attention to the other blonde bomber this weekend, Jessica Korda.
Taking our proverbial stroll in the desert to wonder and ponder today, the omission of the European up-and-comers, especially when it comes to the person of Caroline Hedwall who so happens to, arguably, be one of the best ball strikers on the LPGA Tour already as well as our early pick to win the Ricoh British Open, might appear as a fallacy. That being said, this finds itself an outlook on the potential No. 1s amongst the bearers of the Old Glory and, concurrently, on the biggest attraction this weekend as all those deemed “plausible messiahs” of American golf are in the field; Michelle Wie’s days at Stanford coming to an end, as we speak, only adds to this proposition.
Reverting back to this week’s confrontation – one that shall, over the years, define both former Curtis Cup’s teammates’ careers – and, concordantly, to our search for the would-be sheriff of the West, starting with the most mitigated aspect, i.e. their game, seems adequate to us; keeping the intangibles for later.
Even though stroke average is a probant indicative of a golfer’s consistency, it doesn’t land itself well to the evaluation of potential; for instance, while the Stacy Lewises and Morgan Pressels of the golfing world will unswervingly average around 1.5 wins a season throughout their careers, it is fairly obvious that their limitations render them no shot at overtaking Tseng. Athleticism shall then be at the forefront of the prerequisites and, bearing that in mind, the need for a bombing and gauging thoroughbred, preferably with high/high flight characteristics, makes itself felt. In that aspect, setting aside Lincicome and Hurst who’ve had time to, well, plateau, Korda who could be aptly and literally described as a thoroughbred, gets the nod over Thompson. While the cadet of the American duo can still move the ball about a kilometer, the eldest can thump it a country mile and exhibited flashes, both in the Amateur ranks as well as through her breakout party Down Under, of a spectacular long game. It’s that showcase of red-zone prowess that has us grinning at the idea of par-5 and US Open-type par-4 domination. Both teenagers having what we could describe as still immature putters, a slight edge could be given to Thompson when it comes to wedge play and the overall short game.
Moving on to bigger issues, specifically intangibles and marketability, Korda answered numerous questions on February 12, many of which had been left lingering ever since her disappointing performance in the 2010 US Women’s Amateur final; a letdown that saw the Cox Trophy slip through her hands and wind up in the most receptive ones of, then underdog and subsequent back-to-back champion, Danielle Kang. While the expression “disappointing” might seem overly harsh, Korda, up until the ultimate match, had demonstrated a swashbuckling attitude, quite unassumingly brushing away any average effort on her part, only to better knock down additional nails in the respective coffins of her adversaries; such an attitude seemingly vanishing during the last 36 holes to make place for sub-par, in relation to her previous displays, ball striking and an apparently shrunken hole. A shaky first professional campaign in addition to a noticeable grind during the late stages of the Australian Open could have kept the case open, but that was before the clutch Korda of old came out all guns blazing on the 17th to get into a six-way playoff with prominent LPGA figures of which she’d dispose in two holes. Providing the world with the proof that she could pull through under pressure might not corroborate, de facto, the fact that she represents the great American hope, over the heralded Lexi Thompson who has accomplished the same feat last November, but her effervescent personality and ease in front of the camera – see her 11 minutes on the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive, amongst others – will. Predicting that Jessica Korda will rapidly turn into the LPGA’s flagship spokesperson, the sponsors’ darling and the crowd favorite, seems far from ludicrous at this point; predicting that she’s first in line to overtake Yani Tseng has World no.1 … Well, the hunt starts tomorrow in Carlsbad, Calif.