By Vince Robitaille
The first addition of the year to the LPGA tournament schedule is upon us. If you don’t pay attention it might take you by surprise, not because of the venue on which it is played, but since it’s getting a head start, literally. In fact, the LOTTE Championship presented by J Golf represents the next step in the shift of professional golf from North America to Asia as, for the first time, a sanctioned event on one of the “main” Tours will begin on a Wednesday on American soil in order to comply with its sponsor’s schedule back – or should I say forward, basing myself on the time difference – in Korea.
One has to wonder if this represents the future of the game, from a televisual standpoint, and that our Sundays will soon be golf-free, at least on a part-time basis. Actually, who knows, this could prove to be the solution to the football riddle that has visibly puzzled the PGA Tour officials for quite some time, but that’s another story.
After a four year hiatus, the LPGA returns to Ko Olina Golf Club on the beautiful island of Oahu to get right back in the thick of things after a few weeks off to
a) cool down before the impending mid-season stretch, and
b) come to grips with the turmoil of April 1st.
The last time that the world’s premier female golfers set foot on the aforementioned course, Paula Creamer came out victorious with an aggregate score of 16-under, besting her closest competitor, Jeong Jang – now 299th in the Rolex Rankings – by a single stroke. While the LOTTE Championship officially represents a brand new event, one has to expect the Pink Panther, who’s now slowly picking up the pace after what has been a long post-injury drought, to treat this as a title defense. Taking these facts into consideration, expect the former U.S. Open and, now defunct, Fields Open champion to impose the rhythm early. Amongst those who’ll witness her attempt at a roaring start is the now infamous South Korean sensation, I.K. Kim. It will be interesting to see how the Kraft Nabisco Championship runner-up will handle herself through her first two rounds in Honolulu, especially as the course penalizes leftward drives harshly, a tendency which has crept in when she finds herself under pressure. Steady Stacey Lewis will round out what arguably constitutes one of the three highlighted groupings. Counting her out on a course that sets up in similar fashion to the Rancho Mirage Country Club would seem highly unadvised; the same could be said of Angela Stanford who finished in a tie for seventh in the final Fields Open.
While the odds of the triumphant golfer, come Saturday afternoon – this is ever-so peculiar to put down on paper – coming from the Kerr, Pettersen, Tseng-threeball are far greater, no group will get more attention than No.23. In fact, at precisely 8:55 a.m. tomorrow morning, the most marketable players not named Yani Tseng all tee off in what will officially launch a rivalry that will last through many years; one to be the flag bearer of American golf. Hometown hero and once heralded messiah of the Star-spangled Banner, Michelle Wie, will be confronted to the young athletes expected to fill the void left by what can be referred to, in relation to the Hawaiian’s potential, as her underachievements. The Lexi Thompson-Jessica Korda confrontation having been discussed profusely in a previous installation, see: The Great American Hope, it’s now time to simply sit back and relax as the three young stars clash for the first time.