2004: Answers await LPGA play

Questions abound as the LPGA starts its 55th season:

First and foremost, what can women’s golf do for an encore after all the positive publicity generated by Annika Sorenstam’s foray onto the PGA Tour?

Not to worry, says commissioner Ty Votaw.

“It’s going to be a very, very good year,” he told Golfweek. “We have a lot of momentum heading into the year, like we had last year. It’s the third year of our business plan, all the fan numbers are up and it’s something that we’re very pleased with. All of our events are returning from last year. All the storylines are continuing with Annika.”

Or being created. Already, the LPGA is hyping her quest for a “SorenSlam” – victories in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open and the Weetabix Women’s British Open. Winning all four majors in one season is the only thing missing from Sorenstam’s resume, so she’s cutting back her schedule a bit, focusing only on the major championships. It’s a gamble, because the LPGA could use more Annika, not less.

Can anyone knock Sorenstam off her pedestal? Se Ri Pak had three victories and 20 top-10 finishes last season, yet still believes she has something to prove. Karrie Webb had a down year by her standards, winning only once and finishing 11th in earnings. She went through rigorous offseason workouts and is motivated to regain the top spot.

Who among the young Americans will establish themselves as consistent contenders? The Solheim Cup is 17 months away and the veterans (Juli Inkster, Beth Daniel, Meg Mallon and Rosie Jones) can’t carry the U.S. squad forever. Can Beth Bauer, Natalie Gulbis, Hilary Lunke, Dorothy Delasin or Christina Kim gain a spot on Nancy Lopez’s team?

Who will challenge Aree Song for Rolex Rookie of the Year honors? The 17-year-old was granted a special exemption and is the clear favorite for top rookie. As an amateur, Song made 13 cuts in 15 LPGA events. She’s 6-for-6 in cuts made in major championships, including a fifth place at the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open.

Look for her competition among first-year players to come from Futures Tour graduates Stacy Prammanasudh, Ju-Yun Kim and Reilley Rankin; Q-School co-medalist Isabelle Beisiegel; and past Curtis Cup stars Meredith Duncan and Laura Myerscough.

When will Lorena Ochoa break through? The pride of Mexico didn’t win during her rookie year, which may have been the biggest surprise of 2003.

Is the “Korean issue” dead? In response to strained relationships with Korean players after allegations of rules infractions, the LPGA appointed Grace Park to its Executive Committee as a non-voting member. It also hired a Korean player relations coordinator to help deal with language and culture differences.

What impact will Michelle Wie have on the LPGA? The teen-age phenom has the potential to dominate – when she matures (and when she decides to focus her efforts on competition against her own gender). On second thought, let’s defer that question until at least 2005.

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