LPGA roundtable: Inbee’s credit, Ko’s start, more

With Q-School having set up everyone’s status for 2014, it’s time to look back at some of the LPGA’s outlooks for next season as well as some top issues of 2013. In this roundtable discussion, our Beth Ann Baldry (@golfweek_baldry on Twitter) and Julie Williams (@golfweekjules) tackle five questions involving some of the tour’s top names.

• • •

Inbee Park chased history with three consecutive major titles. Did she get the credit she deserved?

  • Baldry: Of course not. While Park did go on a NYC media blitz after winning the U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack, the buzz did not transcend the sport. Even at the Home of Golf, where Park would’ve won her fourth straight, the crowd support was disappointing. Some of the main British tabloids even skipped out on St. Andrews. And only one American newspaper writer crossed the pond.
  • Williams: Park’s quest for the Grand Slam was easily the best story in professional golf this year. Still, it didn’t make nearly as many headlines as it should have. In golf circles, Park was a hot topic. Outside of our world, however, it seemed that few knew anything about her, or her dominance of the sport. It’s a shame the story couldn’t have traveled farther – it really was one for the ages.

• • •

Lydia Ko won three professional titles in 2013, bringing her career total to five. Was turning pro the right decision?

  • Baldry: Absolutely. Will Ko miss out on having a regular childhood? Yes. But how many kids would trade their lives for one in which they’re making millions and traveling the world? We don’t question child actors or musicians for dedicating their lives to their craft at an early age. We celebrate Olympic gymnasts, swimmers and skaters who sacrifice normalcy to win gold and pose on a Wheaties box. How is this any different?
  • Williams: In professional sports, “strike while the iron is hot” is usually pretty sound advice. In Ko’s case, it would be hard to justify playing on a college roster after five professional victories. It would be a step down, and frankly, a waste of talent. Junior golf to college golf to professional golf is a good formula for most, but if Ko has figured out how to win on the LPGA, she might as well be getting paid for it.

• • •

Europe wins the Solheim Cup on American soil for a second consecutive victory. Is there something wrong with the U.S. system?

  • Baldry: European golf federations are pouring resources into developing young talent and the results are obvious. There is no such nationwide program here in the U.S., and our players are being overwhelmed by worldwide talent. And, in many cases, being outworked. It’s time to get organized.
  • Williams: The most noticeable difference between the American and European teams at the Solheim Cup was attitude. Led by a brash Suzann Pettersen, Europe was young, fearless and carefree on a course (Colorado Golf Club) where the best putters prevailed. The Americans, meanwhile, seemed to have trouble staying out of their own way. Perhaps the Americans are unfamiliar with match play, or maybe it was just the perfect setup for an American upset. Better luck next time, girls.

• • •

Michelle Wie’s awkward putting stance – a.k.a. “table-topping” – goes the distance in 2013. How much longer will it last?

  • Baldry: Wie claims standing at a 90-angle actually helps her back, but it’s difficult to imagine that posture being a long-term solution. The numbers, however, don’t lie. In 2012, Wie finished 119th in both putting categories – putts per green in regulation and average number of putts per round. This year she’s ranked 25th in putts per GIR and 53rd in total putts. Wie averaged 31.16 putts per round in 2012 and 29.88 in ’13.
  • Williams: Wie’s putting stance is painful to watch, and shocking the first time you see it. If you look only at her stats column, however, the awkwardness almost seems justifiable. Wie was 53rd in putting average for 2013, up from 119th in 2012, 114th in 2011 and 124th in 2010. Hard to imagine that putting posture can last indefinitely (ouch!), but it certainly did the trick this season.

• • •

Lexi Thompson, 18, won twice in the second half of the season. What does that mean for the LPGA?

  • Baldry: Thompson began delivering on the promise she showed as a 16-year-old when she became the youngest to win an LPGA event (a record since trumped by Ko). For a while, it looked like Thompson’s putting might keep her from being any real kind of threat. This fall, however, she changed that. Thompson showed up at the Rolex Awards Reception in Naples last month wearing a tight red dress and cheetah-print pumps. She’s all grown up. And those head-turning looks combined with a powerful swing make her the ideal package for the LPGA. She’s a needle-mover.
  • Williams: As Thompson matures into a striking and powerful young player, she becomes a better draw for the LPGA. Thompson seemed to grow into her hype and her talent this year, truly becoming a face for women’s golf. The tour needs players with whom fans can easily connect.

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