Six players battle for top ranking, LPGA history

Six players have a shot at ending the season with the No. 1 ranking. From left, Na Yeon Choi, Jiyai Shin, Yani Tseng, Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen and Ai Miyazato.

Six players have a shot at ending the season with the No. 1 ranking. From left, Na Yeon Choi, Jiyai Shin, Yani Tseng, Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen and Ai Miyazato.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Mike Whan wants the media to concentrate on the present. More specifically, the LPGA’s unprecedented race for year-end accolades. What the commissioner does not want is a flurry of 2011 schedule stories (or transgender stories) to overshadow golf.

“Someone is going to finish this year with the No. 1 world ranking for the first time since Lorena (Ochoa) and Annika (Sorenstam),” Whan told the media before opening the floor to the top 6 players in the world.

“So, please, take the time to learn about this story and write about this story.”

This could be a Whan-centered week, one in which the media grade the new commish on how well he has mended the fences razed by Carolyn Bivens. Word has it Whan didn’t want to release a schedule peppered with TBDs because there are several factors (dates, venues, sponsors, purses, etc.) still in play. He chose instead to break tradition and share the 2011 schedule with players only at a membership meeting Tuesday night.

It looks as though the schedule will be largely similar to 2010, with two additions in China and Taiwan, and two departures in CVS and Jamie Farr (taking a one-year hiatus). Morelia could be a question mark next year, with the absence of Ochoa and, more pressing, a raging drug war in that region of Mexico.

So, in honor of Whan’s wishes, we’ll skip his performance review in this space and concentrate on six women from around the world, all of whom have a chance to make history. Said Whan: “Let this week be about this week.”

Tour media officials trotted in Jiyai Shin, Suzann Pettersen, Yani Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Ai Miyazato and Cristie Kerr at the same time to meet with assembled scribes. Pettersen mumbled amusing comments under her breath and laughed at her friend Kerr, who is staying at Pettersen’s house this week along with Natalie Gulbis. Kerr, the only player whose native tongue is English, answered many questions on behalf of the group. Pettersen couldn’t help but chuckle at what Kerr described as her “humble” attempt to answer a question about dominating the Wegman’s LPGA Championship.

“It was a pretty impressive win, not only for myself,” Kerr said (cue Pettersen chuckles), “(but) I guess (for) the rest of the world. ... It’s a performance I wish I could re-create on command, but that’s not how golf works.”

Kerr mentioned her victory in Rochester marked the first time an American had reached No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings. She believes that winning Player of the Year, however, carries greater importance.

“For me, Player of the Year is kind of it,” Kerr said.

“No. 1 ranking is great, but it doesn’t get you a point toward the Hall of Fame. It’s more bragging rights than anything.”

In Japan, the money list rules, but Miyazato is out of that race. Only Choi has a chance to sweep the awards. Shin said Korean media have placed a great emphasis on Player of the Year, because no Korean has ever won the award.

“In Taiwan, everybody is crazy about this title, too,” Tseng said. “Now I’m trying not to look at the Taiwanese news ... every time I look, I feel a little pressure.”

Tseng said she didn’t even realize she was in the Player of the Year race until the media last month in Guadalajara, Mexico, pointed out that she was leading. Now, she “really wants this trophy.”

Back in September, Shin wasn’t even sure she would return to the U.S. for the Tour Championship. Riddled with stomach problems and overall fatigue since she had an emergency appendectomy in June, Shin thought it might be best to take time off. Strong play in Asia, however, boosted her confidence. She skipped Ochoa’s event in Mexico, taking three weeks off in Korea. She flew to Atlanta last Thursday and drove from her home in Duluth, Ga., to Orlando on Sunday.

“The first thing I have to do is find my concentration for the tournament,” said Shin, who practiced little during the break.

Last year, Shin, known as the Final-round Queen, was one shot away from being Player of the Year. That memory alone should bring everything into focus.

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