2011 in review: Top 10 LPGA storylines

Yani Tseng makes birdie at No. 2 during the final round of the inaugural 2011 Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship.

1. LPGA crowns new dominant player in Tseng

Call it the “Year of Yani.” Twelve wins worldwide (if you count the recent Swinging Skirts event, a stacked invitational in Taiwan), including two LPGA majors and a runner-up at the Kraft Nabisco, for Yani Tseng. She led nearly every statistical category and topped the money list -- all the while, improving her English.

What’s next for Tseng? She’s going to Vegas to ring in the New Year.

Perhaps she's lucky and good.

2. Lexi Thompson’s sweet 16 victory

Thompson’s clinic at the Navistar LPGA Classic won’t soon be forgotten. She owned the RTJ Trail’s Senator Course from the start, hitting the first shot since Memorial Day after the course underwent a summer renovation.

One week later, she was holding the trophy. At 16 years, 7 months and 8 days old, Thompson shattered the previous LPGA record for youngest winner. Marlene Hagge won the 1952 Sarasota Open – an 18-hole event – at 18 years, 14 days. Paula Creamer held the record for a multiround event after winning the 2005 Sybase Classic at 18 years, 9 months and 17 days.

Thompson petitioned to join the tour in 2012 as a 16-year-old. Whan approved, and the world will be watching.

3. Europe’s electric finish at the Solheim Cup

For the sake of the event, Europe needed to win. Suzann Pettersen birdied the last three holes to take down Nike pal Michelle Wie and then celebrated as her rookie teammates secured the cup for Europe for the first time in eight years. The crowd gathered in front of a majestic but empty Killeen Castle in Ireland roared so loud that it was deafening.

4. LPGA adds fifth major

“The Evian” will debut as a major in 2013, giving the LPGA five majors. The tour asked for a “mega redesign” of France's Evian Golf Club, which will be led by American Steve Smyers and begin after next year’s competition. The event will move to September in 2013, with enhanced network TV coverage and a two-tier amphitheater to give fans what the tour has dubbed the “fantastic finish.”

5. Yani Tseng wins at home in Taiwan, draws immense crowds

The scene in Tseng’s homeland was extraordinary. It seemed that almost every fan who climbed the mountain at Sunrise Golf & Country Club walked 18 holes with Tseng. The crowds were so dense that rules officials had to get out of their carts and jog to rulings.

Taiwan set a record Thursday for attendance at any professional golf event, with nearly 12,000 spectators. Organizers say 28,000 were there on Sunday. Tseng is a genuine rock star.

6. No one named Kerr, Creamer, Wie or Pressel claims a title

Hard to believe this foursome came up empty in 2011. In fact, only three Americans won on the LPGA this season, and one, Lexi Thompson, wasn’t even a member of the tour.

Stacy Lewis took her first LPGA title, at the Kraft, while her good friend Brittany Lincicome won twice: ShopRite LPGA Classic and CN Canadian Women’s Open.

Still, it was a lucrative year for Kerr, who finished second on the money list ($1,470,979), with nine top 4s.

7. LPGA players compete for free

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan’s inaugural Founders Cup was met with mixed reviews by LPGA players. Paula Creamer pushed to have the mock purse match the amount being given to charity. She wasn’t the only top-flight American who thought that changes needed to be made. Whan listened, and he delivered.

The result: The purse dropped to $1 million and and the amount of money that went to charity doubled, with $500,000 going to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf and $500,00 to the designated charities of the top-10 finishers.

Whan even managed to keep sponsor RR Donnelley on board for 2012 – with no mock purse.

8. Stacy Lewis edges Yani Tseng at the Kraft; mom injured in celebratory jump

Carol Lewis is back in marathon shape, but her training took a hit when she broke her leg jumping into Poppie’s Pond after her daughter, Stacy, won the Kraft Nabisco.

It was an unfortunate ending to a remarkable run for Lewis, who went toe-to-toe with World No. 1 Tseng and never flinched. We’ll see what organizers do, if anything, to make things safer.

9. State Farm Classic’s 36-year run comes to an end

State Farm decided not to renew as title sponsor of Springfield’s beloved event after 19 years. The Board of Directors recently decided to dissolve the nonprofit corporation after another title sponsor wasn’t found.

The LPGA event was the capital city’s main attraction -- other than Abe Lincoln, of course. The tournament generated $23 million worth of economic activity in Sangamon County, creating 337 jobs and generating 67,000 visitors, according to a study done by Northern Illinois University.

The players weren’t the only ones who wanted it back.

10. Rosie Jones picked whom?

The Ryann O’Toole Solheim Cup pick took most of us by surprise. Heading into the event, O’Toole looked like the U.S. team’s greatest liability, with her results getting worse by the week.

But O’Toole proved to be the gamer whom Jones had imagined, teaming with three vastly different partners in the doubles sessions and finishing 2-0-2. The California surfer did suffer a tough halve in singles, however, when she flubbed a chip shot on the 18th hole to give Caroline Hedwall a moment of glory.

Most would agree, however, that O’Toole will be back.

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