LPGA roundtable: Big 3, Ko, Pinehurst, more
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Which of the Big Three (Stacy Lewis, Suzann Pettersen and Inbee Park) will have the biggest 2014?
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- Baldry: Stacy Lewis. The pressure that comes with trying to defend at the first three majors will be too much for Inbee Park to overcome. She’ll be mentally exhausted from the run-ups and the high expectations. Lewis didn’t win Rolex Player of the Year, but that Vare Trophy award tells us she played some of the best golf of her life. She’ll be confident heading into ’14 and ready to pounce. Still not convinced Suzann Pettersen will allow herself to play to her potential. It’s a head game for her.
- Williams: Among that contingent, Inbee Park seems the most steady – or maybe the most unconscious (a good quality in golf!). Park has the perfect temperament for the game, and I think her three major victories this season did wonders for her confidence. She might not chase another Grand Slam next season (or maybe ever again – winning the first three majors in a season is a very big deal), but I believe she’ll be the player to beat again in 2014. It will all depend on her putting, and whether it remains as solid as it was in 2013.
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Will the Pinehurst experiment be good for the women’s game?
- Baldry: LPGA players have many legitimate concerns. The overriding sentiment among the big names on tour is that the USGA should have let the ladies go first. The traffic from the men’s Open and the toll the course will take puts the women at a disadvantage from the start. For example, the divots taken by PGA Tour players are significantly larger than those taken by the women. Will the media stay on a second week for the women? Will the fans? Too bad they can’t take a mulligan on this one.
- Williams: For the sake of the sport, I’d like to see this one go off without a hitch, but there are probably too many variables. Hard to imagine Pinehurst won’t be completely trampled by the time the women arrive, and weather delays (read: Monday finish) could present a major scheduling problem. It was a good idea in theory, but in practice, the women get the short end of the stick on this one.
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Lydia Ko won her first professional title in her second pro start. What can we expect from the 16-year-old in her rookie season?
- Baldry: Is it too much to say she might end the year at No. 1? She’s 16, already has five professional titles to her credit and is ranked No. 4. She will have to make some adjustments playing a bigger schedule, but the adrenaline and the freshness of it all will push her through the season. While Ko isn’t likely to end the year on top, there’s sure to be a great highlight reel along the way. 2014 worldwide victory total: Two.
- Williams: The little “a” won’t appear beside Ko’s name anymore, but I don’t see much reason to think anything else will change for Ko’s first professional season. At 16, Ko is carefree, competitive, and really talented. She figured out how to win in a professional field almost immediately. And what kid wouldn’t want to play for thousands of dollars? The money is just a bonus for her at this point, not her livelihood. There’s no pressure there.
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Who is on the verge of a monster year in 2014?
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- Baldry: Shanshan Feng. Watching Feng play down the stretch, one can’t help but wonder if she even knows she’s leading the tournament. There’s an effortlessness about Feng that suggests she has the kind of mindset needed to win scores of titles. Feng hated to see the season come to an end after going 1-2-T8-1 in her last four events. And who can blame her?
- Williams: Lexi Thompson seemed to grow up a lot this year after two LPGA victories. She carried herself well at the Solheim Cup, and a partnership with Stacy Lewis there was good for her. At 18, Thompson is coming into her own, and could be a much bigger factor in 2014. That would be a good thing, considering the number of followers Thompson has attracted with her youth, bright wardrobe and big smile.
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Why should fans tune in to watch the LPGA’s new International Crown?
- Williams: Because it’s a team format, and that’s something not often seen in professional golf. The tournament allows for eight teams to go head-to-head instead of just two, like at the Solheim Cup. It certainly is cause to be patriotic. Cue the face paint.
- Baldry: Because countries will be going head to head, which means America’s best can take on South Korea’s best for ultimate bragging rights. With no captains! The points system will likely confuse players, fans and media. But there could be great drama as players decide among themselves who to put out for a playoff or the order of their lineups. While the eight countries have qualified, the actual teams won’t be finalized until the week of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Countries that are in: South Korea, Japan, Australia, Taiwan, Spain, Sweden, Thailand and the United States. Let’s hope there’s great drama this first time around and that fans show up to see it.