Rivalries roll along in LPGA

Bill Snier

There have been pretenders to the PGA Tour throne – Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh. But, as his performance in the U.S. Open demonstrates, Tiger Woods stands alone on the PGA Tour.

On the LPGA Tour, a rivalry that appeared to be in the making just a year ago will be short-lived. While 26-year-old Lorena Ochoa continues her roll with six wins this season and 17 overall, the long-standing No. 1 player, 37-year-old Annika Sorenstam, announced May 13 that she is retiring from competitive golf after this season. Sorenstam has 72 career wins, including three in 2008.

“I think we all were taken a little aback by the timing of it,” said Angela Stafford, who joined eight fellow tour pros Monday for the annual Clearview Legacy Foundation LPGA Pro-Am in East Canton, Ohio.

“She was getting so close to Kathy Whitworth’s record (88 career victories). But with her injury, she had time to sit back and start thinking about a lot of things in her life,” said Renee Powell, Clearview pro and co-tournament director, referring to Sorenstam’s 2007 back and neck problems.

Australian Katherine Hull was informed of Sorenstam’s pending announcement a few hours prior to the media conference.

“In a way, I was surprised because she has been pretty healthy and still plays great golf,” said Hull, currently 50th on the LPGA money list. “Women can play into their late 40s out here and still be competitive. But I understand she has other priorities right now.”

LPGA Hall of Famer Betsy King, captain of the 2007 U.S. Solheim Cup team, feels those priorities played into that decision.

“Annika had put so much of herself into being the best in the world that instead of backing down and not playing as well, she chose to go out on her terms,” King said.

Now, the rivalry of Nos. 1 and 2 on the money list will last through just this season. Will this hurt the LPGA Tour, which the players feel is on an upward swing?

“Any time one of the legends of the game leaves, it’s going to hurt a bit,” said Stafford, a member of King’s winning Solheim team and No. 17 on the LPGA money list with $354,000 in earnings.

“But I’ve said that every No. 1 that comes along always seems to be a little better. Time will tell if Lorena is better than Annika, and then someone will come along to challenge Lorena.”

King feels Ochoa already was gaining the upper hand on Sorenstam.

“It’s more like a generational handing over of the reins ... more like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus,” said King, who has 34 career LPGA titles.

“I think, head-to-head, Lorena can beat her. Annika raised the bar, and I think Lorena can take it to the next level.”

Betsy Clark, the LPGA’s vice president of professional development, said officials knew “Annika is her own person.”

“When she had her injury problems last season, it gave her time to reflect and put some time into some of the things she was doing beyond playing,” Clark said. “She’s leaving on her terms.”

But, Clark said, rivalries are far from dead on the LPGA Tour.

“The depth of talent on our tour is so deep right now, we won’t be at a loss for rivalries,” Clark said. “Annika has a legacy going, and it would have been nice to maintain it a while longer. But the rivalries and personalities of others are going to come out.”

Anyway, as Clark warned, “this year isn’t over with yet.”

Supporting Clearview

LPGA pros participated in Monday’s pro-am event after opening with a clinic, led by current touring players Katherine Hull and Angela Stafford with help from Catherine Duggan.

“We’re here to support Renee (Powell) and her family in this,” co-tourney director Betsy King said. “This course is part of American history.”

Helping out

Joining Hull, Duggan and King at the event were Barb Mucha, Murle Breer, Cathy Johnston-Forbes, Angela Stafford and Futures Tour player Kelly Froelich along with Betsy Clark, the LPGA’s vice president of professional development. They also took part in Sunday’s “Evening with the LPGA” at the McKinley Grand Hotel.

Views on Clearview

Clark referred to Clearview, the only course built, designed and owned by an African-American, as “a piece of heaven.”

“This is a historic site that happens to be a golf course. ... It’s just golf, not a development, not tennis, not swimming. It’s as pure as golf can be.”

Golf Fore Africa

King reported Golf Fore Africa, an LPGA initiative providing care and support for children in Rawanda, has raised more than $200,000 to date.

“We have begun more projects with the funds, including a medical clinic and houses for AIDS orphans,” King said. “It’s going very well.” For information, visit: www.firstgiving.com/golfforeafrica.

Advice for Azinger?

Since the U.S. women proved successful in the Solheim Cup on foreign soil last October, team captain King was asked if she had any advice for incoming Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger.

“Not really,” King said. “I really didn’t have to do much to get this team ready. We had a lot of fun, and I had great people around me giving me advice. Just be prepared.”

Tour is healthy

Unlike the perceived end of the “Tiger boom” in golf, Clark feels the LPGA Tour is in its best position ever.

“The unique globalness of our tour draws people in,” Clark said. “We have players representing 26 different countries, and we travel to 12 different countries carrying the message of golf.”

The Repository