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Tuesday, November 20, 2012
LPGA Tour seems stable heading into 2013

By Mechelle Voepel

The LPGA storyline for 2012 was ... that there actually wasn't any particular storyline. Unlike the previous year, when Yani Tseng appeared to be taking over the tour Annika-style, one player didn't dominate the headlines this season.

South Korea's Inbee Park won the money title ($2,287,080) and Vare Trophy for low scoring average (70.21). Stacy Lewis won the LPGA Player of the Year award, the first American to do so since Beth Daniel in 1994. And like Daniel, she did that without winning any of the major championships.

The major titles were spread out. South Korea's Sun Young Yoo took the Kraft Nabisco Championship in a playoff in April. Shanshan Feng became the first LPGA title winner from mainland China when she claimed the LPGA Championship by two strokes in June.

South Korea's Na Yeon Choi rode an amazing third-round 65 on a tough course to a four-stroke victory in the U.S. Women's Open in July. Another South Korean player, Jiyai Shin, torched the field in a runaway nine-shot victory at the Women's British Open in September.

The rookie of the year was So Yeon Ryu, who led the way in top-10 finishes with 16, including one victory. Ryu, also from South Korea, earned her tour card for this year by winning a rain-plagued U.S. Women's Open in 2011.

This LPGA season concluded Sunday, with Choi getting her second victory of the year at the CME Group Titleholders in Naples, Fla. With that $500,000 first-place prize, Choi jumped to second on the season money list, ahead of Lewis. (There's still the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge with the PGA and Champions tours in December, but that's an unofficial event.)

After a 2011 season in which Tseng won seven times, including two majors, she realized that staying atop the mountain can be as hard as climbing to get there. Maybe harder.

Tseng, 23, started 2012 looking as if it were going to be a repeat of 2011, with three victories by late March. But she didn't win again for the rest of the year and talked about how she began to doubt herself and wasn't mentally as sharp as she was used to being.

However, Tseng, who will turn 24 in January, still won $1.43 million this year and remains No. 1 in the Rolex world rankings. Those rankings are calculated over a two-year period, although they are tapered so more recent events weigh more heavily. Tseng's 2011 season was so strong, even the drop-off this year didn't bump her from the top spot.

But what about 2013? Tseng will be looking to regain her mojo, but she will have a lot of competition. And, overall, things appear to be stable-to-improving on the LPGA tour, which is good news after some rough years that saw sponsors and events go away.

Among the things that will be new in 2013: The Evian Masters in France -- long one of the richer purses on tour -- elevates to major status, giving the LPGA five.

Commissioner Mike Whan told reporters last week in Naples that an event in Beijing is expected to be added to the other Asian-based tournaments in the fall. Especially with Feng's breakthrough victory this year, it's expected that China's interest and participation in women's golf will continue to expand.

The tour again says a Solheim Cup-like event that includes the rest of the world (instead of just the United States and Europe) is on the way. But it hasn't been officially announced, nor is it certain what year it would begin. Golf already is going to have another global event for men and women starting in 2016, when the sport becomes part of the Summer Olympics.

Speaking of the Solheim Cup, that's back in the United States in August 2013, to be held at Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colo., south of Denver. Meg Mallon will captain the U.S. team, and Sweden's Liselotte Neumann serves that role for Europe.

Two of the LPGA's major championships may also get a boost based on location. The U.S. Women's Open will be at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., with proximity to the Big Apple perhaps providing even more media coverage.

And the Women's British Open will be held for just the second time at the Old Course at St. Andrews. The famous Scottish track first hosted the event in 2007, and there will always be a certain luster to that place.

Whether one player can own the headlines in 2013 remains to be seen. But especially since it's a Solheim Cup year, there's plenty to look forward to for the LPGA.