Solheim captain: College first, then LPGA
Stacy Lewis may have been the lone American in the LPGA's top 10 when she captured the No. 1 ranking two weeks ago, but the assumption that the 28-year-old is alone when describing the current state of U.S. women's golf would be patently incorrect, said Meg Mallon.
The Solheim Cup team captain said last week the U.S. is doing "quite well," in fact, as competition for spots on the roster tightens this week at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
But from my perspective, I'm looking at the Solheim Cup list and I see a lot of good American players playing some really good golf right now.Meg Mallon, Solheim Cup captain
"Because we are such a global game, we are seeing so many more countries involved and when you see that, you're going to see Americans spread out more," Mallon said. "But from my perspective, I'm looking at the Solheim Cup list and I see a lot of good American players playing some really good golf right now."
And Lewis' current position at the top is a solid advertisement for U.S. golf.
"I think the tour for American golf, we need a face right now," Lewis said Tuesday at a pre-tournament news conference. "We need people to kind of get aboard and come out and watch us play and see what we have out here. I think there are a lot of young Americans playing really good golf right now that people don't know about. I think as a tour we're moving in the right direction.
"I'm really excited to hopefully kind of start it."
Mallon said five players are locked in for the Solheim Cup team with seven positions open. She is allowed two picks two weeks before the biennial showdown against Europe, Aug. 13-18 in Parker, Colo.
"It's wide open right now," Mallon said.
The top five in the Cup point standings are veterans Lewis, Paula Creamer, 26 (now No. 10 in the Rolex world rankings), Cristie Kerr, 35, Angela Stanford, 35 and Brittany Lincicome, 27. After the top group, the next four -- Lexi Thompson, 18, Brittany Lang, 27, Jessica Korda 20, and Lizette Salas, 23 -- are tightly packed, and much is at stake this week with points doubled at the Kraft Nabisco.
"There's not much you can [simulate] to what it's like in the Solheim Cup except to be in contention at a major championship," Mallon said. "I'd love to see young players who have accumulated points, finish fifth to 12th, get in contention and see how they handle that."
Still, Mallon said she is hoping for more veteran infusion on the team, like 2011 team members Michelle Wie, 23 and Juli Inkster, 52, a player and assistant captain in Ireland when Lewis was a rookie member and the U.S. lost in a dramatic come-from-behind finish by Europe, 15-13.
"I'm glad we have the leadership in place among our top five," Mallon said. "The next seven could be first-timers or some of those veterans who could find a way back to the team. We're highly motivated after losing such a close match in Ireland. We haven't lost at home yet and we don't plan on doing it.
"As we've seen in the Ryder Cup, it comes down to singles. That's what makes it such an exciting event -- who wants it more?"
As a role model for U.S. golf and for youngsters in particular, there may be no one better at the moment than Lewis.
"For the U.S. tour, it certainly is really good to see an American player No. 1, but more so for the really quality person she is and the path Stacy took to get there," Mallon said. "And it's not only good for Americans but a global thing for women's sports in itself."
Even Yani Tseng, the vanquished former No. 1, said days ago, "I'm happy for Stacy. [Her No. 1 ranking] is good for American golf ..."
"The thing everyone is missing about Stacy," Mallon said, "is here's a kid who at 17 [because of a back condition], didn't know if she was ever going to play golf again. Then she gets her college degree [ from the University of Arkansas in finance and accounting] with honors, plays amateur golf and goes undefeated in the Curtis Cup [for amateur golfers]. She is a highly educated, bright girl but can flat-out play golf. And now at 28, she's No. 1.
"It goes back to all these kids who have felt it necessary to turn pro at 16 and 17 years old. Have any of them been No. 1? To me, [Lewis] is the greatest lesson to show every young golfer around the world and it's the reason she's going to sustain this success, because of the path she has taken."
Teenagers on the LPGA tour are certainly nothing new, but aside from Thompson, most U.S. golfers presently on tour and ranked among the top 75 are 20 and older, like No. 49 Morgan Pressel, 24; No. 61 Danielle Kang, 20; No. 62 Gerina Piller, 28; and No. 75 Nicole Castrale, 34.
Of the nine amateurs who have received exemptions to play at the Kraft Nabisco, the much-heralded Lydia Ko, 15, from New Zealand is the youngest. Of the five Americans, only two -- Ashlan Ramsey, 17, from Milledgeville, Ga., and Alison Lee, 18, from Los Angeles -- are still teenagers.
University of Florida senior Isabelle Lendl, daughter of former tennis great Ivan Lendl, is 21; Duke junior Lindy Duncan is 22; and USC sophomore Doris Chen is 20.
"Jessica Korda, I think has finished inside the top 20 almost every week. Gerina Piller has played great lately," Lewis said. "Danielle Kang. Just a lot of names that I don't think people know. I wouldn't be surprised if they're up there this week.
"I want more successful young Americans coming up behind me. If there are kids that are going to school and getting their degrees and graduating and then coming out here and being successful, then I think I did a good thing."
Mallon is an adamant proponent of young players attending college. Wie was 15 when she joined the LPGA tour to much anticipation but she has only won two tournaments as a pro. Currently ranked 86th in the world, Wie graduated from Stanford in 2012 with a degree in communications.
"I'm not saying turning pro is a bad thing at a young age, but they shouldn't stop educating themselves, either," Mallon said. "I've seen it so much on our tour and I always say, college is not so much where you grow up but where you grow away [from parents]."But I don't see that, unfortunately. I see parents [traveling with] their children on tour and that's not necessarily healthy. At 28, Stacy is an independent, well-adjusted woman who can handle more because of the path she took. ... Golf is a sport where, as you can see with Tiger Woods, you get better in your late 20s, early 30s. I won my second open at 41."
Lewis said even if there are not a host of other Americans competing for the top spot, her No. 1 ranking shows that "we're still here, American golf is still strong . . . I think me doing what I'm doing has opened [young golfers'] eyes a little bit that you don't have to be a superstar like Michelle Wie to be one of the best, that you can just work hard and work your way up there."