China leads LPGA’s Asian swing
It's a landmark week at the start of an important stretch on the LPGA Tour -- even if it is very, very far away from American spectators.
For the first time, the tour has an official event in mainland China: The Reignwood LPGA Classic starts Thursday outside of Beijing. It's the first event of a five-week swing through the Asian countries of China, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
By the time it's over, Nov. 10 at the Mizuno Classic, we'll see how things such as the money list and Vare Trophy (for lowest scoring average) stand. After that, there will be just two official tournaments left in 2013: the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico and the CME Group Titleholders in Florida.
The LPGA also has made some "good news" announcements since its last event, the Evian Championship won by Suzann Pettersen. On Sept. 23, the tour said it would hold the 2017 Solheim Cup at Des Moines Country Club in Iowa, an event that should draw well in a city and state that have had big attendance for Champions Tour events.
And on Sept. 25, the tour announced that for the first time since 2001, it will have an official money event in January. The Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic will be held Jan. 23-26, 2014. Hopefully, that will help the tournament avoid the monsoon-type weather that shortened it to 36 holes this past May.
This week's event in China reflects the growing popularity of golf in that nation, plus the fact that the country wants to encourage young Chinese players in preparation for golf's return to the Summer Olympics in 2016.
Pettersen is not playing this week, but world No. 1 Inbee Park and No. 3 Stacy Lewis are. Park currently is atop the money list at $2,186,601. Both Pettersen ($1,721,342) and Lewis ($1,548,799) have a chance to join Park in topping the $2 million mark in 2013. Only once before has the LPGA had at least two players earn more than $2 million in the same season, in 2006, when Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb did.
Pettersen (69.700), Lewis (69.716), and Park (69.923) currently are 1-2-3 in scoring average.
Yet the "star" this week in China is No. 9-ranked Shanshan Feng, who was instrumental in getting this tournament on the calendar.
She won the 2012 LPGA Championship, becoming the first player, male or female, from mainland China to claim a major golf championship. Feng is fluent in English and has an outgoing, humorous personality that's made her a favorite among her peers. They are also grateful that her success did so much to spur this event.
This is a big deal in China, and the LPGA players have gotten considerable media attention.
"They are extremely excited to see us," said Michelle Wie, "which makes us really excited to be here."
Wie, Hawaiian-born, said she'd been to Beijing on one other occasion -- on a family trip when she was 8. For a number of players, including Lewis, this is their first visit to China. Several, including Park, visited the Great Wall earlier this week.
Lewis, LPGA player of the year in 2012, dropped from second to third in the world rankings behind Pettersen after the Evian. But with a major, the Women's British Open, among her three wins this season, Lewis has had a good 2013. And she hopes to add to it.
"I was very much ready for the two weeks' break [after Evian]," said Lewis, who leads the tour with 14 top-10 finishes this year. "That is the first break I had since this season started. My game is where it needs to be.
"You always want to play well in this last Asia swing just because there is so much money out for grabs and there are a lot of things on the line."