Ten storylines that will rear their heads in 2012 on the LPGA Tour:
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1. Can Yani Tseng win the Grand Slam?
When a player wins five majors by age 22, this fun question becomes relevant at the start of every season. Tseng won two majors in 2011 and finished second to Stacy Lewis at the Kraft Nabisco. Tseng took home a dozen titles worldwide in 2011 and still didn’t get the respect and attention that kind of dominance deserves. Maybe if she wins the Kraft and heads to Rochester — where she won last year by 10 — in top form, more people will take notice. Wouldn’t that be grand?
2. How good is Lexi Thompson?
Her victory in Dubai leaves LPGA followers feeling good about the prospects of 2012. Fans love Thompson’s power game, and her youth — she turns 17 in February — attracts more mainstream media attention. With such a small LPGA schedule, however, she won’t have many opportunities to win, especially if Tseng maintains her current form. It’s hard to imagine Lexi Thompson dominating in her rookie year. But she’s definitely capable of winning multiple LPGA titles.
3. The schedule
Until the LPGA fattens its schedule considerably, this will remain the tour’s hot topic. The 2011 schedule had 23 tournaments, 13 of which were domestic. The flow of the schedule will change in 2012 — with majors more spread out — in part because of the summer Olympics in London. Hopefully, it’s lucky ’13 for LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.
4. Who will rival Tseng?
She won nearly twice the amount of money as her nearest competitor, Cristie Kerr, in 2011. She finished nearly a full stroke ahead of Na Yeon Choi in scoring average. Tseng was the only player on tour to average under 70 on the year (69.66). She poured in 58 more birdies (358) in four fewer rounds than runner-up Stacy Lewis. Tseng won seven times in 22 appearances on the LPGA. Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen and Brittany Lincicome won twice. Simple answer: No one else stands out.
5. When will Paula Creamer win again?
Creamer hasn’t hoisted a trophy since her impressive US Women’s Open victory at Oakmont in 2010. She called 2011 her most difficult year, noting a few growing pains outside the ropes. Creamer, 25, is trying to find her independence. As for her game, she needs more distance. She spent time with instructor David Whelan trying to develop a swing for her driver that will help on bigger courses, without taking away from the strong iron play that put her third in greens in regulation last season.
6. Michelle Wie graduates
Wie’s time at Stanford will come to a close in March. She’ll walk in June. Hard to say what graduating will do to Wie’s game. She’ll be more focused on the tour, which could lead to more victories. But she’ll also miss the creative outlet and independence that Stanford offered. It will be an interesting year of transition for the graduate.
7. Blackwolf Run
The US Women’s Open returns to Blackwolf Run for the first time since 1998, when 20-year-olds Se Ri Pak and amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn battled in a 20-hole playoff. The Kohler, Wis., venue attracted record crowds and high scores. Pak’s victory sparked a golf revolution in South Korea. This year, Tseng looks to complete the career grand slam.
8. Rookies to watch
Besides the obvious (Thompson, see above), there are several former standout college players to keep an eye on: Stephanie Kono, Maude-Aimee Leblanc and Junthima Gulyanamitta. Canada’s Rebecca Lee-Bentham didn’t spend much time in college but shows promise. Kathleen Ekey and Sydnee Michaels played their way onto the LPGA via the Futures Tour. None, however, hold a candle to Thompson.
9. Royal Melbourne
The Alister MacKenzie track received rave reviews at the Presidents Cup in November. LPGA players who watched television coverage of the matches during the CME Group Titleholders already were thinking ahead to 2012, when the ISPS Women’s Handa Australian Open heads to Royal Melbourne Golf Club from Feb. 6-12 for the tour’s first full-field event. It’s always good to see the ladies compete on top-notch tracks.
10. Caroline Hedwall
She won four times as a rookie on the LET in 2011, finishing third on the money list. Hedwall played only six times on the LPGA last season and never finished worse than 45th. The former NCAA champion impressed at the Solheim Cup, throwing more fist-pumps than the average Swede. She should be a force on the LPGA in 2012, when she plays in the US on a more regular basis.