THE GOLF PAGE
Is LPGA ready for young guns?
Like it or not, their success won't go unnoticed on the women's tour
PAULA CREAMER, Morgan Pressel and Ai Miyazato will be worth the price of admission this week at the inaugural Fields Open in Hawaii. And they are only part of the complex LPGA Tour equation.
It's possible not one of these players will hold the trophy aloft at the Ko Olina Resort this weekend, but their galleries will swell accordingly if any or all are atop the leaderboard going down the back nine of the final round on Saturday.
TEE IT UP
Fields Open in Hawaii
Where: Ko Olina Golf Club
TV: The Golf Channel
These days, the LPGA Tour is seen as the Annika Sorenstam show. If she's not around, casual fans may not tune in, similar to what happens on the PGA Tour whenever Tiger Woods takes a weekend or two off.
For that to change, these well-hyped young women have to seize the opportunity to garner a replay or two on ESPN and snatch a few more headlines in the major dailies for their bold play on the course and their confident air off it.
Creamer is doing her part on the American side of the Pacific, winning four times last year on three continents. She finished second to Sorenstam in money, becoming the youngest and quickest woman to win $1 million on tour, a mark Pressel could break if she follows Creamer's career path.
The 2005 tour rookie of the year, Creamer is confident and not content with recent accomplishments. She expects more from herself. As well as she did last year, Creamer's performance in the majors was not eye-opening.
The California resident tied for 19th at the Kraft Nabisco, tied for third at the LPGA Championship, tied for 19th at the U.S Open and tied for 15th at the Women's British Open.
"I DID WHAT I WANTED to do on tour last year, except win a major," Creamer said. "That was one of my goals. But, you know, I made the Solheim Cup and got rookie of the year, there were things like that. I won top 10 on the money list and that was a little higher than what I expected.
"But as the year went on, I put more pressure on myself. My expectations are so high and if I don't achieve them, then it feels like I have failed if I haven't achieved what I wanted to do."
Not winning a major, or even being competitive in three of them, almost offset what was otherwise a stellar campaign. One of her two international wins was at the Evian Masters in France, where Creamer annihilated a field that included teen sensation Michelle Wie, now 16.
Wie and Lorena Ochoa tied for second, some eight strokes off Creamer's pace.
Wie joining the 132-player field this week makes things more interesting still for Creamer. Wie has been a good measuring stick for all the younger players, no matter how much they agree or disagree with the politics that surround the Punahou School student.
Wie has fared well when Creamer is in the field. As a 15-year-old, she tied for second with Cristie Kerr at the 2005 SBS Open -- Creamer's first event as a tour member, where she finished in a tie for 40th -- and did much better overall in the majors than did Creamer.
Wie tied for 14th at the Kraft Nabisco, finished second to Sorenstam at the LPGA, tied for third at the Women's British Open and tied for 23rd at the U.S. Open after her final-round-82 collapse dropped her from a tie for first with Pressel and Karen Stupples through 54 holes.
AND DON'T FORGET about Pressel.
She made a statement at last week's SBS Open by finishing in a tie for fifth, just three strokes off the winning pace. A loose shot or two kept Pressel from contending with the leaders in her first event as an LPGA Tour member.
"I haven't necessarily set down a specific set of goals, like I want to win three tournaments this year, or I want to make this much money," Pressel said. "I have said that I will work hard, play the best I can this year and see where that puts me. It's my first year and I want to make the most of it. Paula had a great year and if I have a year like hers, I won't be too disappointed."
On the Japanese side of the Pacific, Miyazato is a phenom worthy of Wie-like press. The media room at the opening two events on the LPGA Tour has been dominated by foreign press, mostly Japanese and Korean. And how can you blame them?
As strong as Sorenstam has been, and as much press as Pressel and Creamer have received the last year or so, there's no denying that Asia has made a lasting impression on the LPGA Tour. And the new darling is Miyazato, who won six times on the Japan LPGA circuit last year.
But what caught the attention of the mainstream media was her 12-shot win at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament as a 20-year-old.
After opening with a 70 last Thursday at the SBS Open, Miyazato faded a bit over the weekend with a 75 on Friday and a 72 on Saturday to finish in a tie for 48th and earn $3,539.
Still, she's excited about playing with the world's elite fields and is confident in her ability. More so than Pressel and Creamer, Miyazato has a lot of eyes watching her every move.
"The Q-school was a big confidence booster for me," Miyazato said through a translator.
"I want to be a world-class player. And I'm playing against some of the other world-class players. There is not too much pressure toward the Japanese people.
"But there is also a little toward myself because I want to do well on the tour."