Young Americans trying to make mark
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- As eager as the players were to get going in the second major championship of the LPGA season, the truth is that some didn't mind having a little unscheduled break due to a first-round washout here in suburban Rochester.
"I'm fairly tired, being my fourth week in a row," said Brittany Lang, one of those players who hasn't taken a tournament break in a while. "So it's actually kind of good for me."
As we hit the pause button on the first round of the LPGA Championship while listening to the rhythm of the falling rain, it's a good time to take a look at what's a perpetually intriguing topic on the tour. How about those young Americans? Is there a 2013 major winner among them?
Meg Mallon thinks there might be. The captain of the U.S. Solheim Cup team, Mallon -- a four-time major winner herself -- is keeping a close eye on the brigade that may be playing for her later this summer and who are trying to give the tour a needed boost of red, white and blue.
"I think they are a highly motivated group," Mallon said. "They are developing better at a younger age, the American players. There's more access for them to play, more training and coaching, and that has helped a lot. They don't want to just play out here [on tour], they want to win."
One who has won recently is Jennifer Johnson, a 21-year-old from Carlsbad, Calif., who spent one year at Arizona State and then decided her more immediate educational needs could be better met playing professionally.
Johnson turned pro in 2010, and her rookie year on the LPGA Tour was 2011. She got her first LPGA title in May, winning a birdie binge at the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic in Alabama.
Johnson was among the players who watched the downpour for a while Thursday at Locust Hill Country Club and then skedaddled when play was officially called around noon. She was headed to see a movie with fellow American Lexi Thompson, an 18-year-old who also has one career LPGA victory.
Thompson and Johnson might be spending time together in Parker, Colo., in August as Solheim Cup teammates. They played together in the Curtis Cup, an amateur team event, in 2010. Thompson is currently No. 6 on the U.S. Solheim Cup points list, followed by Jessica Korda (age 20), Lizette Salas (23), Lang (27) and Johnson.
The core five of the Solheim team will be Cup veterans Stacy Lewis, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford and Brittany Lincicome; they are atop the points list. Of that group, Lewis (28), Lincicome (27) and Creamer (26) are still in their 20s. Lang also previously has played in the Solheim Cup.
Lewis and Kerr -- who at 35 is a month older than Stanford -- have been ranked No. 1 in the world. Lewis, Kerr and Creamer are all major-championship winners.
Lewis was the world's top-ranked women's player earlier this year before falling behind South Korea's Inbee Park, and she's the most recent American to win a major, the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Lewis was LPGA Player of the Year in 2012, the first American to claim that honor since Beth Daniel in 1994. She likes the camaraderie with her fellow Americans, but she enjoys the rivalry aspect, as well.
"We need to be competitive with each other," Lewis said. "I think being the top American -- whether you're No. 1 in the world or not -- you're going to have a lot of responsibilities.
"I'm OK with that. I don't mind it. I'm growing into that role, and I want kids to go to college, get their degrees, and then come out and do this. You can turn pro at 23 and still become No. 1 in the world."
That was Lewis' path, and players such as Stanford (TCU), Lang (Duke), Salas (USC) and Johnson also either graduated from or at least spent time in college. Kerr, Creamer, Lincicome and Thompson all turned pro while still teenagers.
Mallon, 50, came from a different generation. She played at Ohio State, joined the LPGA at age 23 and didn't win her first LPGA title until she was 27. She got her first major at 28. But she finished with 18 victories on the tour and played in the Solheim Cup eight times.
She might have as many first-timers as veterans on her Solheim team in August. And by that time, all but one major -- the newest to have that distinction, the Evian Championship in September -- will have been completed. For Solheim standings, double points are awarded for finishes in major championships.
The U.S. team will be composed of the top eight in Solheim points, the next two highest in the world rankings and then two captain's selections by Mallon. Among the other 20-something Americans who are in the Solheim mix are Gerina Piller, a 28-year-old who finished tied for sixth here at the LPGA Championship last year, and Michelle Wie, 23. Piller is No. 11 on the points list, and Wie -- who has played twice previously in the Solheim Cup -- is No. 13. Katie Futcher, 32, is No. 12.
"American golf going forward looks fantastic with these young players," Mallon said. "And it's good for me that we have these three majors coming up because it's going to show who can stand that kind of pressure."