LPGA gets a glimpse of life after Annika
For the first time in nearly a decade, the LPGA lacks a label. From 1998 through 2002 a big four dominated the tour as Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster, Se Ri Pak and Annika Sorenstam combined to win 16 of the 20 major championships. During the next four years, the Sorenstam era was in full swing as the Swede captured six majors while no one else won more than one.
Which brings us to where we are now: Will there be a new, dominant No. 1, another gang of four, or perhaps one last run at greatness by Sorenstam?
With 11 wins by the age of 25, the latest two weeks ago at the Sybase Classic, Lorena Ochoa certainly has earned the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings. But must she win a major championship before we can call her the best? And what about the three impressive young guns: Morgan Pressel, 18; Paula Creamer, 20; and Brittany Lincicome, 21? They've combined to win six times already, including Pressel's triumph earlier this year at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Will they join Ochoa in a new version of the big four?
And what about Sorenstam? The Swede, who turns 37 in October, has begun discussions about what's next for her. A career as a businesswoman, which started with her golf academy in Orlando, is on the agenda as is perhaps marriage and children.
A ruptured disc that sidelined Sorenstam since prior to the Kraft Nabisco eight weeks ago has complicated her graceful exit from the stage as arguably the greatest player ever in women's golf. She will return at this week's Ginn Tribute Hosted by Annika, but how motivated will she be now that she's back?
No one works harder than Sorenstam, and no one is more motivated. But with 69 victories and 10 majors -- and the all-time records for those marks by Kathy Whitworth (88) and Patty Berg (15) possibly out of reach -- her place in history is already written. While she wants to win every time she tees it up, there are two events that would make this so-far disappointing year a success: a victory in the first Ricoh Women's British Open played at St. Andrews in August, and a Solheim Cup victory for Europe in September in her native Sweden.
For the first time since 2000, the LPGA goes into a major at the McDonald's next month without Sorenstam as the favorite. That much is made clear by her injury. But who is the choice? Ochoa? One of the three kids? Michelle Wie or Cristie Kerr, two puzzling talents? The LPGA is facing life after Annika -- and it raises some interesting questions that should provide entertaining answers.Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.