The 2012 LPGA season officially kicks off this week in Melbourne, Australia with the ISPS Handa
Women’s Australian Open, as the LPGA returns to Australia for the first time in more than a decade.
And for the first time in its storied history, Royal Melbourne Golf Club will be the host of a women’s
professional golf event with 156 players competing this week for a $1.1 million purse.
A total of six players in the top-10 in the Rolex Rankings will be competing this week at Royal Melbourne, including defending champion and Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng. Among those looking to challenge Tseng this week are Rolex Rankings No. 2 Suzann Pettersen, who is coming off a two-win season on the LPGA Tour in 2011, and No. 4 Cristie Kerr (pictured).
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng will begin her quest this week to replicate a dominant 2011 season. First up for Tseng will be trying to capture the LPGA’s season-opening event for the second straight season.
Last year, Tseng won her first four worldwide events of the year on various tours including the ISPS
Handa Women’s Australian Open, which at the time was an event on the Ladies European Tour, and the
LPGA’s 2011 season-opening Honda LPGA Thailand. Tseng captured seven LPGA Tour titles in 2011
and a total of 12 victories worldwide while establishing herself as the clear player to beat in women’s golf.
So what does Tseng hope to accomplish in 2012 following such a stellar 2011 season?
“Hopefully it will be a good start for the year,” Tseng said. “I’ll try to play my best every tournament. Last year is over. This is a new year for me. I have been working real hard in the off-season to change my swing a bit, to make it more consistent. I think I am ready for this year.”
One thing that Tseng did during the off-season was to make a slight tweak to her swing. Her goal was to cut back on the amount of effort she needed to put into each swing yet still maintain her distance, after finishing first in driving average on the LPGA Tour in 2011.
“I feel I am swinging easier and striking the ball better,” Tseng said. “Now I feel that if I swing 70-80 percent, the ball is still flying better than before. I always tried to swing really hard. Now I don’t swing so hard but the ball still goes that far. I am very happy about that…I can still rip it. “
For most of the LPGA players, this week marks the first time that any of them have played the Composite course at Royal Melbourne since the club had never previously hosted a women’s professional event. There were many rave reviews of the course that’s been ranked as one of the top 10 in the world.
And one aspect of the Royal Melbourne course that everyone took notice of right away was the challenging greens.
“What a spectacular golf course,” said Cristie Kerr. “It is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The green complexes are so severe and so fast. You really have to know what you are doing out there, especially for the first week of the year.”
Queensland native Karrie Webb acknowledged that these are the types of greens that the players don’t see very often over the course of a season, typically at a U.S. Open style venue.
“It is more than pace here. It is the slope,” Webb said of the greens. “You can have a downhill putt and know it is going to be quick. Yesterday I still hit one six feet past after telling myself it was quick. It is more the slope and allowing enough break but still hitting positive putts. The key, if you’ve got the guts to do it, is to hit putts that are going to be three or four feet past if they miss. If you don’t putt with a little aggression I don’t think you are going to make many.”
Last year marked the first time since 2004 that Cristie Kerr did not capture at least one victory in a season. Kerr certainly had opportunities to win in 2011, recording 12 top-10 finishes which included nine finishes in the top 5.
Currently the top-ranked American in the Rolex Rankings at the No. 4 spot, Kerr knows what it’s like to be No. 1 in the world since she held the spot in 2010. So it’s no surprise that Kerr is aiming to not only get back in the winner’s circle in 2012 but also to regain that top ranking.
“I think any time you are No. 1 it is a tremendous accomplishment,” Kerr said. “That’s where I want to be. That’s why I play. I’ve come out this year ready to play. I’ve got my goals. I want to win again, win multiple events, and hopefully another major. I feel like I am ready to go this year.”
Karrie Webb has been playing on the LPGA Tour for the past 16 years, but don’t expect her to call it a career any time soon. Webb, who has spent the past five months working on swing changes, told the Australian media that she is still focused on playing great golf. The 38-time winner on the LPGA Tour added that she intends on playing in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, when golf returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.
“The Olympics are still the thing I am setting my sights on,” Webb said. “If retirement was in the cards, I would not have made these swing changes or worked as hard as I did in the off season. It is there. But as I have said for the past few years, it is closer to the end of my career than the beginning.
“I really believe I still have some great golf to play. If I can achieve these swing changes, I believe that is a chance,” she added. “You never say never. I visited Rachel Hetherington on the Gold Coast in January.
“She told me she would never remarry, would never have children and never teach golf. She has married Greg Ritchie, just had a baby girl and they’ve just bought a driving range. I thought I’d better be careful about saying what I would never do. If I said I would never play past the Olympics, I’d be reminded about that.”
Webb was presented with an honorary membership to Royal Melbourne Golf Club on Monday night. She joins only four others, including Greg Norman and Peter Thompson, who have been bestowed that honor.
Tweet of the Day: “I will not be playing the opening LPGA event in Australia. One of my very best friends is getting married this Saturday & I am a bridesmaid!” – @ThePCreamer.