GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. - As the U.S. Opens approach, things could hardly be better for the ladies of golf.
The United States has charged back atop the LPGA roster even as the tour becomes more global and its footprint in the United States becomes larger.
Americans have won nine of the 13 tournaments this season, including Stacy Lewis' second win of the season, yesterday, when she won the ShopRite LPGA Classic and overtook Korean star Inbee Park as the No. 1 women's golfer in the Rolex Rankings.
"This has been a dream season so far," said LPGA spokesman Kraig Kann. "We're an America-based tour."
But seldom an American-dominated tour.
Since Swedish giant Annika Sorenstam and Mexican titan Lorena Ochoa held the ranking for the first 218 weeks of its existence, which began in 2006, Asians from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have owned the spot for 205 of the subsequent 214 weeks.
Only two Americans have ever held it: Lewis, for 4 weeks last year, and Cristie Kerr, who had it twice for a total of 5 weeks in 2010.
More to the point, perhaps, Lewis retained her lead in the Race to the CME Globe, the LPGA's version of the FedEx Cup. Americans entered the ShopRite with seven in the top 10, with famous players Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson right behind Lewis.
Americans have now won four consecutive tournaments, the best run since 2004, and six of the last seven. At one point yesterday, Americans held the top four spots at the ShopRite.
"For several years we've been in a drought," said Paula Creamer, who won in Singapore in February. "We're representing American golf to the highest. Everybody had to work harder."
That became most obvious after an 18-10 loss at the Solheim Cup last year.
"The Solheim Cup helped us out a lot," said Thompson, 19, who in April won this year's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, steeled by her international experience. "The Solheim Cup was the most nervous I've ever been."
The LPGA could do no better than to have Thompson win its second major, too, when the U.S. Women's Open goes off June 19 at Pinehurst No. 2 the week after the men's Open is staged there. After a storybook amateur career, in which she qualified for the U.S. Women's Open three times before the age of 15 and made the cut in two women's majors, Thompson, with prodigious length, has won four LPGA events and five worldwide.
She turned pro right here, at the 2010 ShopRite, roaring onto the national consciousness in her sponsor's Red Bull NASCAR stock car, which pulled past the Bentleys and Mercedes parked in the driveway at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. She popped out fully bedecked in Puma gear, the female counterpart to Rickie Fowler: young, colorful, otherworldly talented and wicked cute.
She says one of her nicknames is "Sexy Lexi," and never shies from the spotlight. She has never seen Pinehurst, but she says her length will play well there. It helped her finish in the top seven in her last five tournaments before the ShopRite, where she was 66th. Imagine her walking up No. 18 at Pinehurst. Red Bull stock would erupt, and ratings would pop.
"I think it would help," Thompson admitted, "but any American winning there would help. It doesn't matter your age group, or where you're from. What matters is what you bring to the table."
Not everyone brings what Lexi brings.
Lewis is, oxymoronically, a soft-spoken Texan. Lewis is one of the more engaged LPGA members, fan-friendly and pleasant, but, at 29, she is largely unremarkable . . . except for her talent. She won for the second time in a month, each time by six strokes.
Creamer, on the other hand, is hyper-marketable. She has a nickname: the Pink Panther. She had four sponsors on her bag, and unlimited graciousness away from the course. Injuries helped limit her success on tour, where she hadn't won since the 2010 U.S. Women's Open before breaking through in Singapore. Now gluten- and dairy-free at 27, she is trimmer, stronger and more focused; she finished tied for 23rd.
Jessica Korda, a 5-11, 22-year-old Florida blonde, has won twice this season, her first tour wins, including last week, but she is inconsistent. She has missed three of her last five cuts, including the cut here Saturday. Still, Korda is this week's featured player on Golf Channel's "Playing Lessons From the Pros."
Wie, of course, was tabbed by Nike as the Tiger of her tour, and, after nine seasons, she has just three wins, most recently in April. However, she has seven top 10s and top-20 finishes in 10 of her 11 tournaments this season, and also finished 23rd yesterday. She has thawed some in the past 2 years, but, despite her best efforts, has the camera charisma of an ice sculpture.
Still, with sports' most powerful brand behind her, a run by Wie, 24, would be a boon. It couldn't happen at a better moment.
The ladies will play 32 official tournaments this year, four more than last season, plus a midseason feature called the International Crown. There will be 21 events in North America, three more than last season.
There were 23 total events in 2011, 13 of them in the United States.
The results are measurable.
In North America, TV ratings are up 20 percent over last year.
The tour said its total social media followers (tour, tournaments and players) are up 46 percent over last season.
And the U.S. Open is on the horizon.
"If you're sitting in a boardroom at NBC Sports or the Golf Channel, they'd certainly say it's headed in the right direction," Kann said. "The sky's the limit."
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