Tuesday, February 10, 2009

LPGA's New Stars Ready To Shine

The LPGA season opens Thursday at the SBS Open in Hawaii, one of those suitable-for-framing spots, where the tour will begin life after Annika Sorenstam.

While Lorena Ochoa is still the tour’s top player with Paula Creamer, Yani Tseng, Suzann Pettersen and Natalie Gulbis among her challengers, the 2009 season brings with it a rookie class capable of transforming the power structure.

Excluding Ji-Yan Shin, who is technically a rookie but won three times on tour last year, here are three new faces – okay two new faces and one very familiar one – we’ll likely see regularly:

-- Vicky Hurst.

She dominated the Duramed Futures Tour last year, winning four times.

She was almost literally born on a golf course because her mother went into labor with Vicky while playing golf. Like Morgan Pressel and Alexis Thompson, Hurst is another sparkling talent from Florida.

She’s easy to recognize, too, wearing a Hogan-style cap when she plays to honor the late Payne Stewart.

-- Stacy Lewis.

She was already one of women’s golf’s most inspirational stories even before she won the LPGA qualifying tournament last fall.

Lewis wore a back brace for more than seven years to correct curvature of her spine caused by scoliosis. When it was determined the brace hadn’t worked, Lewis underwent surgery to correct the problem when she was 18.

Last year, she won the NCAA individual championship and was the top-ranked women’s amateur in the country before earning her spot on the LPGA tour.

-- Michelle Wie.

Sound familiar?

She’s finally a full-time member of the LPGA tour and says she intends to play golf for six months while attending Stanford the other six months.

Wie has the potential to be a huge star if she can win consistently on the LPGA tour. She has suffered from poor direction and bad decisions but she says she’s healthy and happy these days and her game is coming back.

That’s a good thing for Wie and for the LPGA tour.