|Brittany Lincicome, in search of her first Women's Open, won the season's first major. (Hunter Martin/USGA)
By Stuart Hall
Bethlehem, Pa. - If Paula Creamer did not know otherwise, she might feel as if Father Time has stood her up.
“I know what I’m going to be asked at many of my press conferences,” said Creamer. ‘ “How come you haven't won a major? ’ ”
Creamer is, after all, a proven LPGA veteran of 22 years — as in age, not seasons. But missing from her five-year, eight-win professional career is that elusive first major.
The effusive Creamer’s 21st opportunity to silence the “How come…?” line of questioning comes at the U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club this week.
“I don't label myself that way,” said Creamer, a member of the victorious 2004 USA Curtis Cup team. “I feel like I'm a tough competitor, and I feel like it's about timing. It's honestly quite flattering, as well. Like I said, I'm 22 years old, my fifth year out here, and I feel like I should have won majors.”
Yet Creamer has seen fellow 22-year-old Anna Nordqvist win the 2009 McDonald’s LPGA Championship in just her fifth LPGA start; Yani Tseng and Inbee Park win the 2008 LPGA Championship and 2008 U.S. Women’s Open, respectively, as 19 year olds; and Jiyai Shin claim the 2008 Women’s British Open at age 20.
Any of those first-time major winners needs inclusion into the discussion of favorites for Saucon Valley, as should 23-year-old Brittany Lincicome, who won the year’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, in April.
Youth appears to be the trendy prerequisite to owning a major. So, in this post-Annika Sorenstam era, consider how Lorena Ochoa must feel. The world No. 1 and eventual Hall of Famer has 26 career wins, including two majors, but lacks a U.S. Women’s Open title.
And she is 28 years old. Ochoa is so long in the tooth that she has just two fewer U.S. Women’s Open starts than the last four major winners combined. Her back-to-back wins at the 2007 Women’s British Open and 2008 Kraft Nabisco Championship make Ochoa the oldest major winner since Cristie Kerr, who won the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club at 29.
The last player older than 30 to win the U.S. Women’s Open was Sorenstam, who was 35 in 2006 when she won an 18-hole playoff with former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Pat Hurst at Newport (R.I.) Country Club.
Christina Kim, 25, sees a degree of fearlessness in the new crop of major winners.
“There are a lot of factors,” said Kim, who is winless in 24 major appearances. “ [There are] a lot of golf academies out there, a lot of fantastic instructors. A lot of girls, they'll come out and say, ‘There’s a girl who is 19, she's on tour. I'm 17 right now. I can do that. I remember playing golf with her when I was 15. [I] annihilated her. I'm going to go out on tour next year and put her in her place.’ There's a bit of that.”
There will be plenty of speculating as to favorites this week, and quite frankly, there is no clear-cut choice, though Shin and Ochoa have both won twice on the LPGA Tour this year.
If the ordering is based on the LPGA money list following the Wegmans LPGA event in late June, then old-timers Kerr (one win and seven other top 10s in 2009) and Ochoa rank Nos. 2 and 5, respectively. The tour’s leading money winner to date is Shin, now 21. Rounding out the top five are 2004 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion Tseng, now 20, and 2005 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion In-Kyung Kim, 21, a third-place finisher at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open. If one is using the Rolex Women's World Golf Ranking, then delete In-Kyung Kim from the list and insert Creamer at No. 4.
By any measure, though, the intangible factor of experience comes into play. Consider that Juli Inkster (2002) and Meg Mallon (2004) both won Women’s Opens past the age of 40.
So who would fit that bill this year? Try Pat Hurst, 40, who won the 1998 Kraft Nabisco Championship and claimed the MasterCard Classic in March for her sixth tour victory. Or maybe Karrie Webb, who seems to have emerged from a previous era in which she won six majors, including two U.S. Women’s Opens, before 2003. Webb is still a spry 34 and also a tour winner in 2009.
In her eighth LPGA season, Angela Stanford, 31, has never won a major, but is prepared should the day ever arrive.
“I think you can win tournament after tournament, but I think majors define a player,” said Stanford, who won the season’s opening event, the SBS Open at Turtle Bay, but has stepped away from play to be with her mother, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. “You know, fairly or not, they do, because it's the toughest conditions and the toughest field. Obviously it's the most important thing you can put on your résumé.”
And there is no player, young or old, who wouldn’t want one on hers.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose previous work has appeared on USGA championship Web sites.