Nordqvist ready to defend LPGA Championship
PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) It's reality-check time for Anna Nordqvist.
"It's hard to believe. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to actually understand that it happened," Nordqvist said as she prepared to defend her LPGA Championship title.
It happened all right. Playing in only her fifth professional tournament, a year ago the unflappable Swede carded a final round 4-under 68 at Bulle Rock to beat Lindsey Wright by four strokes, then capped her amazing rookie year by winning the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship.
The 23-year-old Nordqvist, sixth in the world rankings, will attempt the first title defense of her brief career on somewhat familiar ground. Longtime LPGA Championship sponsor McDonald's did not renew its sponsorship, and the event was moved to Locust Hill Country Club in suburban Rochester, N.Y., when Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. agreed to place its own tournament on hiatus and be title sponsor in a one-year deal.
That averted what would have been an embarrassing scenario for new LPGA commissioner Mike Whan. He's very appreciative to have Wegmans still in the fold in these difficult economic times.
"Majors are based on long-term quality partners, long-term quality venues, on the right kind of fan base. All that exists in Rochester," Whan said. "You talk about history, you talk about community, you talk about longevity, and Wegmans just matches all those things.
"When you talk to players about places that have a special place (in their hearts), they talk about Rochester, talk about fans, volunteers, sponsors they've known for decades," Whan said. "It was already special. We're just adding a couple of names to the banner this year."
Wegmans has been a partner of the LPGA for more than three decades, and its June tournament usually ranks as one of the best-attended events on the schedule. Transforming it into a major - and the Wegman family would like it to be for more than one year - has boosted ticket sales this year by more than 50 percent.
Record-setting galleries are expected at Locust Hill, which has never hosted a major. First-round play begins Thursday morning.
"Once you come here, it's all about the golf," said Nordqvist, who finished tied for 36th at the 2009 Wegmans LPGA the week after her triumph at Bulle Rock. "A lot of fans are coming out, in parking lots, backyards. That's what I love about this (tournament)."
Paula Creamer identifies with that sentiment probably better than any of the players. The demise last year of the LPGA Corning Classic deprived her of one of her favorite events. Her grandfather always made the half-hour trip from his home in Ithaca, N.Y. At least now he'll get to see her compete in a major, because it's still just a 90-minute drive.
"He'll come down with my aunt and uncle," Creamer said. "It's nice to be able to play in front of them, and now that it's a major it would be great to win in front of them.
"This is a great golf course. It always has been one of my favorites," said Creamer, who has expressed concern about not knowing where the LPGA Championship will be next year. "Coming here is one of the highlights of my year. Everybody here is so supportive of my golf and golf in general. That's neat when you have a tournament that is recognizable - and now it's a major. I would hope (it would remain a major). We can keep our fingers crossed."
Whan is expected to make an announcement about the future of the LPGA Championship in July. He hinted at a pre-tournament news conference here in May that rotating it was a possibility because he believes future success lies in taking the LPGA global.
In the meantime, the Locust Hill course has been altered for the second major of 2010 and first without the recently retired former No. 1 player, Lorena Ochoa.
Eight holes have been lengthened a total of 141 yards, raising the course length to 6,506 yards. Nine fairways also have been narrowed and the rough is thicker and deeper.
"It's pretty impressive what they've done," Cristie Kerr said. "I like the way this course is shaping up. I think you're going to see some special stuff out there."
The top 15 players in the Rolex Rankings - including new No. 1 Ai Miyazato of Japan - will be among the 150 vying for the top prize of $337,500. The purse is $2.25 million.
Creamer, ranked 12th, threatened for two rounds last weekend at the ShopRite LPGA Classic before fading to seventh in her first tournament since surgery on her left thumb in March. She's still recuperating but ready for the challenge at hand.
"Every shot hurts, but we're toughing through it," she said. "I feel a little bit more prepared. I got that rust brushed off a bit."
Divots: Only four players have won back-to-back LPGA Championships: Mickey Wright (1960-61), Patty Sheehan (1983-84), Juli Inkster (1999-2000), and Annika Sorenstam (2003-05). ... Jiyai Shin returns this week from emergency appendectomy surgery. Shin, who won last year's Wegmans LPGA, withdrew prior to the LPGA State Farm Classic two weeks ago, was hospitalized for the surgery and lost her spot atop the Rolex Rankings ... Wegmans is one of only five companies to have its name attached to the LPGA Championship. McDonald's Mazda, AIG and Coca-Cola are the others.