By Leonard Shapiro
With Na Yeon Choi prevailing in the U.S. Womens Open by fourshots Sunday in Kohler, Wisc., it marked the fourth time in the last five years a South Korean has won Americas national championship of golf. The LPGA almost always has taken a backseat to the PGA Tour in terms of crowds, purses and television ratings. But the women definitely have produced more than their share of bright and shining stars as well as some of the more riveting moments in golf history, particularly in the major championships. Heres a list of our all-time top ten performances.
10. Rocky Mountain High. She gave herself the nickname Birdie to distinguish herself from all the other South Korean Kims on the LPGA Tour, and the 23-year-old certainly lived up to her name in the 2005 U.S. Womens Open. At Cherry Hills in the Denver suburbs, Kim holed out from a bunker 30 yards from the cup for one last birdie, just enough to hold off two teenage amateurs, 17-year-old Morgan Pressel and 19-year-old Brittany Lang, by two shots.
9. Jewel for Julie. In suffocating Mississippi summer heat and humidity, 38-year-old Julie Inkster, who had been contemplating giving up the tour, blossomed into a dominating champion of the 1999 U.S. Womens Open at Old Waverly Country Club. She ended five shots ahead of runner-up Sherri Turner, and her 16-under par total of 272 shattered the tournament record for lowest score relative to par by six shots. So much for early retirement.
8. Slam Dunk. Karrie Webb holed out from 116 yards for an improbable eagle on the 72nd hole at the 2006 Kraft-Nabisco Championship, a stroke of genius that got her into a playoff against Lorena Ochoa, who also eagled the final hole with a clutch 12-foot putt. Webb wasted no time in the playoff, draining a six-footer for birdie at the 18th to claim her seventh major title with a final round 65. Of course she took the traditional dive into the pond near the final green shortly thereafter, no doubt employing the Australian crawl.
7. Viva Lorena. Frustrated by constantly being asked when she was going to win her first major championship, Lorena Ochoa went to St. Andrews, the home of golf, to do something about it in the summer of 2007. With an opening round 67, the then No. 1 ranked player in the world took the lead after nine holes and never looked back, winning by four shots in a week of typical Scottish wind and spitting rain. This is the most special round of golf I have ever played, said the native of Mexico after her final day 74 in atrocious conditions.
6. Major Breakthrough. With three straight birdies in the middle of her final round, Annika Sorenstam opened a three-shot lead in the 1995 U.S. Womens Open and held on for the first professional victory of her Hall of Fame career. She had to hold off a couple of fast-closing Hall of FamersPat Bradley and Betsy Kingand won by a stroke over Meg Mallon, who missed a 20-foot birdie putt at the 18th. It was clearly the start of something very big for Sorenstam, who posted a final round 68 that day at the Broadmoor East course in Colorado Springs.
5. Rookie on a Roll. It was never really close at the 1978 LPGA Championship contested at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Kings Island, Ohio. Nancy Lopez, in her rookie season, won by six shots over her closest pursuer, Amy Alcott, for the first of her three LPGA major championships, and her only major victories. Lopez, only 21, won nine times that season, including five in a row and earned Player of The Year honors. Said Hall of Famer Mickey Wright that week, Never in my life have I seen such control in someone so young.
4. Korean Invasion. Playing in her first major championship in her first season on the LPGA Tour, unknown 20-year-old South Korean Se Ri Pak went wire-to-wire to capture the McDonalds LPGA Championship at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware. Pak won by three shots, but far more significant, her victories there and at the U.S. Womens Open a month later helped ignite an explosion back home in womens golf that has resulted in more than 40 Korean players now competing on the LPGA Tour, and more than 40 on the Futures circuit, as well. Ask any of the young Korean players, including Choi, to name their hero growing up, and most will say Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak.
3. Little Patty. Itty-bitty Patty Berg was a giant in womens golf in the 1940s and 50s, winning a record 15 major championships, including the 1946 U.S. Womens Open conducted by the short-lived Womens Professional Golf Association. That was replaced in 1950 by the LPGA, and in 1953, the U.S. Golf Association began running the Open. That first Open in 46 at the Spokane Country Club was decided in a 36-hole match-play format after 36 holes of qualifying by stroke play. Berg won the qualifying medal with rounds of 72 and 73 and beat Betty Jamison, 5 and 4, in the 36-hole final. She collected 19,700 for her efforts.
2. The Wright Stuff. In the 1954 Womens Open, 19-year-old amateur Mickey Wright was paired with the great Babe Zaharias and made a huge splash by finishing fourth. Four years later at Forest Lake Country Club in Detroit, she prevailed over another LPGA founder, Louise Suggs, by five shots to win the first of her record four Open titles among her 13 major championships, second only to Berg. Her 82 career victories trail only the 88 posted by Kathy Whitworth. She earned 7,200 from the Scrooges at the USGA, who sliced Open purses dramatically when they took over the event in 53.
1. What a Babe. Perhaps the greatest female athlete of all time, Babe Didrikson Zaharias came to golf later in an athletic life dominated mostly by basketball and track and field. At the suggestion of famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, Zaharias decided to focus on the sport, and was a quick study. Her victory in the 1954 U.S. Womens Open at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Massachusetts was among the most inspirational triumphs in sports history. Only months after her first surgery for cancer, Zaharias won the Open by an astounding 12 shots over Betty Hicks, the second greatest margin of victory in tournament annals. Two years later, she died from cancer at the age of 45, with ten career major titles (four as an amateur) and 41 career wins. Her career winnings: 66,237.