1998 LPGA Tour Year In Review - typicalknowledg36's Blog



1998 LPGA Tour Year In Review


Forget about golf. It was one of the purist moments most of us have ever seen in the world of sports.

A ball rolling miles across a green and falling in the cup. A young woman just a few years removed from high school realizing she -- and the ball -- had just pulled off the improbable. A hand reaching up to cover her mouth in amazement. A few seconds later, two hands covering her eyes and that incredible smile. A hug from her brother/caddie.

If Jenny Chuasiriporn's bid for a U.S. Open title as an amateur didn't grab you, nothing will. Hands down, it was the one memory everyone will take away from the 1998 LPGA season. OK. So she didn't win. And she isn't a member of the LPGA Tour. But after the Open she did think about it for about two seconds before deciding to return to Duke and leave the spotlight -- for the moment at least -- to the rising Korean star who beat her at the Open and the icy Swede who just happens to be the most consistent player in the game today.

Yes, an emotional American win at the Solheim Cup, aside, it was another international season on the LPGA Tour. Se Ri Pak, the only player who could top Chuasiriporn at Blackwolf Run, won a pair of majors and was Rookie of the Year. Annika S renstam didn't win a major at all, but racked up enough points with 17 top 10s in 19 events to collect yet another LPGA Player of the Year award and another Vare Trophy.

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Oh, you had Brandie Burton winning another major and falling in the creek at the Solheim. You had Donna Andrews and Juli Inkster and Meg Mallon and Kelly Robbins all winning, but not dominating. You had Dottie Pepper not worrying about what the other side thought and showing the kind of fire you need in and us-vs.-them gutwrencher. You had Pat Hurst winning her first major and Pearl Sinn finally winning a tournament.

But they didn't dominate. They just stole a scene or two. The star was Pak.

Sorenstam wasn't everyone's player of the year, but she won the points-oriented LPGA award. She was Hale-Irwin consistent on a tour that's more competitive at the top. She won four times, won another money title and became the first player to average below 70 for a season when she set a season scoring record (69.99). Even then, even after she had to battle herself in the season finale to do that, she took a backseat to Laura Davies -- the most charismatic LPGA player this side of Nancy Lopez -- who snapped out of the confidence-and-putting doldrums to win the PageNet Tour Championship.

As for Pak? She was, in some ways, the LPGA's answer to Tiger Woods. One minute she was wallowing in anonymity, the next People and Newsweek were writing about her. That's what winning the LPGA qualifying school, then winning a pair of majors as a rookie will do.

Korea's best-known athlete and only bona fide superstar smiled her way through her first major title at the LPGA Championship, then found herself smothered after back-to-back wins at the Open and the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic. It was there that she set the LPGA 18-hole record of 10-under-par 61 and the 72-hole mark of 261. She added another win later in the year, but finished in the top 25 just four more times the remainder of the year.

Still, Pak made news. She was news when she returned to Korea to be honored and wound up in a hospital suffering from total exhaustion. She was news when she fired her manager. When she worked with Butch Harmon. When her long-time teacher David Leadbetter tired of her whims and the circus surrounding her and fired HER.

Pepper made news too. Her fist-waving and roof raising and double-pumping and fighting words got the European Solheim Cup so riled they made a Pepper Punching Bag. She didn't concede holes, but dared the Europeans to take them from her. So did Inkster and Sherri Steinhauer and Rosie Jones, which is why the U.S. now has a 4-1 lead in the Solheim rivalry.

Another personality who peeked back out was Helen Alfredsson. The outgoing Swede, who is as brutally honest as Pepper and Davies combined but with a humorous edge, rebounded to win a pair of tournament wins. Hard to remember, isn't it, that she was laid up after hip surgery a year or so ago?

The most appropriate ending for 36 holes came at the Open when Mallon, Lopez and Jane Geddes -- all of whom missed the cut -- put towels on their clubs and waved them in surrender as they walked up the 18th hole at the Pete Dye-a-bolical Blackwolf Run.

A year after her latest near-miss at an Open, Lopez all but disappeared from the scene. Two top 10s and 46th on the money list? We think she expected more. Same went for Michelle McGann. The only conspicuous thing about her season were those hats.

The season came and went, too, without Amy Alcott and Beth Daniel winning their way into the Hall of Fame. Maybe next year. Maybe not. But the season did end with the promise the tour would look into changing those near-impossible qualifications.

Kelli Kuehne, the rookie with a multi-million portfolio of endorsements, found out she wasn't as good as she thought and lost her card. Lisa Hackney, another member of the British Invasion, showed her potential but couldn't find a win. Betsy King and Chris Johnson led the growing fortysomething crowd and Karrie Webb wasn't that far away from another great season.

We'll leave what's coming in 1999 for another day, but as for 1998?

It was a year to welcome Pak as a superstar, to marvel at S renstam's awesome consistency and, most of all, to revel in Chuasiriporn's irresistible smile, those honest emotions, that improbable putt and the promise of things to come.


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