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Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 7/17/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

SPORTS COMMENTARY

American revolution in the LPGA

Players look to add to U.S. hot streak this weekend

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

The LPGA likes to call itself an international golf tour and that has certainly not been overstated. In fact, this U.S.-based tour became so international in recent years that American golf sometimes appeared dead in the water.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of that death were greatly exaggerated.

The 2014 Marathon Classic goes to the starting gate this morning at Highland Meadows Golf Club and it has been years and years since U.S. women’s golf has been so strong.

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When Mo Martin won the Women’s British Open last weekend, she became the third American to win a major championship in as many tries this season. The last time that happened was in 1999.

Martin is in the Marathon field along with Lexi Thompson, who won the first major at the Kraft-Nabisco, and Michelle Wie, who won the biggest of them all, the U.S. Women’s Open, last month.

Is this the latest American Revolution?

“It’s very cool,” Wie said. “I was really excited for Mo to win the British Open and for American golf… I definitely root for Americans.”

An American has won at Highland Meadows just once since 2005. That was in 2008 when Paula Creamer was the Jamie Farr Classic champion. She was runner-up a year ago to Spaniard Beatriz Recari and will be among the favorites again this weekend.

Thompson, who finished in a tie for third last summer in the inaugural Marathon Classic, is a great example of how American golf has grown up and emerged.

She turned professional at the age of 15 and played in 21 events on the LPGA, mostly as a sponsor exemption, from 2007-2011 as a non-member of the tour because of age restrictions.

But she kicked her way through the door in 2011 when, at age 16 years, seven months, and eight days she won the LPGA Navistar Classic and soon after successfully petitioned to become a tour member.

Thompson is just 19, but already has four tour victories, including her recent major championship, and career earnings of, well, a whole bunch of money.

The LPGA’s depth these days is something of a hush-hush subject. The Marathon will not be a full-field, 144-player event as has been the past norm; withdrawals and a lack of alternates have left 140 golfers, one an invited amateur, to answer today’s opening bell. It is not the first time a short field has happened on tour this year and it likely won’t be the last.

But there is strength at the top and it has a red, white and blue flavor. Including the three majors to date, American golfers have won 11 of the 17 events thus far on the 2014 LPGA schedule.

Six of the top 10 tour money winners for this year are in the Marathon field and five of them Toledo native Stacy Lewis, Wie, Thompson, Cristie Kerr, and Angela Stanford — represent the United States.

It is quite a switch from much of the last decade when foreign players, many from the Far East Pacific rim nations, dominated play.

“It was only a matter of time,” Thompson said. “There are so many great American players. For some of us, it was a matter of getting the experience and confidence to win out here.”

Thompson and Wie both insisted the LPGA is still very much a global tour, which is true.

“I’m proud of the tour, and I’m proud that in the last couple years the American players have broken through some barriers,” Wie said. “There are some great personalities out here.”

They compete as individuals, of course, and Thompson laughed when she said, “It’s not like we all get together and say, ‘OK, one of us has to win this week.’ ”

But next week they will undoubtedly get together and say just that. The inaugural International Crown will be played at Caves Valley Golf Club in Maryland, pitting four-player teams representing eight countries in match-play formats.

At the time the teams were formed based on Rolex world ranking points, the four Americans selected were Lewis, Creamer, Thompson, and Kerr.

Highland Meadows should be a great prep for them. Like Caves Valley, the Meadows is tree-lined and tight with small and tricky greens.

“This is a great golf course,” Wie said of Highland Meadows. “The conditions are amazing. All the players are talking about it.

“I remember coming here when I was, what, 13? I was all wide-eyed. I loved to hit a lot of drivers, and it was very frustrating for me when I first came. I said, ‘Why isn’t it wider? Why are there so many trees?’

“I’ve learned to appreciate it and I have a bit of a game plan now for a course like this. I hit drivers on four or five holes here now. It’s a wonderful course. There’s so much history here.”

This is the 29th edition of the Marathon Classic, known as the Farr Classic during its first 27 years. There has indeed been a lot of history. They’ll write some more over the next four days, and the Americans in the field would love to remain on a roll in 2014 and be a big part of it.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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