2009 LPGA Season Looms with Economic Issues & Greater International Look

By: Dave Andrews

On driving ranges and putting greens around the world, the best women golfers on the planet are getting ready for the LPGA's 2009 season. The tour gets underway on February 12th in Hawaii with the SBS Open at Turtle Bay. The 32-event season will end in late November with the Stanford Financial Tour Championship in Houston.

The international character of the tour continues to grow. There will be more events (11) outside the United States than ever before. There will be more foreign players competing at each event than ever before. The tour's revenue streams will be more dependent than ever before on sources outside the United States.

The LPGA has released its player eligibility list for the upcoming season. The players are ranked based on a complex priority system with more than 20 different categories. There are 469 players on the priority list. As a practical matter, the players ranked 1 through 150 are the ones who will be competing in most of the tour's events this year. Most "full-field" events are limited to 144 competitors.

Lorena Ochoa, last year's leading money winner, is ranked Number 1 and Brandie Burton is 150th. Annika Sorenstam is officially ranked fourth for 2009, though she has announced her retirement from the tour and says she will not be competing this year.

Here 's a breakdown of the nationalities of the 150 top-ranked players for the LPGA's 2009 season. There are 21 countries represented.

United States 58
South Korea 40
Sweden 12
Australia 8
Japan 4
Taiwan 4
England 3
Colombia 3
Scotland 2
Germany 2
France 2
Thailand 2
Canada 2
Norway 1
Finland 1
Mexico 1
China 1
Philippines 1
Chile 1
South Africa 1
Wales 1

There are several rookies in the top 150 who should begin to make some headlines on the tour this year. Jiyai Shin, Michelle Wie and Stacy Lewis lead that list. All three have proven they have the ability to win LPGA events. Former Duramed Futures Tour players, Vicky Hurst, Mindy Kim, and M.J. Hur are also expected to compete very well in their first year on the LPGA. Some observers are predicting that Hurst could become the next superstar in the women's game. The 18-year-old from Melbourne, Fla., won five times on the Futures in 2008 and set an all-time single-season money-earning record.

Like other American businesses, the LPGA is facing serious issues in the current economic times. The tour has announced a reorganization of staff that included the layoffs of a handful of employees. The LPGA lost two of its events here in the U.S. for 2009. There will be a long gap between events in the middle of the summer for players who do not qualify for the U.S., British, and French Opens. Some players could face a seven-week layoff in the heart of the season.

With a tough economy, event-sponsorship waning, and fan interest questionable, 2009 would be a perfect time for American players to start winning more events on the LPGA Tour. It would be a great year for more than just a handful of Americans to step up to the tee box and start making some noise on Saturdays and Sundays. Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Christie Kerr, and a few others must be feeling a little lonely when it comes to U.S. representation on the weekend leaderboards.

Dave Andrews is a Harvard-educated former television news reporter. He's also an avid golfer who has become a fan of the Duramed Futures Tour. His home course in Concord, N.H., is annually the site of one of the tour's events. The inspiration for Dave's 2007 novel, "Pops and Sunshine," came from meeting many of the young aspiring women golfers on that tour. Each of them has a passion, dedication and determination that he finds remarkable. His novel is a fictionalization of the dream that these young women share. To order Dave's book, visit http://popsandsunshine.com.