This week’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open marks the start of the 2013 LPGA season. It also will be the second consecutive season that the LPGA has begun its season Down Under.
Here are a few other facts about the start of the LPGA season.
- This will be the fourth consecutive season that the first tournament is held internationally. The Honda LPGA Thailand opened the 2010 and 2011 seasons and now the year begins in Australia.
- The first international site to begin the LPGA season was Venezuela in March 1966 when Kathy Whitworth won the unofficial Lagunita Invitational in Caracas. Jamaica was the host site for the first tournament from 1989-91, the last international start before Thailand in 2010.
- Since the first LPGA season in 1950, Florida has hosted the most first events in the United States with 37, followed by Georgia (7), Hawaii (6), California (4) and Arizona (1).
- World Golf Hall of Famer Karrie Webb has won the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open a record four times. She is one of three multiple winners (Laura Davies and Yani Tseng have each won twice) for the event which began in 1974. Previous winners have hailed from Australia, Sweden, the United States, Scotland, England, New Zealand, Japan and Taiwan.
- The United States and South Korea are the countries with the most players on the LPGA Tour. However, their success at the Women’s Australian Open is fleeting. When Jessica Korda captured last year’s tournament, she was the first American winner in 34 years (Debbie Austin in 1978) and only the fourth ever (JoAnne Carner in 1975 and Donna Caponi Young in 1976). No South Korean has won the tournament. Japan’s Chako Higuchi won the first Women’s Australian Open in 1974.
- Yarralumla, Victoria, Australia, the site of this week’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, is 16 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Success leading into Australian Open
Two players with local ties have shown their considerable skill over the past two weeks leading into the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. Australia’s Karrie Webb won the Australian Ladies Masters two weeks ago, claiming her eighth title in the event. She has won the Australian Masters in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2013, tying Sam Snead for the most wins in one event. Snead won the Greensboro, N.C., PGA Tour event eight times. Webb is paired with 2012 LPGA Player of the Year Stacy Lewis and defending champion Jessica Korda in the first round on Thursday. Lydia Ko, the 15-year-old New Zealand amateur, won the New Zealand Women’s Open last Sunday, beating American Amelia Lewis by one stroke to become the youngest winner on the Ladies European Tour. Last year, at age 14, Ko captured the New South Wales Open to become the youngest player to capture any professional event and then won the CN Canadian Women’s Open to become the youngest to win a LPGA event. Ko is paired with No. 1-ranked Yani Tseng and Michelle Wie, making her Australian debut, in the first round.
Royal Canberra’s beauty
Royal Canberra has often drawn comparisons to Augusta National because of its wide variety of plants and trees on site and the fact that the course was built on land that once was the arboretum for the city of Canberra, much like Augusta National was developed in the 1930s on the site of a former horticultural nursery in Augusta, Ga.
Royal Canberra will play to par 73, with five par 5s, and at approximately 6,700 yards. There are three par 5s within the first six holes – two of which play less than 500 yards – on the par-37 front nine. The course’s signature hole is the dogleg right, par-4 16th which has a large elevation change from the raised landing area to the elevated green. The par-5 finishing hole, playing approximately 530 yards, has a three-tiered green.
Royal Canberra will be the 13th course to host the Women’s Australian Open. Others include Victoria Golf Club, The Australian Golf Club, Manly Golf Club, Royal Adelaide Golf Club, Yarra Yarra Golf Club, Terrey Hills Golf and Country Club, Concord Golf Club, Royal Sydney, Kingston Heath, Metropolitan Golf Club, Commonwealth Golf Club and Royal Melbourne.
Tseng’s two years at No. 1
Yani Tseng marks two years atop the Rolex Women’s World Rankings this week as she has been No. 1 for 105 consecutive weeks, dating back to Feb. 14, 2011 after she won the first of two consecutive Australian Women’s Opens to move past Jiyai Shin into the top spot. Tseng’s time atop the Rankings is second only to the 158 weeks that Lorena Ochoa was No. 1 from 2007-2010.
Tseng has a 9.69 points average, ahead of Na Yeon Choi at 8.48 (not in this week’s field) and Stacy Lewis at 7.96.
Jessica Korda returned to Australia two weeks ago to play in the Australian Women’s Masters. She finished fifth in preparation for this week’s title defense.
Last year, Korda, age 18, sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a six-way playoff for her first career victory at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Melbourne Golf Club. Korda, who held a one-stroke after three rounds, fired a 1-over 74 to earn her way into an LPGA record-tying, six-way playoff that included Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, Julieta Granada, Hee Kyung Seo and So Yeon Ryu. At the time, Korda was the fourth-youngest winner of a 72-hole LPGA event.
Korda is probably looking over her shoulder at another tennis daughter who is making a name on the golf course. Korda’s father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open tennis title. Isabelle Lendl, a senior at the University of Florida and the daughter of former tennis great Ivan Lendl, has been invited to play in the Kraft Nabisco Championship later this spring.
A few players in the field this week had a busy offseason off the golf course. Morgan Pressel is coming back in 2013 after a trying 2012 season where she was forced to endure a left thumb injury sustained in the middle of the season. Pressel married longtime boyfriend Andy Bush in January in Florida. Bush works for sports marketing firm Octagon. Amanda Blumenherst also got married. She wed Nate Freiman, whom she met while both were in school at Duke. Freiman is a first baseman in the Houston Astros organization. Katherine Hull is now Katherine Hull-Kirk. The Australian married Kansas financier Tom Kirk last August.
Canada’s Maude-Aimee Leblanc was leading the Driving Distance category during her rookie year on the LPGA last season before a back injury in August forced her to sit out the remainder of the year. She is scheduled to return to the LPGA this week in Australia … Looking for more of the rising stars in women’s golf? This week, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, age 22, and Australian amateur Su-Hyun Oh, 16, are paired together. Ciganda won the Ladies European Tour Player and Rookie of the Year awards in 2012, the first player to win both since Laura Davies in 1985. Oh was the runner-up to Karrie Webb at the Australian Ladies Masters two weeks ago and shared the lead entering the final round. … All four rounds of this week’s tournament will be shown on a tape-delayed basis on the Golf Channel – the first two rounds Thursday and Friday from 12:30-2:30 p.m. EST and the final two rounds Saturday and Sunday from 3-6 p.m.