With Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa playing well as they head into the home stretch of their first rounds at the Sybase Classic, all eyes will rightly be on the possibility of a long-awaited showdown between the top 2 players on the LPGA. But given the strong performances by a pair of previously underperforming rookies--a 68 by Colombian Carolina Llano (whose 2 best finishes this season have come in its 2 weakest fields and who's either missed the cut or finished near the very bottom of those who made it in her other 6 events) and a 69 by Australian Anna Rawson (who's missed the cut in her 3 previous events this season)--I thought it might be worthwhile to review Sorenstam's and Ochoa's rookie seasons, both of which were somewhat disappointing by the standards they had set in their collegiate careers. With a struggling veteran (Sophie Gustafson also shot a 68), Junior Mint (Brittany Lang also shot a 68), and former Rookie of the Year (Shi Hyun Ahn also shot a 69) seemingly coming back into form the past few rounds, it's probably not a bad idea to underscore the value of perseverance.
Look at the early years of Sorenstam's professional career in her bio. As a non-exempt rookie in 1994, she had a fairly unimpressive Rookie of the Year season: playing in 6 times as many events as she did the previous year, she didn't even earn 3 times as much money and only managed 1 more top 10, plus her scoring average was almost a stroke worse than when she had been a non-member. Although her T2 at the British Open and qualification for the Solheim Cup were signs of things to come, she missed 4 cuts and finished 39th on the money list. Even coming back from severe injuries and playing in fewer events against tougher competition last year, she outperformed her rookie self by far.
Ochoa's rookie season was much more impressive than Sorenstam's in every respect, but essentially at the same level as Paula Creamer's, Seon Hwa Lee's, and Angela Park's and in certain respects below theirs. If anything, expectations for her were higher than for any of them, because she was so completely dominant as a collegiate player, particularly in her sophomore year. There's a reason she's talked repeatedly this season about the efforts she's taken to elevate her game over the past 5 years.
So with Ochoa shooting a 68 and trailing Sorenstam by 1 stroke--and now with Seon Hwa Lee and Morgan Pressel shooting solid 70s after missing the cut last week and being joined by rookie Eunjung Yi and struggling-since-2006 Soo-Yun Kang--there's every reason to underscore the value of perseverance today. It's something Christina Kim--who got it to -5 late in her round but finished +2 for a 69--certainly understands and that Momoko Ueda (73), Jane Park (73), Natalie Gulbis (73), Jee Young Lee (74), Candie Kung (74), Carin Koch (75), Hee Young Park (76), and Karrie Webb (76) should keep in mind this week.
[Update 1 (5:13 pm): Speaking of perseverance, it's great to see former Futures Tour dynamo but formerly struggling Super Soph Song-Hee Kim match Sorenstam's 67, birdie for birdie and par for par. And rising Junior Mint Teresa Lu shoot a 68. And it goes without saying I am incredibly proud of Ai Miyazato's 69! Kudos, too, to Pat Hurst and Rachel Hetherington, who like Kung and Coch are enjoying a resurgence this season--both have a chance to match or surpass Sorenstam and Kim with just a few holes left to play. More later!]
[Update 2 (5/16/08, 3:38 am): How about that Hetherington? Not only is that 67 her best round of the year, it's her best since last September's State Farm Classic, where she broke 70 every round and finished T3. With $5.47M in career earnings and 8 career wins, she's dropped off a bit in her previous 3 seasons and has been slow out of the gates this one, but still would rank as one of the top candidates--along with Sorenstam, Carin Koch, Candie Kung, and (we can hope) Grace Park--for Comeback Player of the Year, should she start playing well again consistently. It may sound strange to put Hurst (who ended up with a 68) in that category, but in many respects last season was her worst since 2002, despite not falling as far as her fellow Comebackers had.]
[Update 3 (3:45 am): As always, Hound Dog offers the most comprehensive first-round recap out there.]
[Update 4 (4:07 am): The notes and interviews from LPGA.com are informative and entertaining as usual. Lang is a great interviewee--very short, direct answers. Don't know how Communists came up in Llano's interview, but I'm all for it!]
[Update 5 (4:43 am): Tom Canavan demonstrates with his AP story why LPGA fans breathe a sigh of relief every time Doug Ferguson goes back to covering the PGA.]
[Update 6 (6:44 am): Ron Sirak and Daniel Wexler validate my opening sentence. What I'd really like to see is multiple players hanging with Ochoa and Sorenstam for an entire tournament. And especially my faves.]
[Update 7 (7:20 am): Uh-oh! Hound Dog has some competition in the highlights and recap area from The Golf Channel!]