Ryan Ballengee called the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic the "Se Ri Pak Invitational" on his LPGA radio show this week, while the tournament discussion thread at Seoul Sisters.com is titled "Se Ri Pak Classic." A quick look at the tournament history will tell you why: Pak is attempting to become the first female golfer ever to win the same tournament for the 6th time. And despite her uneven play thus far this season, she has a great chance to do it on a Highland Meadows track she loves.
After all, the field is not particularly strong, with many top players resting before the LPGA's European swing and Suzann Pettersen, Maria Hjorth, and Morgan Pressel playing the LET this week. But I really liked what I saw of Eun-Hee Ji at Pinnacle Country Club last week and at the Wegmans in Rochester, so I'm making her my favorite. Here are my picks in this week's Pakpicker:
1. Ji Eun-Hee
2. Pak Se Ri
4. Kim Mi Hyun
7. Ueda Momoko
8. Kim Christina
9. Lee Meena
11. Yang Amy
Alts: Hetherington, Kim In-Kyung, Choi H.J.
What also makes the Farr so interesting is that its 1st 2 rounds are the U.S.'s 36-hole qualifier for the last major of the 2008 season, the Women's British Open. So even more is at stake for the LPGA members in the field who haven't already qualified, like (for instance) veteran Moira Dunn, who would have to play in the final qualifier on July 28th, or (say) rookie Eunjung Yi, who would have to make it through pre-qualifying at The Berkskire Golf Club on July 14th just to have a chance to compete in the final qualifier, if they didn't grab 1 of the 5 spots available at the Farr. Sponsors' exemptions Michelle Wie and Stacy Lewis could present an interesting dilemma for the LPGA should they finish among the top 5 of the not-already-qualified after Friday's round, as both are unaffiliated professionals with huge media buzz. I'm sure the Ladies' Golf Union, which runs the Open, would love for the LPGA to find a way to send them to Sunningdale, but the LPGA is explicit that you must be a member to be eligible for these spots.
Speaking of looming issues for the LPGA, Dave Hackenberg of The Toledo Blade has written a great article on the future of the Farr. Sounds to me like they're where the Rochester event was before Wegmans stepped up and raised the purse. There's no reason a new 54-hole event in Arkansas should have a purse $400K larger than the Farr's. True, it's pretty clear the LPGA is committed to a midwestern swing preceding the European swing and I can't see them cancelling a popular 26-year-old event, but if the tournament organizers want to have a stronger field, they have to give the best players more incentive to compete. The LPGA ought to be focusing on slowly building up mid-level events like the Farr, not least because they need to fill out their August (northern run-up to the LPGA Championship) and September (southeastern run-up to the Pacific swing) schedule in the coming years so can't afford to set the entry bar for new events too high. Sure, the planned playoff series sounds exciting, but the regular season still matters. And when you look at how full the LET and JLPGA schedules are in August and September, the LPGA comes off looking a little, well, unprofessional, compared to them.
So 6 cheers for the Farr--here's hoping Se Ri Pal proves me wrong this week!
[Update 1 (4:59 pm): Word on the street (at Seoul Sisters.com, that is), is that Amy Yang Monday qualified. LPGA.com hasn't updated their field list yet, but she's got a 7:50 am starting time off the 1st tee, so I'm revising my picks.]
[Update 2 (8:44 pm): As always, Hound Dog's tournament preview is chock full of information!]