Even as the LPGA appears to be fading from network tv--starting in 2010, there are likely to be more LPGA events on networks in Japan than the U.S.--it's actually a great time to be one of the best players in the world of women's golf. With the Corona Championship still a week away, and another week off between it and the Michelob Ultra, many of the tour's top stars are experimenting with a more worldly 2009 schedule than even the LPGA's own. We already know that Michelle Wie will be visiting the KLPGA this week and that Ji-Yai Shin will be spending her 2nd week in a row on the JLPGA. Well, looking ahead on the JLPGA schedule, Shin plans to make it 3 weeks in a row in Japan at the Fujisankei Ladies Classic, in which she'll be playing instead of the Corona Championship. I can't help but think she's gearing up for the Salonpas Cup. But who else is likely to be skipping the Michelob Ultra for the JLPGA's 1st major of 2009?
Momoko Ueda, who's competing with Shin this week on the JLPGA, will also be playing the Crystal Geyser Ladies, the final tune-up before the Salonpas Cup. So even though the tournament organizers haven't yet announced their full field, it's highly likely that Ueda will be in it. Less clear are the plans of Ai Miyazato and Shiho Oyama. The former played last week and the latter is playing this week in Japan, so they still may decide to submit last-second entries to any of the JLPGA's tune-up events and its main event of May. But what the tournament organizers have announced may surprise you: Paula Creamer will be joining 2008 LET money list leader Gwladys Nocera at the Salonpas Cup!
This is a huge deal, as Creamer's vying for the #1 spot on the LPGA money list and the Michelob Ultra boasts one of the biggest purses in women's golf. It's not like Creamer has hacked up Kingsmill, either. Although last season she finished outside the top 10 for only the 2nd time in 4 career starts there, she was in contention for a time on Sunday in 2007 and was in the lead chase pack well behind Karrie Webb in 2006. Maybe she figures that somebody's likely to run away from the field like Karrie did then and Annika did last season--and it's not likely to be her. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense, as she won a shootout at the Jamie Farr last year and has shown over the course of her career that she's perfectly capable of going low. A more likely explanation is that she wants to get more experience playing in majors. Whatever her reasoning, Creamer will be returning to Asia for the 2nd time in 2009 this May.
Even the LPGA's veterans are getting in the globetrotting act. In what seems like a bid to promote the Solheim Cup in Europe and scout out the likely competition, Beth Daniel and Meg Mallon will be representing the U.S. at the Communitat Valenciana European Nations Cup.
With another big gap in the LPGA schedule coming in August and a limited number of spots on the Solheim Cup, I wonder how many Americans will be joining their international competitors and trying to get into JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET events?
[Update 1 (12:44 pm): Speaking of Momo-chan, she just threw out the first pitch at the Dodgers/Padres Opening Day game.
Now we know why she delayed her visit to Japan by a week.]
[Update 2 (4:44 pm): Holy coincidence, Batman! Happy Fan just posted his 2009 KLPGA primer. Here's hoping he helps the English-speaking world follow all the action there all season! I'm curious to see how many LET events Hee Kyung Seo decides to play this season, as well.]
[Update 3 (4/16/09, 2:27 am): Oh great, just as Anheuser-Busch announces they're expanding their Futures Tour commitments, word comes out that the future of the Michelob Ultra is up in the air! (h/t Dennis at Seoul Sisters.com) Funny how Creamer's absence is buried in the notes at the end of the latter link, isn't it?]