PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The question stopped Yani Tseng dead in her tracks. The clear best player in women's golf -- fIve victories this year worldwide and three majors at the age of 22 -- was asked how it felt to come into the Wegmans LPGA Championship, the second major of the year, off a victory at the State Farm Classic, the last event played on tour.
"When I came here everybody said congratulations," Tseng said at Locust Hill CC in Pittsford, N.Y., where the LPGA Championship is being held for the second time at a stop that has been on the tour for 35 years. "I said it's been a long time because we had last week off."
And while there was only that one idle week since the State Farm, Tseng's words reflected the frustration of all LPGA players, as well as commissioner Mike Whan, to the stop-and-start nature to this season. Whan freely admitted earlier this year he was embarrassed that his tour had three off weeks in April just as attention on golf was heating up with the Masters.
The LPGA is still waiting for Michelle Wie to break through in a major.
Since Tseng won the first tournament of the year at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Feb. 20, there have been eight weeks with no official tournaments. And after the LPGA Championship this week, the flagship event of the tour first played in 1955, there is another week off followed by the U.S. Women's Open and then yet another week off.
The tour then goes to the Evian Masters in France followed by the Ricoh Women's British Open, which means beginning this week in this suburb of Rochester, three of the next four tournaments are major championships and the fourth -- the Evian -- has the largest purse on tour, equal to the U.S. Women's Open.
As Karrie Webb, the Hall-of-Famer with two wins this year, said: "You get hot at the right time and you can win three majors and all the money." And there are several significant players hot right now, but more on that later.
Remarkably, this is only the tenth tournament of the year for the LPGA, which is one of the reasons it's been difficult to determine a storyline for the season, even though there are several compelling streams of the narrative active as the tour comes to the LPGA Championship.
But all the action is being held under the umbrella of the economy of the tour. According to sources familiar with the situation, there will be good news to tell next week when the tour announces a new event for 2012 in Waterloo, Ontario, a Canadian city between Toronto and Detroit.
But the golf gods giveth and they taketh away. Sources also say the Imperial Springs LPGA event scheduled for China the week after the Ricoh Women's British Open will not happen, although there are efforts underway to find a replacement tournament in Asia for the open date in October that falls in between the tournament in Taiwan and the one in Japan.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled competition. Last Year, Cristie Kerr blew away the field at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, capturing her second career major with a tournament record 19-under-par 269 that was a record 12 strokes clear of runner-up Song-Hee Kim. Kerr comes into Wegmans without a victory this year, but has three consecutive second-place finishes and two other top fives.
Reigning U.S. Women's Open champion Paula Creamer is also winless in 2011, with four top-five finishes, as his Jiyai Shin, who has been second twice this year, and Michelle Wie, who was runner-up in the first tournament of the year and was sixth in the first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship won by Stacy Lewis.
"I'm doing an interview before the tournament, so that's kind of a first," Lewis said about how winning a major has changed her life. "I've been playing well and enjoying it. I'm looking forward to it. We have three majors the next month and a half, so I'm just looking forward to that."
The winners this year have been a very good group. Tseng and Webb both have two titles (nearly half of the nine tournaments played), while Lewis, Brittany Lincicome, Suzann Pettersen, Maria Hjorth and Sandra Gal each have one win.
Wie, of course, remains the player everyone has one eye on for several reasons. She is not only extremely talented, but there is no one else in women's golf who has as much brand equity built into her name. For nine years now, she has been anticipated as the next big thing in women's golf.
The fact Wie as only two career victories -- one each in 2009 and '10 -- is not what the tour needs to hang its marketing hat upon, and perhaps the 21 year-old college senior will reach her full potential after getting her degree from Stanford next spring. With the rain that has fallen on Locust Hill so far this week -- with more expected -- one the longer hitters, like Tseng or Wie or Pettersen or Lincicome or Hjorth, would appear to have an advantage.
Of course, Locust Hill also has fairways lined with those big old things called trees and errant tee shots will be penalized, which brings straight hitters like Shin and Creamer back into the equation. Perhaps realizing the opportunity at hand, Wie was the last player on the practice range Tuesday night, hitting balls under the watchful eyes of her coach, David Leadbetter, and her parents B.J. and Bo.
The Player of the Year race could well be determined between now and when the Ricoh Women's British Open ends July 31. Truly, whoever gets hot over the next six weeks can win three majors and a big chunk of money. Sadly, the momentum will be lessened by two more off weeks, but the most compelling stretch of golf on the LPGA begins her this week near Rochester. It will be worth watching.
-- Ron Sirak
(Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)