LPGA Rookie of the Year battle heats up
BY Bruce Young | LPGA Tour | 2002 Williams Championship | Preview | 04 Sep 2002
With the issues surrounding the Solheim Cup team selection now out of the way and beyond the control of those playing this week, the Williams Championship field and indeed the fans will be looking to focus on the winning of the event rather than perhaps how performances may or may not affect positions in the Solheim Cup team.
The Williams Challenge will be played over fifty four holes at the Tulsa Country Club in Tulsa, Okalahoma. The defending and only previous champion is Australian raised Korean Gloria Park who also won earlier this year at the Sybase event in New York. The win here last year was Park’s first win on the USLPGA and in doing so she became the first winner of this event.
The field includes Annika Sorenstam, back for her first LPGA Tour event since Turnberry, Julie Inkster, Mi Hyun Kim, Hee Won Han, Rachel Teske, Michelle Ellis, Meg Mallon and last week’s winner Patricia Meunier-Lebouc.
Of perhaps most interest this week, other than the form of the players heading to Interlachen in two weeks time, will be the ongoing battle for Rookie of the Year honours between current leader Beth Bauer and chaser Natalie Gulbis. With just this event and the Safeway Classic next week to count towards the title both players will be looking to continue their very good form of late. Five top tens in 21 starts for Bauer including her second to Rachel Teske at the Jamie Farr Classic and for Gulbis four top tens but is coming off a missed cut last week in Illinois.
Both players were outstanding juniors with Gulbis leading the qualifiers at the 1998 US Amateur at age 15 and being the youngest, at age 14, to qualify for a USLPGA event in 1997. Michelle Wie now has that distinction but as a result of that effort her (Gulbis’s) arrival on tour has been awaited for some time. She got to the LPGA via qualifying last year. Bauer on the other hand is three years older than Gulbis but also comes to the tour following a distinguished amateur career where she was twice a member of the Curtis Cup team. She finished first on the Futures Tour in 2001 and is clearly on her way to being one of the tours brightest stars. She possesses what must be one of the best swings on the USLPGA Tour.
Other Australsians entered are Wendy Doolan, Tamie Durdin, Marnie McGuire, Jan Stephenson, Shani Waugh, Jane Crafter, Carmen Hajjar, Joanne Mills and Fiona Pike.