Former wonder child Michelle Wie and former college standout Stacy Lewis were moments from locking up their immediate futures on the LPGA tour. With just a few more strokes of the putter to bring to an end the 90-hole marathon otherwise known as Q School, each would be rewarded with full playing privileges on tour for 2009, with Lewis the valedictorian of the tournament and Wie a seventh-place finisher.
Bivens had other reasons to smile. Earlier in the year, teenage star Vicky Hurst dominated the Duramed Futures Tour to earn her playing card for 2009, and Jiyai Shin capped a remarkable season in which she won 11 times across the globe, including three LPGA tour events and a $1 million jackpot at the ADT Championship, to earn her card.
The foursome of highly touted youngsters is set to play full schedules this year and provide a much-needed infusion of energy to a tour in need of a seismic jolt. As four of the 21 rookies joining the tour this season, they are an eclectic quartet that certainly should shake things up " Wie, magnetic and explosive; Lewis, feisty and resilient; Shin, shy and methodical; and Hurst, stylish and resourceful.
"All four are super players. They have great personalities. They have different playing styles. … It's a pretty strong rookie class, let's put it that way," U.S. Solheim Cup captain Beth Daniel says. "All four of them have the capability at any point in time to be the No. 1 player on the LPGA tour. All I can say is that these are exciting times for the LPGA."
Especially considering the collection of substantial talent already established on tour " world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, who has 21 tour victories the last three seasons and appropriately dons her driver with a Superman head cover; world No. 2 Yani Tseng, who won the LPGA Championship at age 19 and was the rookie of the year last year; world No. 3 Paula Creamer, who is coming off a four-win season; and world No. 4 Suzann Pettersen, who won twice on the Ladies European Tour in 2008 and five times on the LPGA tour in 2007.
The list doesn't end there. Add a rejuvenated Helen Alfredsson, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, Seon Hwa Lee, Angela Stanford, Jeong Jang, Eun-Hee Ji, Momoko Ueda, Jee Young Lee, Katherine Hull and Hall of Famers Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak and Juli Inkster, and the LPGA tour, despite the departure of icon Annika Sorenstam, is as gifted as it is deep as the new season begins today with the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Hawaii.
"Many of the members in our rookie class possess an impressive amount of tournament experience, proving they can be weekly contenders," Bivens says. "But they will face stiff competition from the tour's consistent performers and veteran talent like Lorena, Paula, Cristie and Helen."
Wie earns her spot
Michelle, however, could be the biggest name. Wie still moves the needle, as she has since she first hit the LPGA tour when she was in the seventh grade, her eye-catching power and deft touch a lure for golf fans of all stripes. The next year, at age 13, she shot 68 at the PGA Tour's Sony Open, the lowest score ever by a female competing against men.
At 15, she finished second in the SBS Open as an amateur. At 16, she became the first female to win a local qualifying tournament for the men's U.S. Open and was atop the leaderboard of three consecutive LPGA tour majors before finishing in ties for third, fifth and third.
Her stunning teenage success brought her celebrity and millions of dollars " but only one significant win, the 2003 Women's Amateur Public Links. Now, as a 19-year-old sophomore at Stanford and coming off two years marred by injuries, swing changes, public relations nightmares and heavily criticized decisions to play against men, Wie is excited to author a new chapter in her life and confident she will salvage her golf career.
"It took a long time, but I earned my way onto the tour, and it still means the world to me," Wie says. "I still have a 'been there, done that,' weird feeling because I've been out there seven years, but this is a new beginning. I'm a different person now. Now I want to earn my way to the top of the LPGA tour."
Since earning her card, Wie has been working on all aspects of her game with swing coach David Leadbetter " and going to school. She won't leave Stanford until the present quarter ends in March, so she doesn't know where and when she will play again after the SBS Open. And there won't be much beach time in Hawaii, as Wie says she'll have plenty of homework to tend to for her classes in engineering, societies, writing and creative drama.
"I'll be pretty occupied at all times, but I love this game, and I want to play a lot," Wie says. "I can't wait to play again. I've had a rough time for two years. But I've matured a lot, and I know how to handle stuff when it's not going my way.
"There's going to be such great competition on tour, great personalities, great players, and I want to be a part of it."
Like Wie, Hurst turned pro before she got her high school diploma. With an elegant swing and an ever-present Kangol hat, made famous by Payne Stewart, she always has stood out on the course. After a decorated amateur career, the 18-year-old Floridian won five times on the Futures Tour, two sandwiched around her high school graduation, and earned rookie and player of the year honors.
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