News

Papago gets some \‘love\’ from LPGA

 
By BILL HUFFMAN
      Even though not everything was picture-perfect at last week’s J Golf Phoenix LPGA International, few people complained. More encouraging, there were a lot of positive things said about the tournament being moved to Phoenix and being played at Papago Golf Course.
     From my perspective, I liked the feel. Fans of all ages turned out to watch players like Lorena Ochoa, Michelle Wie and the eventual champ, Karrie Webb. That they followed their favorites all over the course – on virtually every hole! – was pretty neat, too.
     So what were some of the other reactions to the first-ever LPGA tournament at Papago, a move we hope continues to thrive in the future? Well, here is a diverse sampling starting with the players.
     Naturally, there were a few criticisms, but very few overall. Mostly, the firm greens and inconsistent bunkers took the brunt from players like two-time defending champ Lorena Ochoa and Morgan Pressel, the third member of what I call the “Brat Pack’’ along with Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis.
     “I just think it’s not ready yet. It’s new,’’ Pressel said of the course while signing autographs Sunday afternoon. “I had some putts bounce out (of the cup), so it gets a little frustrating. And it’s hard to get close to the pin because the greens are so hard.
    “But it was here or nowhere, so we’re just glad to be here.’’
    Thank you, Morgan. Lorena, did you have trouble getting approach shots close to the pins?
     “Well, if you find someone who didn’t, let me know,’’ Ochoa said with a spunky smile. “But overall, I liked Papago a lot. No complaints.’’
    That was pretty much the general reaction: People liked Papago but just didn’t think it was quite ready. Not surprising given the course was just four months out of a $6.5 million restoration.
     Laura Davies, who won this tournament four consecutive times back in the mid-1990s, was typical of that line of thinking.
     “I love the layout, it’s very charming and traditional, even if the greens were a little firm and tricky,’’ Davies said. “Seriously, I hope it comes back here next year because I think I can do well on it. This is my kind of golf course.’’
     Christina Kim was even more enthusiastic.
     “The layout is phenomenal,’’ said one of the LPGA’s more colorful players. “I was here six weeks ago and played it, and it’s made leaps and bounds since then.
      “I also love that it’s a muni and that we have this relationship with the city. It’s got kind of a Caddyshack feel to it, and I think that’s really neat! Hey, everything doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect like we get most weeks.’’
       Asked if she thought the lack of amenities like a clubhouse and dressing rooms took away from the event, Kim was taken aback.
       “We’ve got tees, greens and fairways! What more do we need than that? You can’t play the tournament in a locker room!’’
       Obviously, Kim hopes the event will be back at Papago next year.
      “There’s a lot of potential here, and I have full faith that we’ll return,’’ she added. “There is something drastically wrong if (the LPGA) is not playing in Phoenix, Arizona.’’
      Veteran Helen Alfredsson, another “lively’’ type, had this perspective.
      “For not really having a lot of choice, this really has been a very pleasant surprise,’’ said Alfie. “Sure, the conditions were not quite there, not quite what we’re used to, but, come on, it’s new!
      “So the way I look at it is, in times like these, everybody has to make some sacrifices. And, really, we didn’t have to sacrifice much because the fans turned out in good numbers and the course is a good one.’’
      There were others from the golf community who came out to take a peek. One of those was PING CEO John Solheim, who was escorting his 90-year-old mother, Louise, around the course.
     “Oh, I think this is great, really great,’’ said Solheim, who was watching the action at the 18th hole while chatting with one of PING’s top players, long-hitting Bubba Watson who now lives in Scottsdale.
       “It’s a great course and it challenges the gals. Of course, I’m a little partial to Moon Valley (where the tournament was held for 16 years), but I think this is really a great central location with lots of good freeway access for everybody to get here.
       “Papago Park is such a beautiful spot and it’s so Arizona. I bet those buttes look beautiful on TV, too.’’
       Pia Nilsson, the noted Swedish instructor who teams with another acclaimed instructor, Lynn Marriott, at their Vision 54 School in Phoenix, also thought the move to Papago from the far East Valley was a solid one.
      “I was thinking (about the move) yesterday, and I realized how much I like it here in the center of the city,’’ Nilsson said. “It’s now a tournament for everybody, and I just love that.
     “I hope the City of Phoenix realizes what a gold mine this could become, and that it returns here next year and the years to come.’’
      That would certainly make some of the tournament’s youngest fans very happy indeed. Unlike the FBR Open, the J Golf Phoenix International attracted a lot of little kids, especially little girls.     
     “It’s really cool to be out here and see them play and get their autographs,’’ said Ellie Porman, a nine-year-old from Gilbert. “This will be one of my favorite memories – especially if I get their autograph.’’
      Ashlynne O’Neal, a seven-year-old from Tempe, also was having a field day getting players’ to sign her hat.
      “My sister is a professional golfer, so I see a lot of her friends out here,’’ said Ashlynne, whose older sister is Blair O’Neal who played for Arizona State and soon will star in the latest version of The Golf Channel’s Big Break series.
      Asked if she was going to be a professional golfer when she grew up, Ashlynne had to think a moment.
      “I’m not really sure yet if I’m going to do that or not,’’ she said, putting a finger to her lips in contemplation. “But I do like getting autographs and watching them play. This is way fun.’’
      Apparently a lot of people agreed with Ashlynne, as an estimated 39,000 fans turned out for the final round, boosting the gate to 131,000 for the week. It was a nice start to a new beginning, everyone agreed.
 
      

News

Webb, Papago come out winners

 
By BILL HUFFMAN
     A golden opportunity is knocking at the door of the City of Phoenix – loudly!
      It’s the J Golf Phoenix LPGA International, which just returned triumphantly from the far East Valley to Phoenix.
      Held at the City’s restored and highly acclaimed municipal facility, Papago Golf Course, approximately 131,000 fans showed up last week to celebrate the tournament’s 30th anniversary. Only four months out of a $6.5 facelift, Papago played to solid reviews, sharing the stage with the eventual champ, Hall of Famer Karrie Webb who held off a young and talented group of Koreans.
      In fact, Sunday’s final round was such a smash hit – it drew the week’s largest crowd of 39,000 fans – the tournament’s success left organizers pleasantly stunned.
      Considering two-time defending champ Lorena Ochoa never threatened to three-peat, that Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis WD-ed before things got serious, and that Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel never were a factor, it was an amazing turnout presumably sparked by the curiosity about the “new’’ Papago.
      “To announce the tournament was moving here to Papago just last month, and then to turn around and get the job done in seven weeks, oh, that feels great,’’ said Tom Maletis, the president of the Portland-based Tournament Golf Foundation that managed the event and oversaw its transition to Papago from Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, the tournament’s site from 2004-2008.
     “I’d like to thank the Mayor (Phil) Gordon, Rob Harman and his staff (Parks and Recreation), and the City of Phoenix for making this happen. I am encouraged they are as excited about keeping this event here in Phoenix (at Papago) as we are.  
    “I also want to thank the Arizona Golf Association and its foundation for getting the ball rolling at Papago. Without their efforts to restore the course this never could have happened.’’
    Now here is where it gets tricky.
    First, a title sponsor, or at least a consortium of presenting sponsors, needs to be found, formed and produce the funding. Not easy when you’re seeking at least $3.5 million, especially in a recession. Presumably for this to happen, there needs to be positive signs out of the economy by at least this summer.
    Second, the City needs to invest more money in Papago to make the muni worthy of hosting an LPGA tournament. We’re not talking Superstition Mountain conditions, no way. But to seal the deal a clubhouse with locker rooms must be built, as well as more money spent to smooth out the golf course’s rough edges, especially the bunkers, greens and desert transition areas.
  Finally, organizers and City officials need to strategize a plan to make sure the long-time charity, the Banner Health Foundation, remains high-profile and well-funded. Some of that focus — the original idea behind the tournament — was lost this year in the rush to get things ready. And with minimal funding this time around, it’s doubtful that this year’s contribution will amount to much.
    Still, everyone associated with the event last week could not have been happier about how it all turned out.
  “To put things together as fast as we did and only be about 10 to 20 percent off (at the gate) from a year ago, that’s a very good indicator how successful (the move) has been and could become,’’ said Maletis, noting that last year 159,000 turned out at Superstition Mountain. “Now we’ll meet with the mayor and City officials next week and try to get things worked out to come back here. And the sooner the better.’’
   While the gate is a good indicator of the interest in the LPGA- Papago bond, it certainly is not the only selling point for moving the tournament there permanently. As a marketing tool, the event could be a huge boon for the City as well as the course.
   An Arizona State research study in 2008 found that the tournament had a $22 million economic impact for the East Valley during its five years there. The guess here is that, given time to develop, that number could easily be doubled.
   The tournament’s impact also gives Phoenix and Papago massive global marketing in that the LPGA broadcast network on any given week reaches 150 countries worldwide. And Papago looked even better than I thought it would on The Golf Channel last week along with all that sunshine that was beamed to places like Michigan, England, Iceland and Japan.
   Incredibly, there was even a story in the weekend edition of Wall Street Journal under the headline: “Papago Gets a Shot.’’ The newspaper reported the renovation, the quick move, a little history about the tournament, and concluded that the verdict on Papago so far is that the course is “difficult but worthy, and perhaps a permanent home.’’
    There were a lot of other positive things that occurred, Maletis added, and some could not be measured by numbers of fans or money or even marketing.
   “At Superstition Mountain, because of the difficulty of getting in and out, everyone was pretty much at the tournament by noon and hung out around the clubhouse; there wasn’t much movement onto the course,’’ he pointed out. “At Papago, we’ve got mounds (elevation) on almost every hole so people can get a great view of the players, as well as a lot of trees for shade, so people tend to fan out all over the golf course. And we were amazed at the steady flow, as we had fans coming through the gate as late as 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
     “So I think all of us agree that Papago and the LPGA are a great fit, that the tournament now has a more local feel to it. The location is so central to the Valley and easy for everyone to get to that this is where we want to keep it.’’
     But where do they get $3.5 million on an annual basis for the tournament ($1.5 million for the purse, $1 million for infrastructure, $500,000 for TV, and $500,000 for fees and operations) and another $5 million for a clubhouse?
     “Obviously, we need a commitment from the City that it will keep upgrading the facility, chiefly because this is a high-profile event,’’ Maletis noted. “It can still be a muni, we’ve got no problem with that. In fact we like the feel at Papago because it makes the event more for the people – all the people.
     “As for the $3.5 million (to run the tournament), that’s a bare bones figure, really. And, remember, it’s also a figure that doesn’t leave anything for charity, which is something we must address in the future.’’
     Certainly it would be a shame if the LPGA event here goes dark next year, or if the tournament would move to another location but keep its date on the schedule, because that date is a prized one, Maletis noted. For one thing it is the first tournament held in the continental U.S. each year, and it comes the week before the LPGA’s first major champions, the Kraft Nabisco in southern California.
      “It’s happened in other places (losing tournaments), and it’s scary it could happen here, because Phoenix is a golf mecca and it needs the LPGA as much as the LPGA needs it,’’ he said. “So we need to get a title sponsor(s) in place as soon as possible, so that can get the full year’s value out of being associated with the tournament rather than coming in at the last minute and getting a month or two of recognition like happened this time.’’
      The clock is ticking and the signs are ominous in places like Hawaii, which has gone from seven professional golf tournaments on three different tours 10 years ago to possibly none by 2010. Or in Florida, which has lost three tournaments in the past year. And don’t forget about Tucson, where the LPGA played for 25 years until it went bye-bye a few years back, and The Tradition on the Champions Tour, which went belly-up right here in the Valley.
      So what do you do? Given the current state of the economy, chances are Maletis is not going to pull a title sponsor out of the hat any time soon. The suggestion here is the City of Phoenix steps up and takes control of the event, and brings in all its vendors as partners in the deal. Call it the Phoenix LPGA International and make it a showcase of the community while branding Papago and the City to the world.
    Even if the tournament only breaks even in the years to come, it’s a future where everyone wins.  
         
  
       

News

For No. 1 Ochoa, there always is \‘next week\’

  By BILL HUFFMAN
    Lorena Ochoa was agitated yet composed after failing to rally Saturday in her bid for a third straight victory in the J Golf Phoenix LPGA International.
    Not that this tournament at Papago Golf Course is over in the eyes of the two-time defending champ. But Ochoa is eight strokes off the pace being set by the latest, greatest Korean sensation, Jiyai Shin.
   Ochoa even managed a slight smile despite missing the mark badly on a 10-foot birdie putt on her final hole of the third round. It was one of many lost opportunities on this sunny day that attracted a crowd somewhere in the 15,000 to 20,000 range.
    “I’m feeling very good. I’m very happy with my driver,’’ said the Mexican superstar, who ruled this tournament in record-breaking fashion the past two years at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club in the far East Valley.
    “It’s just I didn’t have anything going this week. I feel like I haven’t played too bad, but the score hasn’t shown anything. It’s very disappointing (but) better this week than next week.’’
    Not surprisingly, Ochoa also is the defending champ in the LPGA’s first major of 2009, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which tees off next week at Mission Hills in the Palm Springs area. And who can blame Ochoa for focusing on a major rather than a three-peat?
   “Winning majors, that’s my No. 1 goal for this season,’’ said the No. 1 player in women’s golf earlier in the week.
     Once upon a time, Ochoa had trouble bagging those big ones, as she coughed up several major titles coming down the stretch. But a stirring victory in the British Open in 2007 was followed up with another amazing performance in the Kraft Nabisco last spring, where she left the Swedish tandem of Annika Sorenstam and Suzann Pettersen five shots down the road. A brief drought followed in the middle of  the summer before Ochoa roared back by winning her 24th career victory in the fall, a feat that landed her in the LPGA Hall of Fame at age 26.      
     This season opened with yet another win in Thailand. Then came last week’s big letdown in her homeland, where Ochoa couldn’t hold onto the lead in the MasterCard Classic Honoring Alejo Peralta. It hurt, because the one win Ochoa wants as much as a major is winning in her hometown, a trophy that has eluded her for five straight years. 
   “It doesn’t feel good, but I gave it my best at the end. It just wasn’t to be,’’  the introspective Ochoa said of her birdie-birdie finish that came up one shot shy of a playoff with Pat Hurst.
    “There are a lot of great players out here, and (Hurst) is certainly one of them. So you learn and move on and try to win the next one.’’
    Not that Ochoa has totally given up on what lies ahead today. Sure, the 20-year-old Shin is probably the hottest player in women’s golf, having won three times last year as a non-member of the LPGA and once this season as a member. And Shin can play, as evidenced by the 27 tournaments she has won since turning pro in 2005, the majority on the Korean LPGA.
    Remember, it was Shin who got in the way of Ochoa repeating at the British last summer, although that was once again a change of venue, as Ochoa won at St. Andrews and Shin’s win came at Sunningdale Golf Club.
    There are certainly others who also could factor into the final 18 holes at Papago, which has held up nicely through three rounds. That list includes first- and second-leader In-Kyung Kim, yet another 20-year-old Korean who is one shot back along with Hall of Famer Karrie Webb of Australia; Pettersen, who is two shots back; and Yani Tseng, another tenacious 20-year-old Asian who comes from Taiwan and is five shots back and still plenty dangerous.
    What’s cool about Ochoa, who has the heart of a lioness and the frame of a lamb, is she has no fear against all this young and relentless talent. She knows who won the driving distance title last year on the LPGA (269.8 yards), how she putted last year (No. 1),  who won the most tournaments (seven) and money ($2.76 million). Ochoa has no plans to give up those honors just yet.
    In every way imagineable, Ochoa can do it all with her bag of PINGs even if she hasn’t done much this week after opening with rounds of 72-72 en route to 70 on Saturday. But she "loves the desert” dating back to her college days at the University of Arizona, and said she likes Papago "a lot.”
      “I think it’s a fun course, (but) it’s not very easy to make putts because they are (from) far away all the time,’’ Ochoa said about the new and rather firm greens. “And I’m frustrated because I feel like I didn’t take advantage of the par 5s (2-under through 54 holes). I’m able to hit almost all of them (in two shots). It’s weird. . . .
      “The bunkers, I’ve missed probably all of them (saves). (The bunkers in the) middle of the fairway, next to the green, I just don’t feel comfortable. Those are the things that are stopping me from shooting a low round.’’
      She’s right, the sand at Papago is inconsistent, and that’s the way Ochoa has performed this week as her score has yo-yoed up and down from 2- or 3-under back to par. Certainly her home-course advantage at Superstition Mountain was taken away even if she has never complained about it.
      So does this mean the three-peat is out of reach?
      The hard line says probably so if for no other reason than Shin is getting better and better as the tournament unfolds, including a course record 6-under 66 by Shin on Saturday.
      Just don’t tell Lorena Ochoa that it can’t be done. Her positive nature would never allow such a negative thought.
      “Of course I’m going to think that anything can happen,’’ Ochoa said when asked about her slim chances. “I remember Annika coming from 10 shots back once.’’
     Sorenstam did it at the 2001 Office Depot hosted by Amy Alcott, and it’s been done two other times in LPGA history. Besides, Ochoa is only eight shots back of Shin — not 10!
     “I won’t put any pressure on myself and will come out tomorrow and enjoy my day,’’ Ochoa said. “I’m feeling good. I’m not worried about anything.’’
     Such is life when you’re on top of the world rankings, a national hero at home and you’ve already accomplished so much in your profession that there always is "next week.”

News

As Wie goes, so goes the LPGA

 
By BILL HUFFMAN
      Even though Michelle Wie isn’t prepared for it, her time is now.
      That stark reality glared at us like red lights on a police car during Friday’s second round of the J Golf Phoenix LPGA International. And speaking of cops, there were as many as four officers following Wie around Papago Golf Course, including a personal bodyguard inside the ropes.
      What other player in women’s golf commands that Tiger Woods-like security? Not Lorena Ochoa, the world’s No. 1, and especially not little-known Korean In-Kyung Kim, who is leading this tournament by two strokes at the halfway point.
      At times this week, Ochoa’s gallery has reached, maybe, a couple of hundred fans even though she has been towards the top of the leader board both days. Wie’s gallery, meanwhile, has surged over 500 fans on numerous occasions even though the world’s No. 84-ranked player had to fight mightily just to make the cut.
      Fortunately for tournament organizers, Wie made it right on the number at 5-over par. But it took a clutch putt on the final hole from six feet to save par that made the difference in her very unspectacular round of 76 on the heels of a 73.
      "It was a struggle,” was the way Wie summed it up. "It was weird, because I felt I didn’t shoot my score,” meaning she thought it should have been better, and it probably would have been had she not lost a ball and made double-bogey just three holes into her round. 
      And, no, there wasn’t any truth to a rumor that LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens had decried that the cut would come wherever the Wie one ended up. That was another day and time, when Wie was ranked as high as No. 3 in the world (2006) with a little help from the commish.
     Actually, it was a blessing that Wie survived to play the weekend, what with Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis on the bench having WD-ed with injuries. At the same time and despite all that charisma, Creamer and Gulbis can’t command the cameras or the fans’ adoration quite like Wie.
    So what is it about Michelle Wie — the Paris Hilton of the LPGA — that attracts fans of all ages? Why does Wie get more attention than even Annika Sorenstam in all her glory despite the fact that Wie never has won a tournament since turning pro three years ago?
     Chances are it’s not because of her nickname, “the Big Wiesy.’’ Wie isn’t even that long these days compared to players like Ochoa, whose average drive (302.2 yards) is about 12 yards beyond Wie’s (289.2 yards) this week.
    Even Wie’s playing partners for the first two rounds, sensational rookie Vicky Hurst who rewrote the Futures record book last year, and Arizona State’s prized freshman Carlota Ciganda from Spain, were laying their best Linda Ronstandt  (“Blue Bayou’’) on Wie for much of the day.
    Bear with me, because this is where it gets a little fuzzy as Wie’s chief claim to fame is that her prowess off the tee allowed her to play on the PGA Tour against the best players on the planet. Then again, she didn’t have any success against the guys, either. But despite all that failure – nine chances, nine missed cuts – Wie said she plans to, eventually, do it again.
     “I really love playing in men’s events (because) I learn so much from them,’’ the congenial 19-year-old said earlier this week. “I’m not saying I want to play against them in a couple of weeks – but, definitely in the future.’’
     This is the mystery of Michelle Wie – we kind of understand the rationale behind the thinking of this part-time Stanford student, and yet we don’t know anything at all. Obviously, Wie is doing it her way, but she certainly seems misguided (lost?) at times.
     Perhaps that happens when you go through several agents and a dozen caddies while making Hollywood movie star-like money as a teen-ager. And certainly all those past disqualifications that snapped defeat from the jaws of victory didn’t help, either.
     Then there are Wie’s overbearing parents, who keep pointing her in directions that seem way beyond her years.
    That was the other spectacle that stood out like a sore thumb during Wie’s first two rounds – BJ and Bo watching every shot like silent critics in their black Nike gear, B.J. even going as far as checking out his daughter’s lies in the fairway with binoculars. Sure, Michelle has said she likes the support, but chances are it is only a matter of time before her latest agency, IMG, gets rid of Mom and Pop Wie like it did with Earl Woods.
    Perhaps that will be the impetus for Wie to delve further into her game and make needed changes. Maybe she’ll even figure out why she keeps pushing irons and missing short putts, as well as why she can’t close the deal like earlier this season when she lost a three-shot lead with eight holes to play in her hometown of Honolulu.
    Who knows? Maybe this youngster who was flung before the public when she was just 13 can even post her first ‘W’ and ride that momentum to bigger and better things. Certainly the talent is there as well as the fan base, said one of Wie’s biggest admirers.
    “Is this the Michelle Wie tour? I don’t think so, at least not at this moment,’’ said Beth Daniel, the Hall of Famer and current U.S. Solheim Cup captain who works as an analyst for The Golf Channel.
    “But Michelle is a media buzz, for sure, and she’s also big with the fans. I will say this: She has the potential to do for our tour what Tiger did for the PGA Tour. I think most people are hoping she finds her game and does all that. But the reality is, since she was 13, 14 or 15 – or around that age — she hasn’t lived up to that potential.’’
     Daniel is center-cut. And the cold, hard truth is that this might be a make-or-break season for Wie, as most of her multi-million-dollar contracts with companies like Nike, Sony and Omega are in the final year and probably need a break-through performance to be renewed for similar money, a reported $12 million annually.
    But the same could be said about the LPGA, which is in dire straits in places like Arizona, Florida, South Carolina and, yes, Hawaii. Now if Wie could just reach back and start playing like “the Big Wiesy of old’’ (granted, it sounds like an oxymoron for someone who will be 20 in October), maybe she AND the LPGA could benefit greatly?
    The whole scenario kind of reminds me of something that happened Friday as we tagged along with Wie. On her 14th hole she finally smashed a 310-yard drive that blew past both Hurst and Ciganda. The big bomb brought this response from her well-meaning father, who was positioned 200 yards down the fairway.
     “Nice shot! Chop-chop!’’ B.J. Wie sort of shouted to no one in particular.
    The translation for chop-chop, which is Chinese slang or Pidgin English, is:  “Get going and be quick about it.”
    It was the only thing I heard the elder Wie say all day, and the irony was he could easily have been speaking for everyone who cares about the future of the LPGA.
      
   
     
   
         
    
   
   
      

News

Wind-blown Papago proves to be a handful

 
By BILL HUFFMAN
       On a day when most of the 144-player field was literally gone with the wind, two former U.S. Women’s Open champions put their tenacity on display at the J Golf Phoenix LPGA International.
       Inbee Park, the reigning Open champ, and Scottsdale’s Cristie Kerr, who captured the Open title in 2007, both carded 3-under-par 69s at the newly revamped Papago Golf Course. That moved them one shot behind Thursday’s first-round leader, Korea’s In-Kyung Kim.
     But Park, a Korean who lives in Las Vegas, and Kerr played in the afternoon, when winds gusted up to 39 mph, while Kim got lucky with a morning draw that proved much more docile.
      “I played a phenomenal round today,’’ said Kerr, who wasn’t boasting about her colorful scorecard that included two eagles, three birdies and four bogeys. The eagles were set up by a 3-wood from 240 yards to 25 feet at No. 10, and a brilliant 4-iron at No. 18 from 195 yards that settled five feet from the cup.
     “We kept getting blown around, losing our balance . . . but it went well,”  added Kerr, comparing the blustery day to a British Open. "My caddie and I thought very well in that wind.’’
      Park said the wind varied from a maximum of three clubs down to one and a half clubs, as it was “tough to get the distance right.’’
     “It was a dusty wind blowing in from the desert. An incredible wind,’’ said the 20-year-old, who hung in there with five birdies against a pair of bogeys.
     “If everybody played in the afternoon, I’d probably be (leading).’’
     Well, not quite, although she’s close along with another couple of Koreans, Jiyai Shin and Eun-Hee Ji, and Sweden’s Suzann Pettersen, who also shot 69s.
     Two-time defending champ Lorena Ochoa also got blown around plenty in the afternoon dust and haze, as did rookie sensation Michelle Wie. But both managed to hold it together, as Ochoa birdied the last hole for a 72, while Wie went 14 holes in the red before bogeys at the 15th and 16th dropped her back to 73.
    Not as fortunate was Paula Creamer, as the "Pink Panther” was forced to withdraw with an illness just prior to her tee time. Also MIA was Scottsdale’s Grace Park, who holed a bunker shot at her ninth hole then walked off the course presumably with an ailment, although LPGA policy won’t confirm such injuries.
    For an opening day at a brand-new venue, the crowds turned out about 10,000 to 15,000 strong. And despite the powerful winds that kept volunteers from being standard bearers – and a few hats being blown away for good! — the fans stuck it out.
    Not many knew who Kim was or is, but for the record the 20-year-old is one of 37 Koreans playing this week at Papago. Last year she recorded her first win at the Long’s Drug Challenge and also had a third-place finish in the Open.
   Kim ended up with an eagle, five birdies and three bogeys to get to 68, which technically was a new course record for 18 holes at the all-new Papago. But her biggest break came when she drew an 8:07 a.m. tee time, which meant she only played about nine holes in the wind  — the “easy wind.”
    The other player to keep an eye on from that initial morning wave is Shin, yet another 20-year-old Korean with plenty of game. Shin posted three wins on the LPGA last year as a non-member, including the Women’s British Open, and already has won this year in Singapore. A budding superstar, Shin has won 27 times in the last three years world-wide.
    But Kim, Kerr, Park and Shin were the exceptions to the rule. Overall, the numbers from Round One were sky-high, with only 20 players breaking par. On the flip side, 10 players failed to break 80 as the average score soared to 75.024.
    The poster girl for how bad it got was veteran Michelle McGann, who opened eagle-birdie to get to 3-under after two holes in the afternoon only to end up with an 80. The wind also made for slow play, as 10 players were still on the course when play was called due to darkness at 6:48 p.m.
    Those 10 will resume play this morning at 6:50 along with the first groups in the second round. Unfortunately for the ladies, more wind is in the forecast.