LPGA detractors have an easy time criticizing the start-and-stop schedule that so far this year has provided five events on U.S. soil, but there's nothing wrong with the serious stretch of homegrown summer competition that gets started with this week's ShopRite LPGA Classic.
Beginning with Friday's opening round at Seaview Golf Club in Galloway, N.J., the women will be in action for three straight weeks, including the season's second major. After ShopRite's winner is crowned Sunday night, next week brings the State Farm Classic in Springfield, Ill., followed by the Wegmans LPGA Championship in Pittsford, N.Y.
ShopRite's field will feature 96 of the top 100 players on the LPGA money list, including all but one of the top 33. Five winners of 2011 tournaments will be playing, including Karrie Webb (two victories), Kraft Nabisco champion Stacy Lewis and world No. 1 Yani Tseng.
Cristie Kerr, who at No. 4 is the top American in the world rankings, and fellow 2010 major champion Paula Creamer also are on hand, along with defending tournament champ Ai Miyazato, long-driving Michelle Wie and South Florida's 16-year-old phenom, Alexis Thompson.
The only missing star is world No. 2 Suzann Pettersen, who withdrew Wednesday because of illness.
The 54-hole ShopRite event, with a $1.5 million purse, is one of just 13 LPGA events to be played in the United States this year out of 25 on the schedule. It is also one of just eight U.S. "full-field" events of 150 players. It is the tour's first full-field event since the Avnet LPGA Classic April 28-May 1 in Mobile, Ala.
A longtime popular LPGA stop, ShopRite returned to the schedule last year after a three-year hiatus. Played since 1986, it was canceled after 2006 because of a dispute over dates with then-LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens, but returned under new boss Mike Whan.
The golf course
Seaview, designed by Donald Ross, has a rich tournament history in addition to the LPGA's annual visit. The course hosted the 1942 PGA Championship when the tournament was still match play. Sam Snead defeated Jim Turnesa to win his first major, closing out the match by holing a 60-foot chip shot for birdie on the 35th hole.
The Seaview Dolce Resort, which has 36 holes, will use its Bay Course, playing as a 6,150-yard par 71.
"I love this golf course because I enjoyed it so much every time that I'm playing over here," Miyazato said. "It's because it doesn't just favor the long hitters. But this is a course that favors the long hitters and short hitters, and course management comes into play a lot."
Miyazato made ShopRite her fourth of five tournament wins in 2010, and her victory put her atop the world rankings. She held the No. 1 spot three times for a combined 11 weeks.
Now No. 7 in the Rolex Rankings, Miyazato took over the top spot for the first time after ShopRite with a two-shot victory over M.J. Hur of South Korea.
She shot a 7-under 64 and finished at 16 under to win for the first time in the United States.
Miyazato, who turns 26 later this month, won once more in 2010, but so far this year has only one top-10 finish in six starts. Self-imposed pressure?
"Yeah, I did, a little bit, honestly," she said this week, when asked about expecting too much. "I had such a great season last year, so I really want to -- I mean, I really want to have a good season also this year, so that's why I'm trying to work hard. But right now I feel like I just want to go at my own pace, so mentally I feel very good."
Coming off a Player of the Year 2010 season, the 22-year-old Tseng began this season with four straight international tournament victories to take over the women's world No. 1 ranking. The native of Taiwan has held the top spot since.
She most likely will remain there at least one more week.
Pettersen moved to No. 2, just 1.33 points behind Tseng, following her win two weeks ago in the Sybase Match Play, but will get no closer this week after her WD.
Tseng's lead over No. 3 Jiyai Shin appears large enough to ensure no major shakeup in the rankings.
News of note
The LPGA's planned venture into China for a tournament stop this fall is on hold. A Chinese government crackdown on golf courses has put the Imperial Springs LPGA -- scheduled for Aug. 4-7, the week after the Ricoh Women's British Open -- in question.
Whan informed players in a memo that Kingold Group, developer of the Imperial Springs project in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, asked to push the event back to the fall Asian swing. Whan gave Kingold until early July to gain approval to host the event.
The holdup apparently revolves around environmental, resource and land-use regulations on courses built since 2004. In seven years, the number of golf courses in China jumped from 170 to roughly 600.
"I'm 100 percent committed to having an event with Imperial Springs and the China LPGA," Whan told Golfweek. "Time will tell whether or not we'll be able to start that in 2011."
Friday: 12-2 a.m. (tape delay), Golf Channel
Saturday: 5-7 p.m., GC
Sunday: 4:30-7 p.m., GC