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Liguori: Will Spectacular Sebonack Help Boost Women’s Golf In U.S.?

U.S. Women's Open Underway On Long Island
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Paula Creamer hits a shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 2013 U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack Golf Club on June 25, 2013 in Southampton, New York. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Paula Creamer hits a shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club on June 25, 2013 in Southampton, New York. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

By Ann Liguori
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The U.S. Women’s Open is underway for the first time ever on Long Island at the breathtaking Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.

With its expansive layout of rolling fairways, severe, undulating greens, spectacular views of the Peconic Bay and a beautiful, towering clubhouse which overlooks neighboring National Golf Links and Shinnecock Hills, the USGA made a statement when selecting Sebonack as the host of our country’s Open.

Could this spectacular venue in the New York metropolitan area, in the No. 1 media market, provide the boost that women’s professional golf needs in our country?

I feel it can — if an American wins and if U.S. players can get on a streak. Stacy Lewis, ranked No. 1 for four weeks earlier this year, won twice already in 2013 and has six wins in the past two seasons, including one major, the 2011 Kraft Nabisco. Can Lewis win her first U.S. Open and help bring more attention to the women’s game?

How about Long Island’s own Annie Park? Park is a freshman at University of Southern California and took the red-eye back from an awards ceremony in Los Angeles on Monday night where she was honored as one of the top female college athletes in the country.

On Tuesday morning, I walked nine holes with former U.S. Open champ Cristie Kerr and watched as she and her caddy Worth Blackwelder navigated the course, studied the tricky greens and practiced various shots from different parts of the fairways to just the right spots on the rolling greens. Kerr has played the course at least six previous times, preparing for what Kerr hopes to be her third major win. (Kerr won the U.S. Open in 2007 and the LPGA Championship in 2010.)

Kerr is one of the toughest competitors mentally, which will come in handy at Sebonack in order to handle the greens and the changing winds and course conditions.

Paula Creamer, who won the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 2010, on one of, if not the most difficult U.S. Open courses ever, played practice rounds this week with Tom Doak, co-designer of Sebonack, walking with her and providing inside knowledge about the greens.

Hall-of-Famer Juli Inkster, winner of two U.S. Open titles, is playing this week. She was given a special exemption so she wouldn’t have to qualify.

When I asked the 53-year-old Inkster to talk about the popularity of the women’s game in this country now, compared to when she first started playing, Inkster replied: “I think our TV ratings are up.  We’re really popular over in Asia, Korea and Japan.  I mean, we’re more popular than the guys over there.  We have a lot of good, young American players with Lexi Thompson and Jessica Korda and Morgan (Pressel) and Paula (Creamer).  I think people rally behind them. That’s fun to see.

“When I first came out, our TV wasn’t as good, but we had a lot more American players, and I think a lot more people probably could relate to them. I think it’s kind of hard to differentiate one Kim to another.  But being out here, I mean, they all have really different personalities, and they’re a lot of fun.  It’s just hard for the American culture to get a grip on them.”

It would be great if Michelle Wie, former teenage phenom, could have a breakthrough win. Watching her practice her putting, bent over at an unusual 90-degree angle, is painful-looking. For a player with one of the most beautiful swings in the game, her putting woes continue to haunt her.

The player who knows the nuances of the greens and can execute precise shots to the appropriate spots on the greens, has the best shot of winning, provided she makes the putts. That player will probably be a long hitter off the tee, who can then use irons, not woods or hybrids, for more accurate approach shots.

Inbee Park, a 25-year-old from South Korea has won the first two of the five women’s majors this season – the Kraft-Nabisco and the LPGA Championship. She’s coming off her fifth win of the season this past Sunday at the NW Arkansas Championship.

The defending U.S. Open Champion is Na Yeon Choi, also from South Korea.

Sixteen-year-old Lydia Ko of New Zealand, who won the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur last year and became the youngest-ever winner of an LPGA Tour event at the CN Canadian Women’s Open last year, enlisted Louis deKerillis, a golf instructor at Sebonack, to caddy for her this week. It’s a brilliant move on Ko’s part as Louie really knows these greens and will make sure Ko is having fun and stays relaxed! I’m very impressed with Ko’s game and her composure.

And Suzann Pettersen of Norway is one of the toughest competitors in the women’s game. She has the game and the mental toughness to win more major championships. She won the LPGA Championship in 2007 and has earned 11 LPGA Tour titles and 6 Ladies European Tour titles. She’s always one of the fiercest competitors in Solheim Cup play for the European Team.

Whoever wins, you will be impressed with the way these women hit the ball. They deserve the utmost respect and recognition. And amateur golfers can learn a lot from watching their swings.

Here’s to an exciting U.S. Women’s Open in our own backyard, as Sebonack should bring out the best (or worst) from the best female players in the game.

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