By Matt Hombach
There’s no doubt the sports world will be focused on Belmont Park Saturday as Big Brown makes his bid to be the first Triple Crown winner in three decades. With Maryland’s rich horse racing heritage, it seems fitting that on the same weekend, the state will host a major golf championship on a course named for a stud horse known as the “father of all thoroughbred horses in America” -- Bulle Rock.
Whether Big Brown can trace his bloodlines back to the legendary Bulle Rock in the 1700s is an argument that would be tough to make. However, there are no arguments that this year’s LPGA Championship promises to produce some sporting drama of its own.
Can Dominance Continue?
The world's top-ranked golfer, Lorena Ochoa, has been on a tear this season, winning an incredible six of nine tournaments she has entered in 2008. Her last win came at the Sybase Classic in early May.
Ochoa will be teeing it up with a heavy heart. She unexpectedly withdrew from the Ginn Tribute tournament last week to be in Mexico with her uncle, who passed away shortly after she returned home.
Ochoa has played well in the past at the LPGA Championship, finishing six shots back in sixth place in 2007 and only three strokes back in 2006.
Annika’s Last Stand
After Ochoa’s early dominance on the LPGA Tour, the biggest story line in recent weeks has been Annika Sorenstam’s surprise announcement that she is retiring at the end of the 2008 season.
Bulle Rock, the Havre de Grace golf course named after the "father of all thoroughbred horses in America," plays host to the LPGA Championship.
Sorenstam has dominated women’s professional golf since the 1990s, but seems ready to pass the unofficial mantle of the “Tiger Woods of Women’s Golf” to someone else. After being nagged by injuries throughout 2007, Sorenstam started strong in 2008, bringing home three tournament wins before the season’s halfway point.
"This is obviously a very difficult decision for me to make, because I love this game very much. But I know it’s the right one. I’m leaving the game on my own terms," she said at a press conference announcing her departure from pro golf.
Some speculate her retirement means Sorenstam is focused on starting a family. She plans to marry fiancé Mike McGee, son of former PGA Tour player Jerry McGee, in early 2009. Professionally, Annika has stated she will focus her efforts on building her golf academy and foundation and course design business.
When most professional golfers decide to retire, it normally coincides with the diminishing of skills and ability to win. Not so with Sorenstam, who still has what it takes to win on the LPGA Tour. Local golf fans will not only be treated to seeing her play in person one last time, but will most likely see her contend for the major championship she last won in 2005.
Pettersen Set to Defend
With all the focus on Sorenstam and Ochoa, it’s easy to forget that Suzann Petterson took home a tidy $300,000 check after winning the 2007 LPGA Championship. Petterson will be back and ready to defend her crown this week.
The Norwegian star already has two top-10 finishes in 2008 and is poised to take on Bulle Rock and the hottest player on tour, Ochoa.
“Lorena is very dominant, but I know I can beat her if I play my best golf,” Pettersen said. “If you put her under pressure down the stretch, she will make mistakes like everyone else.”
After winning in 2007, Pettersen is a big fan of the layout at Bulle Rock, but realizes there is a lot of strategy involved in playing well at the course.
“You have to play smart, but try to be aggressive where there’s room to be aggressive,” she said. “Bulle Rock is all about hitting fairways. If you hit fairways, you’re in a position to hit aggressive shots into the green.”
Free Admission on Select Days
The LPGA is encouraging seniors to come out on Thursday, opening day, with a special promotion in which fans age 50 and over are admitted free.
Saturday is Military Appreciation Day. All active duty members in all branches of the services, the National Guard and Reserves, plus retirees and veterans, are admitted free.
In addition, the LPGA is extending free admission to any children 16 and under who are accompanied by a ticketed adult any day during the week.
Coverage On Golf Channel
The Golf Channel will be running live coverage Thursday and Friday of tournament week from 12:30-3:30 p.m. with a replay running 7-10 p.m. On the weekend days, coverage will begin at 4 p.m. and conclude at 7 p.m. with a replay starting at 7:30 p.m.
The McDonald's LPGA Championship presented by Coca-Cola
Bulle Rock Golf Course - Havre de Grace, Maryland
June 5-8, 2008
Ticket Info. Thursday and Friday $22
Saturday and Sunday $25
Weeklong Pass $65
Parking: Free at Ripken Stadium
Issue 3.23: June 4, 2008