Swanson: LPGA’s astounding depth actually decreases intrigue

SOMIS – It was Jodi Ewart Shadoff vs. Jodi Ewart Shadoff on Sunday, and finally, after 11 years and 245 LPGA tournaments, the 34-year-old dodged self doubt and a hard-charging playing partner and won her first LPGA event.

It was great. But now I’m gonna need her to do it again the next time she plays.

Gonna need for her – or one of her supremely talented peers – to put some pressure on the field at large for longer than one week.

Actually, after watching them up close at The Saticoy Club, I’d love for her and South African Paula Reto to work their way into another final group as they did at the Mediheal Championship. I’d totally tune in to witness Ewart Shadoff’s very British stiff upper lip hiding very real nerves serving again as a foil for Reto’s sunny scrambling out of bunker after bunker.

Ewart Shadoff stayed stoic, defiantly expressionless. Reto smiled, shook hands with little girls in the gallery and erased all of Ewart’s 4-stroke lead by the seventh hole before the two locked into a match-play-esque battle that was so compelling I resisted returning to the media workroom after the front nine with the rest of the golf writers, staying with their group out on the course instead.

I was invested in these women, in their stories on this idyllic Sunday afternoon.

But I’d bet the proverbial farm that it’ll be different players jockeying for first at the LPGA’s next event, the BMW Ladies Championship, which kicks off the tour’s Korean swing.

This time, Ewart Shadoff’s pair of birdies on the back nine – and Reto’s first bogeys of the round, on Nos. 16 and 17 – sealed their fates. Reto dropped into a tie for third and Ewart got her long-sought victory.

She shot 15-under par 273 for a 1-stroke win over Japan’s Yuka Saso, which made Ewart Shadoff the 10th first-time winner on the tour this season – the most since 2018 and one shy of the LPGA record.

Obviously, Ewart Shadoff was a fan of the trend: “It’s just so inspiring. Couple of the girls that won in the beginning of the year inspired me. I said, ‘I can do it.’ ”

That anybody’s-ballgame business isn’t actually bad for business. The LPGA is healthy in that its total purse for 2022 increased to a record $85.7 million (Ewart Shadoff earned $270,000 on Sunday). Sponsors surely are attracted by the international diversity of a pool of players who come from more than 50 countries, and by the fact that tournaments are televised in more 160 nations.

But there’s corporate success and then there’s winning hearts and minds.

The LPGA is also healthy in that so many of its players are competing at such a high level, but it makes it hard to know who to root for – or against.

We want to celebrate Serena Williams’ successes. We wanted to be blown away by Michael Jordan’s brilliance. We’re either on Team Tom Brady or on Whatever Team is Facing Tom Brady. We dig rivalries between top talents like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. We perked up when our local college women’s basketball team faced UConn or Tennessee because it meant there was an outside chance for a monumental upset.

We, the people, are attracted by singular greatness. Tiger Woods, say.

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And right now, the LPGA is really, really deep. There’s so much high-level parity that every tournament feels like a lottery, like they could draw names out of a hat to see who from this wild collection of talent will get the win this time.

Annika Sorenstam dominated the LPGA between 1992 and 2008, winning 72 official LPGA tournaments including 10 majors and 18 other tournaments internationally. She finished her career tops the LPGA’s career money list with more than $22 million – more than $2 million in front of her nearest rival, despite playing 187 fewer events.

But Sorenstam also averaged 231.50 yards off the tee, a distance that would rank last in today’s game, when the LPGA is stocked with better athletes using improved equipment.

Dutchwoman Anne Van Dam averages a tour-best 279.896 yards this season and Ewart Shadoff, Sunday’s winner, hits it 258.561 on average (76th best).

And it’s not just how far these ladies are hitting it.

“I think just all of us are just so accurate,” said Andrea Lee, who won her first tournament last month, sitting atop a shifting leaderboard when the music stopped at the Portland Classic.

“We all hit fairways, a lot of greens, and great short games out here, too. So, yeah, I mean, super competitive. I think we all push each other to do our best and push each other to the next level. I think that’s what the LPGA is all about.”

It is what it is. And it’s really great. Almost too great?

There are stars, many of them young, promising figures in the field. The Women’s World Golf Rankings are no joke. But no clear-cut star.

But, hey, who knows? Maybe now that Jodi Ewart Shadoff has proved to herself that she can win one of these things, perhaps she can keep winning.

But I wouldn’t bet on it. The field’s too good.

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