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Southwest Florida gets to welcome the LPGA Tour back after 11 years today at TwinEagles. It will be a different tour than the one from 2001 when there was not the Asian presence — and dominance — that has become rampant in recent years.
Perhaps the biggest news about the LPGA — even to some former tour players in town Monday — was that an American, Stacy Lewis, will be taking home the Rolex Player of the Year award. It's the first since Beth Daniel in 1994 — yes, 18 years ago.
"1994? Oh my gosh," said Cindy Rarick, one of four former tour players in the Immokalee Foundation Pro-Am at Bay Colony Golf Club. "I didn't even know that. That's fantastic. Good for her. Hopefully that will encourage a lot more young, American junior golfers to start pursuing professional golf or at least to get into golf programs. I think a lot of little girls are looking up to Stacy. She's a great role model and obviously a fantastic player."
"It's about time," said Fort Myers' Terry-Jo Myers, another former tour player. "Has it been that long? ... Wow, hat's off to Stacy because she has more so than anybody in the past, has the toughest competition, to be the first American in 18 years."
Lewis was second last year to Taiwan's Yani Tseng, who won her second straight. Cristie Kerr was a close second in 2010 and third in 2009. In 2008, Paula Creamer — and everybody — finished well back of Lorena Ochoa, who won four straight from 2006-09. Before Ochoa, it was Annika Sorenstam, who won in 1995, the year after Daniel, and then seven of the next 10 (Karrie Webb won in 1999-2000; Laura Davies in 1996).
After Lewis on this year's points list are eight Asians. Suzann Pettersen of Norway is the next non-Asian at No. 10.
"Whether it's the Olympics or the Ryder Cup, you're always pulling for your country," Michelle McGann said. "Who knows what the impact ... who knows? It's hard to tell. Hopefully she can be a good role model to a lot of these girls coming up now — that they can do it."
Myers doesn't want to be a naysayer, but she's not so sure what the impact for Americans will be. When Daniel won player of the year in 1994, she was the 11th different American to win in a 29-year period where one non-American — Japan's Ayako Okamoto in 1987 — took home the award.
"I'm not sure if the Americans own the tour anymore," said Myers, who now runs a fitness center with her husband. "Basically, it is a worldwide tour. I think it's fabulous that an American has won Player of the Year. I think it's an incredible achievement at this point in time. Whether that means American golf will make a surge because of Stacy Lewis' impact, I'm not so sure. I'm not sure if it's on the radar as much as it is worldwide on the radar. I am betting that Stacy Lewis' Player of the Year isn't going to settle too well with the Korean players, and they're going to come back stronger and tougher and harder and everything."
Early-arriving Mozo pleased with Eagle Course's layout
Belen Mozo wanted to get in early. That's the opposite of what the 24-year-old Spaniard did to qualify for this week's CME Group Titleholders.
Mozo arrived Friday and checked out TwinEagles Club's Eagle Course, the tournament layout completeley renovated by architect Steve Smyers.
"I was very impressed," said Mozo, who qualified in the second-to-last tournament. "I don't know why I was expecting less quality of golf course. Truly, the greens are playing fast and firm like a U.S. Open. It's going to make it very challenging. It's a long track. It's in great condition. I was very blown away about how well they maintain the greens and the fairways and everything."
Mozo played in Monday's Immokalee Foundation Pro-Am, and took time to make an appearance at the Greg Norman Collection Store in Miromar Outlets in Estero.
"I have a really good relationship with them," Mozo said. "They know that every time they need me I'm going to be there for them. They were my first sponsor. I'm never going to change that."
Mozo's style has included an appearance in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue.