Pinehurst No. 2 is taking a mulligan. The wild course, which hosted last week’s snoozer of a U.S. Open, is about to welcome the ladies of the LPGA. The Women's Open has traditionally been a more mannered affair than the Phil Mickelson tragedy hour, but this year will be different. There will be more grudges, beauties, reversals, and resurrections on the course than in an Almodovar movie. Here are the story lines you'll want to watch:
1. The ladies will be hungry. In 2009, the LPGA signed an exclusive 10-year contract with the Golf Channel. Sounds great. Isn't. The women, who used to make regular appearances on the networks, have been spending most of their time cooped up on a channel for golf nerds. The one week a year they can climb out of their premium package dungeon is during the Open, which is shown on NBC. The viewership makes the already important tournament that much more critical to players trying to raise the value of their personal brands.
2. Michelle Wie is back. It seems like eons since she was the big-hitting, high school-attending phenom slated to become the Tigeress. Then Wie suffered through a years-long slump characterized by wildly erratic ball striking, withdrawals from tourneys, and unusual dye jobs. At 24, Wie is now playing the best professional golf of her life, second on tour in earnings and scoring average. She's not the next big thing, but she may have quietly become the current one.
3. Watching the women can improve your game. “A lot of guys tell me they can relate more to our swings than PGA players’,” five-time LPGA champ Brittany Lincicome told Maxim. “No amateur can swing like Tiger Woods or Dustin Johnson—their swing speeds are really fast. Our speeds are more normal. What guys can learn from us is to focus on tempo and the sequence of the swing. A smooth takeaway, good rhythm.” Brittany hits it 270 off the tee. You’d take that, right?
4. Woods will be in the field. As Tiger has languished this year with a bad back and other physical maladies, his niece Cheyenne Woods has proved to be more than a novelty with a famous name and familiar face. In February, Cheyenne made Uncle Eldrick proud by notching her first win at the Australian Ladies Masters. Last month she earned her way into the U.S. Open field at a regional qualifier. If she’s on the leaderboard over the weekend, we’ll likely get to see Tiger at Pinehurst after all.
5. An 11-year-old could take it. Lucy Li will be the youngest player ever to tee it up in a U.S. Open. She's more curiosity than contender, but her presence is definitely going to start a few debates. “I like to see kids learn to win before they get beat up out here,” Stacy Lewis, the world’s top-ranked female golfer told USA Today Sports. And she has a point. Pinehurst is a beast and, as we saw last week, the slippery turtleback greens can make even the best golfers look silly. Going out and shooting 90 or 95 might not be the best for the kid’s confidence. Still, NBC should get some mileage out of showing a 70-pound, pigtailed preteen stripe it 230 down the fairway.
6. Azahara Muñoz. Stacy Lewis has been the best on tour this year, and Michelle Wie is a sentimental choice. And all Inbee Park did was win three straight majors last year. But we’re going with Azahara (pictured above) to redeem her native Spain for its lackluster World Cup showing. Azahara has been high on leaderboards all year. She doesn’t drive it a mile, but she keeps it in play, gets on most greens in regulation, and is one of the best putters on tour. She's also a tall drink of Gatorade.
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