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LPGA moves on during 2003

Annika Sörenstam saw the opportunity to compete in a PGA Tour event as a means of testing her game. What she really did was usher in a new era in women's golf.

Sörenstam became the first woman in 58 years to participate in a tour event, one of the many highlights of a memorable season that brought unprecedented publicity to the LPGA Tour.

A 47-time winner on the LPGA Tour, Sörenstam made the decision to participate in the Bank of America Colonialin January. In the months preceding the May tournament, Sörenstam and the LPGA received a frenzy of media coverage and plenty of debate.

By the time she took to the first tee, it was clear this wasn't just any tournament, rather history in the making. Sorenstam's every move was broadcast, discussed, debated, and mostly lauded.

The Stockholm, Sweden native finished her first round 1-over 71. During the second round, she seemed to succumb to the emotional and physical exhaustion that had built up over the previous months. She finished 5-over 75, missing the cut by four strokes.

Still, those two rounds couldn't have done more for the LPGA Tour.

"I never thought that it would be bad for the Tour, but I think now, looking back at it, I thought it was great for the Tour," Sörenstam said. "I thought it was great for women's golf, and even golf in general."

The appearance also broke barriers for women's golf as six others -- Suzy Whaley, Michelle Wie, Jan Stephenson, Laura Davies, Se Ri Pak and Sophie Gustafson -- took part in various men's tournaments in 2003.

Against LPGA competitors, Sörenstam finished with six titles, including two majors, her sixth career Player of the Year award, over $2 million in earnings and helped the European Team to victory in her homeland at the Solheim Cup.

In early August she wrapped up the career grand slam with a victory at the Weetabix Women's British Open.

To top it all off, she was inducted into the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame.

"It's been an incredible year in so many ways," she said. "I don't know why all of the pieces are falling together; maybe I shouldn't ask why. I just want to enjoy it and be thankful because I really am. But it's definitely the most memorable year that I've had."

In his State of the LPGA address, Commissioner Ty Votaw noted the effect on the LPGA's fan base: An 8 percent increase in attendance and a 13 percent increase in network viewership, including a 33 percent increase in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic.

But those increases were helped along by other LPGA stars, too.

Se Ri Pak pushed closer to entering the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame in 2003 with her three victories. Pak finished second on the money list with $1.6 million and captured her first career Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average.

While Grace Park's only title in 2003 came at the Michelob Light Open at Kingsmill, the three-year Tour veteran posted a career year. Park finished third on the money list with just over $1.4 million and of the 26 tournaments she appeared in, she secured 19 top-10 finishes.

Candie Kung, one of the Tour's youngest stars at 22, came into the spotlight in late-August when she won her second and third titles of the year. At the Wachovia LPGA Classic and the State Farm Classic the following week, Kung strung together eight consecutive rounds with the lead.

But it was 22-year-old Lorena Ochoa who finished with Rookie of the Year honors. Ochoa made 16 straight cuts and compiled eight top-10 finishes, including a pair of runner-up finishes. Ochoa is still seeking her first LPGA victory, but her ninth place finish on the money list suggest it is only a matter of time.

At the U.S. Women's Open in July, Hilary Lunke made history by becoming the first qualifier to capture one of the most prestigious titles of women's golf. Lunke survived a three-way, fifth-day playoff with Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins by sinking a 15-foot birdie on No. 18 putt for the victory.

Lunke became the 14th player in LPGA history to make the U.S. Women's Open her first LPGA victory and was the first American in 16 years to win a major championship.

"(The media has) dubbed in its commentaries and in reporting on the LPGA as the year of the woman," Votaw said. "Certainly the events of the past year I think are consistent with that label."

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