Much at Stake at the Arkansas Walmart
If, by chance, you are not a fan of Inbee Park, you might be in for a long, long year. She was already doing well, then I read this morning that she has “found” her swing. If I played like that, I’d want to keep it lost, but that’s just me. As we approach the Walmart event in Arkansas this week, we will watch Park as the new number one in the game. Apparently, being number one is signified by having one’s caddie wear a green bib. That’s nice and all, but if I’m number one, I think they could do better for me than my altering my caddie’s wardrobe.
Park has spent a lot of time at number one before. She held the position, in fact, for a consecutive fifty-nine weeks through 2013 and 2014, just following Yani Tseng’s reign, and just before Stacy Lewis took over. Where, then, does that leave Lydia Ko, who has been number one for much of this year after impressive earlier wins? The answer is, Ko missed a cut, and Park won the same event. That’s quite a reversal in ranking. It was a surprise, since Ko never missed a cut in her first fifty-three tournaments on tour, tying the record set by Annika Sorenstam. All is not lost, though, if Ko re-establishes her winning ways, and if Park slips. The only thing is, Park never seems to slip much.
Stacy Lewis is the number one player who has the strongest heart connection and familiarity to this region, tournament, and course. Sometimes that seems to act like a home field advantage, but you never know. She hasn’t really suffered a setback, only a recent dormancy that included an almost win at the ANA Inspirational.
Morgan Pressel is not a number one, but she was supposed to be. Still, look for her, by dint of her recent record, if nothing else. That includes four top fives in her last eight starts. That looks like a game that’s ready to pop. Yani Tseng, on the other hand, had a mind-boggling record, even among the historical number one players of past decades. In fact, as a very young woman, the Taiwanese ace still finds herself only four points away from the Hall of Fame. Conceivably, she could pull that off before reaching the age of thirty. Since our memories, especially our sports memories tend to be short, with new stimuli always waiting to fill our heads, it should be noted that Tseng won three of the first five events in 2012 before taking her “leave of absence.” Her reign at number one only ended two to three years ago, and she’s not ancient history yet.
Competition, whatever the rankings, is played in the here and now, and I doubt that many players will ask for a three iron thinking that if this shot goes well, my ranking will go up. I’m not sure whether anyone will care who is wearing the green bib, although the caddie might and should take some special pride in it. He or she is, after all, part of the winning team. More importantly, the players might hope that when they make the turn into seventeen, regarded by many as the loudest hole on the LPGA Tour, that the cheering section is going crazy for them, and not someone else.
Being number one, a precious goal for the highly competitive, is highly transient, and everyone on tour knows it. Winning a tournament, however, is forever. Make it through the final hole with a lead, and no one can ever take it away from you. With all the top brass of golfers in attendance, winning the NW Arkansas will, for the moment, be the real number one.