More than just pretty faces

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

There have been some phenomenal players on the women's tour over the years, from Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley to Amy Alcott and Beth Daniel, but with all due respect to those Hall of Fame trailblazers, the LPGA never had as much sizzle as it has right now.

A rising cast of charismatic, athletic, attractive, fashionable and personable young phenoms, with games to match their star quality, are making women's golf every bit as entertaining as the men's game. And Edmonton will get to witness this phenomenon when the CN Canadian Women's Open kicks off this week at the Royal Mayfair.

"I think there's a lot of good storylines on the LPGA Tour now," said Morgan Pressel, part of the teenage invasion that's captivated so many fans.

"We have a huge international contingent, we have a lot of the veterans, Hall of Famers, who are playing very well, and a bunch of young Americans, teenagers in general, who are out there playing well.

"Everybody can relate to somebody on tour because there's such a wide variety of players. And every week there's a number of people who could win.

"And from my experience, we just seem to be a lot more approachable than a lot of the men."

While so many PGA players seem like distant robots -- who Peter Jacobsen once described as looking like they're about to pass a kidney stone out there -- the girls actually appear to be enjoying themselves.

They dress in fun, sexy outfits, wear their hearts on their sleeves and always have time for the galleries.

"We love every minute of it," said Natalie Gulbis, the statuesque blonde who's become an industry in herself. Gulbis announced Wednesday she won't be attending the Canadian Women's Open.

"It's getting more popular, more exciting. There's a lot of interaction with fans. More people are coming to the events, we're in bigger markets, just everything is growing.

"I think everybody is excited, proud of the tour and the momentum we have. We want to keep the ball rolling."

And look good doing it. While personalities and shot-making abilities will always be the cornerstone of a successful tour, the newest generation of LPGA players are delving further into the realms of fashion and sex appeal.

And why not?

"At the end of the day it benefits the tour," said Pressel, who has sponsorship deals with Callaway, Polo, Ralph Lauren and Oakley. "But we all want to look our best anyway. And we want to play our best. The younger players have clothing sponsors who want them to look good out there. Paula (Creamer) says she wants to be a fashion designer.

"We don't just want to go out there and play golf. We want to look good and carry ourselves well -- that's just who we are."

Girls will be girls.

"It's just female nature," adds Gulbis. "And even more so now because we're allowed to wear really fun clothes. We want to look good."

They do, and it's translating into bigger gates, bigger purses and a definite increase in momentum.

"We have 10 events on our tour with purses over $2 million this year," said Lorie Kane. "In 1996 our average purse was maybe $750,000-$800,000. For the younger players who are coming on tour right now, the sky is the limit."

They know it, too. The future of the LPGA is in their hands -- and they're going to run as far as they can with it.

"I'm honoured to be a part of this group of younger girls who are playing well and have the ability to impact the tour as well as influence younger players and possibly get them interested in playing," said Pressel, who'd like to see a day when the LPGA and PGA are on even ground.

'You never know'

"It would take time, but it's possible. That's what happened in tennis, so you never know."

And, believe it or not, most guys who play recreational golf have more in common with LPGA players.

"Very few players play like the men play, swing like the men," said Pressel. "Most recreational players would learn a lot more from watching us."

While the young guns get much of the attention, Kane credits Annika Sorenstam, perhaps the best female player of all time, for starting the revolution. Classy, attractive and unbelievably good, she was the ambassador who got the whole thing rolling.

"I think we all need to thank Annika for playing in the Coloniale," Kane said of Sorenstam's historic entry in the 2003 PGA event. "The whole face of women's golf changed with that event. People looked at us differently, people looked at Annika diferently. People are looking at the tour differently.

"And now we have an influx of young American players coming to the forefront. We're an American-based tour and we needed some young Americans to jump up. Cristie Kerr has turned into that young American player who can win every given week. Paula Creamer, now Morgan Pressel and the Michelle Wie factor, but I'll go back and say it was because of what Annika did, putting herself out there, that started all this."


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