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Eyes Wide Shut

Yesterday at the LPGA Lotte Championship at Ko Olina in Hawaii, Norway’s superstar, Suzann Pettersen, won her 11th LPGA Tour event. After building an early 3 shot lead, it became anything but an easy victory for the statuesque Norwegian.

Pettersen began the day as the third round leader at 14-under par. Despite hitting her tee shot out of bounds on the 13th hole (she recovered very well and made a bogey after incurring that 2 shot penalty), the fiery Pettersen closed with a 5 under par, 67. Most times, if you are the third round leader and shoot a 67, you will win a tournament comfortably.

That was not the case at the Lotte Championship. Playing 3 groups ahead of Pettersen and beginning the day at 9-under for the tournament, was up and coming  Southern Californian player, Lizette Salas, who literally exploded in a birdie frenzy during the middle of her round.

Salas played a nine-hole stretch (from holes 8-16) in 9 under par which included holing her second shot from the fairway on the par-4 tenth hole for an eagle, 2. It was the hottest stretch of golf by anybody on the Tour in 2013, and one of the most dynamic in recent memory.

Salas, whom we documented in the blog in our April 7 blog article, “A Walk In The Park”, ended up shooting a final round 10-under par, 62, which would leave her tied with Pettersen at the end of regulation play.

The playoff was to be Salas’s first of her career and wound up being anti-climactic. On the first playoff hole, the 23 year old hit her second shot into the water, allowing Pettersen to win with a routine par.

This was Salas’s fourth top 10 finish of the season, but more impressively it comes immediately after her painful final round 79 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. For a young player to so quickly remove that disappointment from the memory bank (where one’s failures on the course can linger for a very long time) speaks volumes about the mental tenacity of this rising young star.

So much has been expected of Pettersen since her dominating season in 2007, when she won 5 times on the Tour. For the most part she has delivered by winning six times in the ensuing years, but there are also those who think that she has perhaps under performed by not being able to replicate her success in 2007.

If not for a sometimes uncooperative putter, Pettersen would probably have won more titles. She now putts with her eyes closed which she also did in 2007. This very unique style apparently allows the 32 year old Pettersen to visualize a better stroke and to alleviate some of the tension that creeps into this part of her game.

Critics would point as an example at her year in 2010, when she would record 5 runner-up finishes and finish the year without a victory. We would make the case that the depth of talent on the LPGA Tour is much greater in the last 10 years than at any other time and that days when players like Ochoa, Sorenstam, Webb, King, Alcott, Whitworth, Bradley and Lopez were amassing 8, 9 and 10 win seasons, are a thing of the past.

A player in today’s game would have to possess an extraordinary talent to be able to win that many times in one year.

At 32, Pettersen is in her prime as a golfer, and still has a great many years left to compete at the highest level. She will be doing so with eyes wide shut.