Star Caliber Departures

The last two days have been huge in women’s sports. Yesterday, Annika Sorenstam announced her retirement from golf effective at the end of the year. Sorenstam is arguably the greatest female golfer in history winning 72 LPGA events including 10 majors in her 14 year career. She cited her wish to settle down and start a family as one reason for the decision. I can understand that, as she really doesn’t have anything else to prove on LPGA tour and while she has played in a men’s tournament, she never really expressed any interest in playing against the men on a regular basis.

The problem for the LPGA is that they are losing their biggest star and really their only marketing tool. The LPGA tour will turn to players like Lorena Ochoa, who is currently ranked #1 in the world rankings; 21-year-old Paula Creamer, #4; and 19-year-old Morgan Pressel, #15, to become the torch bearers for their organization. It will be interesting to follow the situation next season once “Life After Annika” begins.

One day after Sorenstam’s departure another female star announced that she would also being leaving her sport. Justine Henin, the #1 ranked female tennis player, announced that she would be retiring effective immediately. The 25-year-old cited “burn out” as her reason for stepping aside.

Henin won 7 Grand Slam titles and spent more than 100 weeks at #1, but I feel like she will be easily replaced. While she was a big star in the world of tennis, she was far behind players like the Williams Sisters and Maria Sharapova. Unlike Sorenstam, Henin did not single-handedly carry her sport into mainstream coverage. There will be another Justine Henin, just like there was another Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, etc.

Hopefully for the LPGA, they can turn to one of their young, rising stars to take over and dominate the sport, but I’m not sure they have one just yet. The LPGA may suffer for the next few years while their stars battle to decide who is the brightest. This is a big time for them, but if they play their cards right, they can make their sport much better than it was before.

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