BETHESDA -- The theme for this year's LPGA Championship seemed to be established oh, maybe a day or two before the first woman reared back and hammered a drive off the first tee of the Bethesda Country Club yesterday.
For days -- no, make that weeks -- the whisper on the tour has been out with the old and in with the new. Pat Bradley, Amy Alcott, Betsy King, Beth Daniel, Jan Stephenson, et al, step aside; henceforth, you are to be known as the fairway version of the over-the-hill gang.
First player in with a 3-under-par 68 was King. A bit later came Alice Ritzman, matching King's 68. Then there were Stephenson, Hollis Stacy, Alcott and Jane Geddes to talk about their scores, just a stroke off the lead.
Perhaps you're noting a pattern forming here; namely, there's apparently some fight left in the old guard.
Through the first 13 weeks of the LPGA season, while several of the names usually associated with the winner's circle have been missing, five women have made the breakthrough as first-time tournament victors.
Out with the old, in with the new? Ritzman, for one, suggests you don't put too much money on it.
"Usually, we have four or five [name] players who win two or three tournaments a year. It just hasn't started to go that way yet. But it probably will," she said. At the same time, she allowed, the women joining the tour these days are better.
"We've been talking about the depth on the tour for years. Now, people are beginning to believe the depth is there. What it says to me is we're doing what we should be doing with regard to the development of the game. College scholarships, Title IX, all those things are working within the golf system."
Ritzman, from Kalispell, Mont., pointed out that when she was coming along, experience wasn't easy to come by: "At age 20, I probably hadn't played outside the state. And all we had in Montana was about a 4 1/2 -month season.
"Today, college programs provide lots of experience and at least a pretty good idea of what it's like out here. The players coming along are showing up ready to win. A lot of them don't know yet that they can miss putts."
She kiddingly classified the younger players crowding their way to the pay window as being "very rude. Actually, what it's all going to lead to is a good mix of young players and veterans on tour."
King, checking out the leader board that showed Brandie Burton and Donna Andrews joining her and Ritzman at 68 with eight players at 69 and a dozen more at 70, predicted, "we'll have a winner over 30 this week . . . maybe over 35. I know we [the veterans] haven't done much this season, but we're due and a combination of things favor the more experienced players in a 'major.' "
Stacy said she senses no rivalry between the over-30s and the under-30s while praising the "healthy attitude of the younger players. You've got to think you can win or it might never happen."
Stephenson said "the strong aggressive attitude of the newer players has been a blessing in disguise. They've made the vets change their attitude. Before, a good player could win three or four tournaments [not playing her best]. That's not going to happen now unless you cut out the mistakes and bear down all the time."