LPGA champion is first American player to become world No. 1

A flood of players from Asia have entered the LPGA since South Korea's Se Ri Pak won back-to-back major championships in 1998. Floridian Cristie Kerr, however, is swimming against the tide.

Two weeks ago, when she won the LPGA Championship by 12 strokes, it was the biggest victory margin in a major in 56 years. Most astonishing, the rout was performed by an American. With the win, Kerr became the first U.S. player to reach No. 1 since the Rolex rankings began in 2006.

"What I did the last couple of weeks is big for American golf," Kerr told reporters Tuesday. "That's why I got into playing golf. I would watch these tournaments on TV. I would see the Nancy Lopezes and Juli Inksters, Patty Sheehan, [all] winning. I said, 'I want to do that.'"

Five to watchAlexis ThompsonIs the 15-year-old ready to contend for a major? She was tied for the lead at the U.S. Open after two rounds last year but faded to a tie for 54th. Thompson is the youngest player (at age 12) to qualify for the Open. She won the 2008 U.S. Junior Girls title.Michelle WieWie, ranked No. 10 in the world, has three top-10 finishes in 10 starts, winning $260,000. Is she ready to win her first major? Probably not. Expect it to come after she graduates from Stanford, where she has two years remaining. Paula CreamerA fixture on leader boards but still seeking her first major title at age 23. She missed four months with an illness, but recent results have been encouraging; she broke 70 twice at the Sybase. Creamer finished in the top 10 in seven of the last 12 majors.Ai MiyazatoThe 25-year-old from Japan has won four of 10 events this year, ranking No. 1 on the money list ($964,000). She was No. 1 in the rankings until Kerr caught her. Miyazato still is looking for her first major but has been in the top 10 in four of the last seven.Eun-Hee JiSince winning the Open last year at Bethlehem, Pa., the 24-year-old has not challenged for another title, failing to place in the top 15 since. Swing changes have been the culprit, according to the South Korean.

Kerr, 32, has a chance to perform on women's golf's biggest stage this week in the U.S. Women's Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, a tournament won three of the last five years by players from Korea.

"It's especially big for American golf for us to do well in these kinds of tournaments because there are so many little girls out here that we see," said Kerr, the last U.S. player to win the Open (2007). "And if you can touch a couple of them, maybe they'll turn into, you know, great players in 20 years and be out here."

It's the kind of impact Pak had when she won the LPGA Championship and U.S. Open in 1998, inspiring girls from South Korea and beyond to play golf. Twelve years later, Korea (20) and Japan (10) have more players in the Rolex top 50 than the United States (nine).

After winning 30 of 40 majors in the 1990s, players from the United States have claimed just eight since 2001, one less than Korea.

With its penal setups, the U.S. Open -- emphasizing accuracy over length -- plays to the strength of many Asians. Bunker-filled Oakmont is full of pitfalls.

"There's however many, 180 bunkers, on the golf course, and they're all like pitchouts," Kerr said. "Sometimes you can see them off the tee. Sometimes you can't."

Kerr hasn't been immune to Open pressure. She led by two strokes going into last year's final round at Bethlehem, Pa., but shot 75 and finished two strokes behind winner Eun-Hee Ji of Korea.

"There's not going to be any 19 unders on this golf course," Kerr said. "You're going to see some good bogeys. That's what the U.S. Open is about."