GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - LPGA fans discovered this year what Jennifer Johnson and other young American golfers already know.
There are a number of talented U.S. golfers ready to take their spot at the top of the LPGA Tour.
Johnson, 21, won two weeks ago at the Mobile Bay Classic in Alabama. Lizette Salas, 23, finished second at the LPGA Lotte Championship in April, one of her four top-10 finishes this year. She is ranked No. 18 in the world.
The two will be among the 144 players who will tee off today in the $1.5 million ShopRite LPGA Classic on the Bay Course at Seaview Hotel & Golf Club.
"We all grew up playing junior golf together," Johnson said. "We all know each other. We all knew it was going to happen. It's the media and people that didn't follow junior golf who are just learning it. It was a just a matter of time before it happened."
The 54-hole ShopRite Classic continues Saturday and finishes Sunday. Stacy Lewis is the defending champion. The Classic will feature the top-10 ranked women players in the world. The winner will receive $225,000.
The Classic started back in 1986. Back then Americans such as Juli Inkster, Nancy Lopez and Betsy King dominated the tour. But the LPGA has struggle for domestic stars since 2000.
Americans like Paula Creamer, 26, and Michelle Wie, 23, received plenty of attention when they joined the tour.
Johnson and Salas represent the next generation.
"I think it's exciting," Lewis, 28, said of the young Americans' success. "We've needed some new players coming up and doing it the right way."
Lewis is a role model for the young Americans. She played four years at the University of Arkansas and joined the tour in 2009. In addition to the Classic, she won three other events last year and was ranked No.1 in the world earlier this year. She is currently No. 2 behind Inbee Park of South Korea.
"I've always looked up to Stacy," Salas said. "For me, to be considered among the next generation of top Americans is a very big honor."
Johnson left Arizona State after one year and turned professional in 2010. Salas stayed all four years at the University of Southern California. She made a promise to her family that she would stay all four years and earn her degree. Salas joined the LPGA full time in 2012.
"I felt like college would help me mature and learn not only about golf but myself," she said. "College is a time to make mistakes and be a kid."
Johnson said her life isn't all that different since she won at Mobile on May 19. Her best finish this year before her win was a tie for 13th at the Kraft Nabisco Championship - an LPGA major - in April.
It seems that Johnson really hasn't had time to let her victory sink in. She called her mom after the win and received plenty of congratulatory texts.
"You work so hard to get that win, and when it's finally here you have to pinch yourself," she said.
Johnson said she's received some media requests since her win, including some radio interviews.
"I've done some random stuff," she said. "They're good opportunities."
Johnson said she's focused on playing well this week and the three after that. The LPGA will play two majors - the Wegmans LPGA Championship next week and the U.S. Women's Open from June 27-30 - in June.
The par-71, 6,155-yard Bay Course should again provide a test. Johnson said the key to scoring well is putting well on the course's small undulating greens. The course's three par-5 holes - No. 3, No. 9 and No. 18 - are among the best spots for fans to watch the tournament. All three are birdie holes.
"You have to be patient with the greens," Johnson said. "You have to take advantage of the par-fives."
Johnson and Salas give local fans more players to root for.
"The more American players that do well make the tour stronger," Johnson said.
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