REARDON: Missing In Action
I surrender. I have finally given up. I am officially off the fan list for the LPGA Tour. After covering a variety of LPGA events starting back in 1985, and having worked for LPGA events for a decade, I have succumbed to not really caring who is leading or even winning. I don’t even read the small summaries in the newspaper. The names in the agate scores are like reading the phonebook.
So what’s behind this abandonment? There is a little sense of being an LPGA Midwest orphan. When the stop in Springfield dropped off the schedule, and as LPGA golf in the middle of the nation in general disappeared, there has been less desire or anticipation to stay current with the women’s tour. Factor in a schedule that is more off than on, and you have no continuity with players and their successes on a weekly basis.
Mostly though, I gave in when the only compelling player on the LPGA Tour – Yani Tseng – dropped off the map. Tseng was a story to follow, a player of consequence. She was a successor to the greatness of Ochoa and Sorenstam. She started the year with three early wins and hopes of being the youngest player ever to complete a career slam. She chased to the final hole at Kraft Nabisco and added a couple of additional top tens. Then starting with the LPGA Championship she crashed and burned. Heading into the Women’s British Open she has two major finishes of T59 and T50.
It’s likely that Tseng will turn things around, but as we learned with Tiger Woods, runaway trains sometimes have a hard time getting back on the tracks. It is even possible that Tseng may fall victim to one of the great unexplained mysteries of the current LPGA Tour. Asians have been the story in women’s professional golf for a number of years, but every Tseng-like talent has generally slipped back into the ranks after a few moments of success.
Some have argued that the Asian invasion in LPGA golf has been its handicap. For an American based Tour the numbers are somewhat staggering. This year on Tour, fourteen of the nineteen wins have gone to Asian born players and five to Americans. Eight of the last twelve major wins have been from players from the Orient. Four of the last five Women’s US Opens went to Koreans.
Stacey Lewis is currently second on the LPGA Money list, but she is the only American in the top ten, and only one of four in the top twenty. Five of the last six Rookies of the Year are Asian born. Paula Creamer was the last American to win that distinction in 2005.
There are more than 100 non-American players on this year’s LPGA Tour, including 53 from Korea, Japan and the two Chinas. America has just over eighty players on their own tour and keep in mind there are professional women’s golf tours in both Asia and Europe.
If Lewis, with two wins already this year, can find a way to stay on top, lead the money list and win Player of the Year Honors, she will bring an end to a couple of American droughts. Beth Daniel was the last US Player of the Year in 1994 and Betsy King won the money title in 1993. Both are retired.
Buried in all those numbers is what I consider the most important factor. After Tseng, for me there is not a compelling player out there to track. You don’t have to be American to hold the golf audience’s attention. You just have to be consistently good. Lorena Ochoa in her short burst at the top was worth following. Sorenstam had a presence in women’s golf that elevated awareness even as Tiger Woods was monopolizing all the headlines. Kari Webb caught your attention. It is not a kind of Asian xenophobia that has diminished my interest in the LPGA. It’s an LPGA galaxy with no bright lights in its sky no matter what the country.
What may makes matters even worse for those of us who once defended the women’s tour is there is no clear pathway out. There are so few events on the calendar because there is so little interest. There is so little interest in part because there are so few events. Former LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw once suggested to me that the Asian domination was just a cycle and would eventually cycle back to the US talents. That was several years ago. As soon as we pinned our hopes on teenage wonder Lexi Thompson along comes fifteen-year-old Lydia Ko now living in New Zealand. Ko lit up the experts at the Women’s Open and validated that excitement with a win at the US Women’s Amateur. The flow of talent crossing the Pacific onto the LPGA Tour is accelerating, not abating. Dottie Pepper has said the difference between that flood of players and the rest of the world can be seen each week on the practice range as the Asian contingent is regularly the first to arrive and the last to leave.
So for now I will stop and glance at the women’s majors to see if I have ever heard of anyone on the leaderboard or holding the trophy. But someone will have to call me and tell me to check out the LPGA because there is something interesting happening there.
Dan Reardon is Golf Editor at KMOX in St. Louis. He can be heard throughout the week on America’s Sports Voice.