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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Year-End Review: Looking at the Ladies

As the year winds down (along with the golfers!), I thought I'd take a look at where the different tours stand going into 2011. Or at least where I think they stand. And first up are the ladies.

First, concerning the business end of things... Michael Whan did a pretty good job his first year in, especially given the Tour's fragile state at the time. Just to keep it from tanking -- even if he could only muster a third of the events on US soil -- was a pretty impressive achievement, especially given his inexperience. (Yes, I know he had some sports management experience, but neither women's nor seniors' sports ever carry the potential of the men's. I wish it was different, but I'm not blind and won't pretend I am just to sound encouraging. You gotta work with what you got!) I doubt things will change much until the economy makes some serious improvement... and that may be a couple of years out. All things considered, the LPGA is in decent shape.

As for the other women's tours, they seem to be in pretty good shape to me. I don't intend this to be demeaning, so please don't take it that way... but the LPGA had further to fall. The "entry cost" for sponsors to the other tours around the world is relatively lower, but the number of world-quality players there is rising. That's a great situation for the sponsors, and ultimately I think it will help the women's game in general. But I don't think the LPGA will ever be just an American tour again... and becoming a world tour may be what the LPGA needs in order to take the next step.

When it comes to the ladies themselves, I think the game may be in the best shape it's ever been. True, Annika and Lorena have stepped down... but they have been replaced by not one, not two, but by at least ten women from all over the planet who I think will form the core of the "next incarnation" of the game.

One of the ongoing arguments in sports (all sports, not just golf) is whether one dominant player is good for the game or not. If you watched UConn's women's basketball team set the new record of 89 straight wins -- beating the previous record by the UCLA's men's record of 88 -- you know that the argument goes both ways. UConn was a leading sports story on many stations... but the game itself was downright boring. How many 30-point wins can you watch and still get excited?

The truth is probably somewhere in between. For many people, the golden age of golf saw Palmer and Nicklaus fighting it out each week... but even they had to keep their eyes open or Player, Casper, or some other player would be right there if both stumbled. In fact, Jack has said that he and Arnie lost tournaments they should have won simply because they got so caught up playing each other that they forgot to look over their shoulders!

In the women's game, it looks like we have 6 players forming that main group -- Shinn, Miyazato, Kerr, Pettersen, Choi, and Tseng -- and a few others who will likely join the battle in 2011. (I'm guessing In-Kyung Kim and Paula Creamer will make it 8, and possibly Michelle Wie and Anna Nordqvist will join them later on. I would add some other Asian players, but I think LPGA members will be the most visible. You still need English TV coverage of your wins to become a big name worldwide, though that may simply be coverage of a major.)

In 2011 I expect 2 or 3 to separate themselves from this sextet, but right now I wouldn't bet on who they'll be... although, if you pressed me, I'd pick Shinn, Kerr, and Choi. They're the most consistent members of the group, although the other three don't need to improve much to match them. (After all, just this year they have 8 wins, 2 majors, and a load of 2nds between them!) Given what we've seen this year, I don't see any of them falling away through lack of desire. I suspect either motherhood or injury may end up being the determining factor.

Finally -- and perhaps this is just the optomist in me -- I think 2011 may be the year that the women's game starts to get some real attention. The intense competition between the top women has raised their games considerably. I went back to 2004 -- the earliest of the the online scoring records -- and, if you eliminate Lorena and Annika's averages, this year has seen the women's best overall scoring in any given year. If the ladies keep this up, driving each other to improve, this could be a breakout year for them.

Now if the Golf Channel can just be convinced to give them a good broadcast spot...!


  1. dude - come on - you could've just just written the headline, popped open a beer, headed to the beach, and left the rest to the imagination. :-)