WHERE ARE YOU WHEN I NEED YOU?
The Changing of the Guard on the LPGA Tour
I probably spend less time watching or reading about the LPGA Tour
than ever before. It seems that all of my favorites are beginning
to fade as competitors or have retired and I haven’t found
an American on Tour that really and truly excites me. Obviously,
Michelle Wie promises to be a phenom but she is only 15 years old
and not out of Junior High yet.
There is something about me, perhaps you feel the same way, that
requires that I identify with golfers in some way. Let me readily
admit that I am a big Phil Mickelson fan. I jumped through the ceiling
of my home when he won the Masters in April. In fact, I might have
jumped higher than he did on the 18th green. So why have I selected
Lefty as my favorite? Probably because I saw him as the underdog
as he was constantly having to answer questions from the golf media
as to why he had never won a major, or when he was going to win
or why he had just lost his last one, etc., etc. Also, he is an
American, a very nice fellow with a great smile, a family man with
a beautiful family and a terrific shot maker. In addition, I like
the way he carries himself on the course. I’ve never heard
an expletive come out of him or seen him toss a club. He also has
had the tendency to take a risk, to gamble on the course reminiscent
of Arnold Palmer. I contrast that against everybody else’s
favorite, Tiger Woods, who in my opinion suffers from overexposure.
The golf writers can’t seem to interview a golfer, any golfer,
without asking a question about Tiger. The writers want everybody
to talk about Tiger and they seem to only write about Tiger. His
image is everywhere on television ads, in magazines. Newspapers
give Tiger the headlines in every tournament in which he plays regardless
of where he stands, first or twentieth. Over time it becomes almost
noxious. So I suppose you could say I am the “anti-Tiger”
fan. Don’t get me wrong, I think Tiger is a great golfer,
a nice guy and I enjoy watching him play plus he‘s an American
also. And, he could become the greatest all time. I just prefer
to pull for an underdog, somebody other than the number one player.
Again, I just get tired of hearing about Tiger.
As for the women, I use
to pull for the Furman golfers as Furman University is nearby. Betsy
King and Beth Daniel were great to watch and cheer for. Then my
favorite, Dottie Pepper, came along and got everybody excited with
her energy and feistiness. Dottie was always fist pumping and shouting,
“yes, yes, yes.“ as she watched a putt trickle into
the cup. She was always at her best when she had to make a putt
to win or come from behind on Sunday. Dottie was so spunky and hard
to beat in match play. Nancy Lopez, a Tulsa University graduate,
was the closest thing to an Arnold Palmer on the ladies’ circuit
with her charisma and great play. She had a huge following on tour.
I also like and respect Julie Inkster a great deal. She has had
a terrific career but she is 44 now and entering the twilight of
her career as are King and Daniel. Dottie and Nancy have retired.
I am really going to miss watching Dottie. So who will become my
newest favorite on the Tour and encourage me to retain an interest
in following the LPGA ?
One of my problems is
the new look of the LPGA Tour. It has really become a culturally
diverse, international tour. In many ways that is very exciting
and alluring as it is on the men’s tour but it seems the old
American tour as we knew it, is a thing of the past. A look at the
top 30 money winners this season with only a month or so left in
the year, only nine Americans are listed. Meg Mallon is second on
the list and is having a great year but for some reason she just
hasn‘t caught my fancy. Of course, all the interest and attention
is given to Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, who is number one in the
world and great to watch but everybody expects her to win week after
week. I saw her come from behind to win another yesterday at the
Samsung World Championship. It was her 54th title. She borders on
over exposure but I think her management group guards against it.
Annika is terrific and great to watch but I still need an underdog.
As an American and a patriot I feel in my heart that my favorite
should probably hail from the USA. Simply, I can identify more with
an American. There are 12 countries represented on the Top 30 list
believe it or not. You could make a case that the LPGA could be
the Korean tour with nine Koreans in the top 30 and many others
playing the tour. At present there aren’t many Americans poised
to win on tour regularly. I hate to be provincial but I always end
up pulling for the Americans.
Christie Kerr seems to
have a good chance of becoming America’s best. She is 27 now
and seasoned and fifth on the Top 30 list. Of course, Michele Wie
has great potential but it will be a few years before she plays
the tour full time. Perhaps I should drop my American requirement
and go for looks. Carin Koch is a beautiful woman who hails from
Sweden but she might not be able to compete at the highest level.
She is 29th on the money list right now. Carin did go to school
in the United States at Tulsa. In fact many of the great foreign
golfers were educated at American universities including Annika
who matriculated at Arizona U. Fifteen of the top 30, foreign born
money winners were also educated at American universities. I also
like the way Lorena Ochoa of Mexico looks and plays and she went
to Arizona as well. Aree Song, who was born in Thailand, but claims
Korea as her homeland, is a real looker and proving herself on Tour.
So what to do; who to choose?
One of the more exciting women’s events in last few years
to me was the 2003 US Women’s Open when Hilary Lunke won in
an exciting playoff with husband, Tylar, on her bag. They seemed
to be the all-American couple and Hilary won despite her lack of
length off the tee. She has had a very good amateur record but this
season she has slumped and won less than $80,000 on Tour. Maybe
she could be my new favorite - but - it is probably too early to
determine what kind of impact she will make on tour. Let’s
see how she fares over the next season or two. Perhaps I’ll
just hang in there with Julie Inkster and learn more about Meg Mallon.
Beth Daniel is still playing and has a good tournament every now
and then and has made the top 30 list this year. Then in time Michelle
Wie will come along full time and take the golf world by storm.
Let’s see how it all works out. In the mean time I’ll
just have to watch Dottie Pepper as a TV commentator and remember
the good old days. What we really need, or should I say what the
LPGA really needs, is for more American girls to take up the game
and to work hard to become world class competitors. Otherwise, that
organization might need to pack up and move it’s headquarters
to the Orient.
October 18, 2004
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