PITTSFORD, NEW YORK | These women are just too nice.
Yani Tseng, now 22 and already the winner of three major championships and seven LPGA Tour events, was asked the other day if she felt somewhat slighted in the wake of the gushing worldwide reaction to 22-year-old Rory McIlroy winning the U.S. Open eight days ago at Congressional.
“I was very excited to see that,” the No. 1 player in the women’s world rankings said. “I think it’s great for golf. To see the young people winning the U.S. Open by eight shots, that’s really amazing. I watched on TV. I tell myself, because we have the U.S. (Women’s) Open coming up in two weeks, maybe I can do that.”
Asked if she was a little surprised she hasn’t gotten more attention in the U.S., the native of Taiwan said, “Yes, I’m still trying to work on that. I’m not thinking (about it) too much. I tell myself if I play better and I play good, more people will pay attention to me.”
The next day, it was Cristie Kerr who put on her best bright and shining face. A year ago, she came here to the Wegmans LPGA Championship, the second major of the season, and merely blew the field away in a Tiger/Rory-like display. Kerr’s 19-under-par victory at Locust Hill Country Club matched the lowest score ever in relation to par in a women’s major and also tied the lowest 72-hole total. She also prevailed by 12 shots, the second largest victory margin in a women’s major.
That triumph vaulted her to No. 1 in the world rankings, the first American to reach that pinnacle since the system was instituted in the women’s game in 2006. And yet, the buzz around the wide world of golf, and particularly with the American public, was barely discernible, and surely quickly forgotten outside the LPGA bubble two weeks later when Paula Creamer won the Women’s Open.
Kerr also was asked if it bothered her that the reaction to her dominating victory – perhaps even more impressive than McIlroy’s eight-shot triumph and record 16-under score – was mostly muted.
“I think it got a lot of attention,” she insisted, nicely, even if it didn’t. “That stuff is really out of my control … I just think a lot of people really don’t know how good the women are and a lot of attention is focused on the PGA Tour.”
Last week there was hardly any American media attention paid to the LPGA Championship, the second oldest tournament on the women’s tour. The local dailies in Rochester and nearby Buffalo were well represented, but none of the New York City papers, including the New York Times, bothered to send a reporter to cover a major golf event being contested in their own state. There were far more members of the foreign press corps, including large contingents from China, Japan and South Korea, an area of the world that has 38 players in a field of 150, close to 25 percent.
There are 71 Americans entered this week, but aside from USA Today and the Miami Herald – the hometown paper of defending champion Kerr – the eyes of the U.S. sporting press were focused elsewhere, as usual. The NBA draft, baseball, a possible NFL labor contract, even soccer, of all things. The day before this tournament started, the Times ran a story about Woods not playing in his own event next week, but not a word previewing the LPGA Championship.
The LPGA has always struggled to find its niche, but never more so than now. U.S. title sponsors are not easy to find, and it gets even tougher during a time of economic instability. There are yawning gaps in the 24-event schedule and, from an American perspective, far too many events being contested overseas and not enough in the country where the LPGA began. Next year, more than half are expected to be played on foreign sod.
What would help?
“I think it’s great that we’ve got players from all over the world playing,” said Stacy Lewis, an American who won the first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco, in April. “But I think our Tour right now we need some Americans to step up and play well, especially to get more events in the U.S. We’ve got the talent to compete, it’s just stepping up and doing it.”
One player who once seemed to have the capability to achieve universal superstardom was Michelle Wie, a Woods-like prodigy who has never truly fulfilled the potential she showed in competing and nearly winning several major championships even before she was 16. She is 21 now, still a student at Stanford while also trying to be a full-time golfer.
Her long-time coach, David Leadbetter, keeps saying that when Wie focuses fully on her golf, she once again will live up to the promise of her spectacular teenage years. For the often ignored LPGA, that would be very nice, indeed.