In the old days when newspapers and magazines actually used ink and paper, one of the methods theorists used to predict future trends was “content analysis.” If you measured the column inches of coverage a topic or person got, you could gauge societal trends. It didn’t matter whether the coverage was good or bad. Quantity was all that mattered.
The internet, with trillions of bits of new content every minute, torpedoed that methodology. But there are still some things you can glean from the public reaction to people and topics.
Women’s golf is one of those.
World No.1 Jin Young Ko showed up in Evian-les-Bains for the Amundi Evian Championship after a three-week break. The 27-year-old South Korean star won at Evian in 2019. She is the last player to win two majors in the same year and she is the reigning LPGA Player of the Year. Despite all of that, her arrival in town garnered almost no notice.
The person whom Ko knocked out of the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings, top-ranked American and reigning Olympic gold medalist Nelly Korda, got a slightly better reception. Korda was at least invited into the media center for a few pre-tournament questions. But there wasn’t a lot of buzz for Korda either. She and Ko seem to be last year’s news.
Crowds, sponsors, media, and more than a few volunteers took a far greater interest in someone else, a player who, as content analysis goes, chewed up all the column inches and sucked most of the oxygen out of every room she entered in the early days at Evian. That player was defending champion Minjee Lee, the hottest player in the game and arguably the best in the world regardless of her No. 2 spot in the rankings.
“Actually, just when I got out of the airport, I saw my big-ass poster right there,” Lee said of her arrival in France. “I was like, ‘That’s me.’ ”
Her image is in many hotels and outside several restaurants in town, which isn’t that unusual for a major champion. But the buzz around Lee is different. She was on the Champs-Elysées July 14 for Bastille Day and was recognized by a lot more people than she thought. And the crowds at the golf course swarmed around her to see the golf swing that leads so many ball-striking categories on the LPGA Tour.
“Looking at what she did (last year at the Amundi Evian Championship) and how she performed afterwards, I like to hear that there is a tremendous amount of work because sometimes people forget about it,” tournament director Jacques Bungert said. “Behind such a performance in any sport, but especially in golf, obviously, there is work.
“For us it’s always great to see that Evian may be a trigger for some champions. Like the first (major) win is always something great. Quite often we’ve seen the fact that it was step one in a great season. So for us, she’s a fantastic champion. We put her on every communication, every poster. It’s not by chance. We’re so proud of her.”
“You know, I still want to be humble, stay humble, but I want to think that I’m hard to beat right now.” – Minjee Lee
Lee has been good for a long time, but last year at Evian was the moment she went from nice player to superstar. Her final-round, seven-shot comeback (which included a birdie in a playoff against Jeongeun Lee6) propelled her to another level. Since then, she has had 13 top-20 finishes, won the U.S. Women’s Open in a runaway, finished one shot back and tied for second in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, leads the tour in strokes gained tee to green by almost 1½ shots, and is knocking on the door of the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings.
Years ago, Mike Whan knew what the crowd at Evian and elsewhere knows now. During one of his early pro-ams as LPGA commissioner, Whan found himself paired with Lee. Before the round was over, he called his staff and said, “I want to get a picture with this player because she’s going to be No. 1 in the world someday.”
That day actually might be now. Because of the way math works, rankings lag behind reality. After the KPMG finish, Lee was asked if she thought she was the best player in the world. She didn’t hesitate. “I think I’m contending,” she said. “You know, I still want to be humble, stay humble, but I want to think that I’m hard to beat right now.”
A month later as she prepared to defend her title in the blistering heat that is this summer in France, Lee said, “I feel like I’ve been working on all aspects of my game for my entire life to bring me to this position. I think (the win here last year) really shaped my attitude and my mindset going into the other events. So, yeah, (winning here) definitely helped me in that aspect.”
As she walked away and waved to the assembled media and fans, Franck Riboud, the chairman of Danone, which owns Evian, said, “To have a very special winner with a very special score with a very special four days, it’s very important for the image of the tournament. Having the best players of the world (here), you are not afraid of having somebody come out of nowhere that nobody knows. But to have the quality of the victory delivered last year (by Lee) is something very important for a tournament like this.
“We expect the same. Perhaps somebody else, but we want the same quality.”
Top: Minjee Lee reacts after capturing the Cognizant Founders Cup in May. Photo by Sarah Stier, Getty Images
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