Will LPGA Choose Style Over Substance?

Can LPGA thrive by downplaying importance of winning?

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009  |  Updated 7:15 PM EDT
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What is it about the end of July that turns people's fancies toward the marketing of women's golf? All of a sudden people everywhere are weighing in on ways to buffet the LPGA's flagging fortunes and declining sponsorship.

Alistair Tate of Golfweek thinks that it is up to Michelle Wie to start winning tournaments and carry the tour, which only has 15 tournaments scheduled for next season, back to calmer waters. That's a lot of pressure to put on any one player, especially one that hasn't made a visit to the winner's circle yet. Tour player Anna Rawson gave ESPN a five-point plan for improving the tour that focuses on putting the players and their personalities in the forefront. Rawson's attractiveness plays into Alan Shipnuck of Golf Magazine's musings on pushing the players' sex appeal.

The problem with all of these ideas is that they seem to be efforts to try and find a way to work around a fact that is awkward to state in polite company: most of the best players on the tour are Asian, and no one's ever sold America on an Asian-dominated sport.

The LPGA has been struggling with the issue of Asian golfers for a long time. It was six years ago that Jan Stephenson accused them of killing the game, and just last year the LPGA floated the idea of requiring players to speak English in exchange for their tour cards. They rightly killed that idea, but there's a continual impression being put forth that the powers that be in women's golf have an issue with the fact that there's so much homogeneity on top of the leaderboard.

Something has changed when Rawson thinks tournament winners should be given makeovers before accepting their trophies, because it "would add femininity and glamour." Annika Sorenstam was no delicate flower, and she didn't need to be glamourized before she won the acclaim of crowds. 

Despite the overarching feeling that this is a weakness of the women's tour, it could easily be turned into a strength. The LPGA's biggest source of income comes from Korean television, which tells you that ideas solely designed with the American appetite in mind are misguided. Keep thinking globally, not locally. Come up with an improved version of the Solheim Cup that pits the best American players against the best from around the world, instead of just Europe. 

Even more than that, stop reinforcing stereotyping Asian players as robots. Eun-Hee Ji, Yani Tseng and other players have personalities of their own to share with fans and the key is to play those up, not smother them under makeovers. Language and cultural barriers haven't derailed the (Latin American-dominated) MLB, (African-American-dominated) basketball or (Canadian and Eastern European-dominated) NHL, there's no reason why they should be such an issue for golf.  

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