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Women look East as Davies marches on

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Iain Carter | 15:16 UK time, Monday, 1 March 2010

It seemed appropriate to end 5 live's last day of major broadcasting in 2009 with a lyric from Bob Dylan.

We were in his home state of Minnesota after all and "the times, they are a changin'" neatly summed up the world of men's golf as the dust settled on the USPGA at Hazeltine.

YE Yang had just become the first Asian-born winner of a men's major and the golfing compass seemed to be pointing due East. In this respect, the game looked to be heading for a transformation similar to the one we have already witnessed in women's golf.

Here it is perhaps more the case of "the times, they HAVE changed" such is the domination of Asian players. Indeed, in the wake of Ai Miyazato's victory at the prestigious HSBC Women's Champions tournament in Singapore, the boss of the LPGA has said the staging of a major in Asia is "inevitable".

Heading into the Champions event, no fewer than 12 players of the top 25 in the world come from Asia. This compares with four from Europe.

Ai MiyazatoAi Miyazato celebrates her HSBC Champions event victory. Photograph: Getty Images

So it is little wonder that LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is recognising the significance of the power shift. "Will there be a major played on the women's tour somewhere in Asia 10 years down the road?" he wonders.

"I'd actually be surprised if we didn't. We're not building one now and we don't have any plans in place, but it's inevitable," he said.

Currently, the four women's majors are the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April, the LPGA Championship in June and the July double-header of the US and British Opens. Of those, only the British event is staged outside the United States.

The veteran American Juli Inkster agrees with her commissioner. "The way golf is coming over to the East, I'd bet you it would probably be the LPGA before anybody to have a major over here," she said after finishing in a share of ninth place in Singapore.

Japan's Miyazata, who became the first player in 44 years to win the first two LPGA events of the year, the Koreans Jiyai Shin, In Kyung Kim, Na Yeon Choi and Taiwan's Yani Tseng are among Asia's leading lights on a ranking list still headed by Mexico's Lorena Ochoa.

While this means interest among fans and sponsors has the potential to grow exponentially in Asia, it seems more difficult for European women's golf to command the attention it once did.

This is despite the fact that Scotland's Catriona Matthew is the current British Open champion. Her victory at Lytham last year didn't attract the headlines her achievement deserved.

The Solheim Cup is one of the mainstays of the women's game, but how many golf fans noticed last week the appointment of Rosie Jones as US Captain for next year's match?

In such a crowded and credit-crunched sporting marketplace, women's golf is fighting a tough battle and the easiest way for it to prosper would seem to be to head East.

It is little wonder that Whan doesn't rule out possible change to the make-up of the LPGA calendar to reflect this. He feels that it would be wrong to add a "fifth" major but doesn't see the locations being set in stone of the four that currently exist.

"When I talk about being a traditionalist, it's only from the point of having four majors," he said. "I'm not a traditionalist with regards to them being in the US and Europe."

But some aspects of the women's game endure seemingly unchanged. One of them is the winning touch of Britain's most famous female golfer, Laura Davies.

She became the oldest winner on the Ladies European Tour at the weekend when she claimed the New Zealand Open at the age of 46 years and 146 days. It was her 73rd victory and followed a bogey-free final round 68.

And there's little sign of Davies' enthusiasm for competing diminishing in the near future. "I love to play and love to win - that's what keeps me motivated," she said.

This latest win allows her to tick off another geographical box in her globe-trotting career. "India and Portugal are among the few places I've been to and not won, and if I get a chance to play in South Africa I'd go there."

But the longer she remains at the top of the game the more likely it will be that Davies will be buying her plane tickets to the continent of Asia. To borrow from Dylan again; that's the way the (golfing) wind is blowin'.


  • Comment number 1.

    Good points Iain, but are you just being politically correct not to alude to slow play by many Asian women golfers, especially the Koreans who tend to dominate on the LPGA Tour but leave their personalities at home? Many of them are unwatchable.
    No criticism implied of Miyazato who is terrific, Se Ri Pak also.
    (PS: Rosie Jones's appointment was duly noted on 606 . . . . )

  • Comment number 2.

    Kwini - no not being politcally correct - slow play is an international affliction that knows no borders in my opinion. The authorities should stamp on offenders whatever their background - but that's for another blog.....

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi, Ian

    I'd very much like to see an official Major in the Far East but note the comment about the tradition of four.

    First - didn't the Ladies Tour have 5 for a few years?

    Second - which of the existing group will lose its 'Major' status to make way for the Asian Major? One of the three in the USA?

    (Suggested A: yes indeed: shortly after Hell freezes over. It's the British Open that's likely to be the one under threat.)

  • Comment number 4.

    An interesting article about the strength of the Asian players particularly in the Womens game. These up and coming Asian players are a force to be reckoned with and have already shown their talent and dedication to the game. It is inevitable that a major championship will be held in Asia if that is where the money and power is located. I will watch it.

    What is dissappointing is the lack of coverage the womens game gets from the media, press and the BBC. I have often logged onto the bbc/golf pages to view reports and updates on the womens competions to find nothing. I have had to follow the link to the LPGA website. Step up to the plate BBC.

    I also went to watch the Womens Open at Lytham last year and it was alot more enjoyable than going to The British Open (mens). The crowds were better, the atmoshpere more relaxed and players more approachable off the course. There are many lessons to be learnt here for the mens game which has allowed some player to be too big for their boots/shoes.

  • Comment number 5.

    Some interesting comments, Iain, most of which I agree with. But I don't agree with Kwini (that's unusual for a start) that most of the Asian players leave their personalities at home. I thought it was refreshing to see so many of the youngsters playing with a smile on their faces, and even dissolving into giggles on occasions when they played a bad shot. Don't think you'd see that on the men's tour! My other half also enjoyed some of the short shorts which would definitely be frowned upon in most stuffy clubs in England!
    But I do agree about slow play which is exacerbated by the interminable caddies lining up every shot - even Juli Inkster who, you would think, would be able to manage by herself now she's reached 50!
    Delighted to see Laura Davies winning again (don't think she'd ever ask a caddy to line her up) and I'd like to ask everyone to join in the campaign (started by Sky I think - sorry) for her to inducted into the Hall of Fame. The LPGA say a Hall of Famer must have won a major but surely there is no other woman in the game who has done more to raise the profile of women's golf and to encourage young girls, especially in the UK, to take it up. Perhaps it would be different if she was American ...?

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi LP,
    Not sure that the slow play and perception of personalities is not a bit "chicken and egg" with me. But at least the LPGA is trying to do something about it, penalising players (yes, Iain, usually Korean ladies, it's a matter of record) strokes rather than the Finchem slap on the wrist.
    As for Laura Davies (caddie wouldn't have time to line her up!), I have her getting into the HOF with big Ernie in an "article" I wrote a few months ago! But imagine they might wait until she retires, rather than imply she won't win again. Got Bob Charles and Himself right though!

  • Comment number 7.

    Carter, you're on a bit of a roll :-)

    Kwini has good points though - well let's face it as usual. Slow play is a general affliction in the women's game but so many of the Asian players use their caddies to check their lines.

    I know the LPGA has made efforts to help on communication too with English lessons but a lack of character and personality is also an issue in the Ladies game and have to disagree with Ladyputt. The men aren't great but there are some characters out there. On course its fine, they might giggle at a bad shot but the lack of English and outgoing personalities is something that affects TV, Marketing of the game. Some of the female players have been criticised for taking a more sexy route but it generates interest. Jiyai Shin, great player, tries in interviews but sadly only just beats paint drying.

    The women's british open tends to be well attended and i've always attended as much as i can when its at Sunningdale (not my club but if it's not there then its very up North somewhere). But it is TV audiences that may well determine if a major gets 'bumped' to Asia. We have the historical nod so far but money vs history with 'merricans in charge...

    Of course the UK has been....disadvantaged.. with ladies golf coverage with a recent decline after the golf channel uk went down - and then Setanta who a lot of us hoped would pick up the rights. Still seems token coverage on Sky. And then Golfpunk gave out to footballpunk so how many tour tournaments are in England this year....might need to have access to ladies golf to have something to complain about really.

    Still, get my fix via

  • Comment number 8.

    that's on 'Golf nearly 24x7' via Veetle.....for any interested technorati


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