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To The Players, LPGA Tour Feels Like Family

by Lewine Mair - March 9, 2015

SINGAPORE | You would think that the LPGA players must have had their feathers well and truly ruffled by young Lydia Ko, but not a bit of it.

At a time when the tour atmosphere is as good as it has ever been, no one has a bad word to say about the 17-year-old sensation. For the record, she has won 10 tournaments, pocketed close on $3M and not missed a cut in 45 starts.

The others may do their level best to beat the living daylights out of her on the course but, away from the actual golf, they do what they can to smooth her path.

There was a telling little illustration at last week’s HSBC Women’s Champions after eight of the top players had featured in a fashion shoot showcasing the latest range from designer Shanghai Tang.

The party was ready to move on to the gala dinner but Lydia - dressed in the cutest of oriental shifts - was not sure of the form.

“Should I take my bag?” she called after Jessica Korda, who was about to depart the room.

“No, no,” said Korda, who turned on her heel to come and sort her out. “Bring all your stuff over here and let’s put it next to mine.”

Far from coming across as a rival, Korda was more as a big sister.

“She feels like my little sister,” acknowledged Korda, later. “We often say to her, ‘Why are we looking after you when you should be looking after us.’ ”

Ko could not be more appreciative of the players’ concern. “They’ve all been so kind in the way they’ve made me welcome and kept me straight. They congratulate me if I win and they’re always giving me encouragement.

One big, happy (and stylish) family

“When I was travelling as an amateur, I was meeting new players all the time but, out here, you travel with the same people and you get to know them. I don’t feel as if there are 154 girls on tour; it’s more like one family.”

The way others react to Ko obviously has a lot to do with the player herself.

“She has absolutely no ego,” said David Rollo, IMG’s man in Australia and one who watched as Ko made off with the Women’s Australian Open trophy three weeks ago.

Caroline Hedwall, the Swede who won 5 points out of 5 for Europe in the last Solheim Cup, backed that up.

“I used to play with Lydia in NSW (New South Wales) Opens three or four years ago and she hasn’t changed. Other than from her golf, you can’t tell that she’s the No. 1 in the world. She’s got both feet on the ground and she’s a great role model.”

You ask Hedwall, who is herself relatively new on tour, if the mood among the LPGA players is as positive as it looks and she replies in the affirmative.

“It gets better all the time,” she says. “People out here are friendly. You are always going to get a bit of hassle in the workplace and there are maybe a few players who don’t like each other that much, but if you are professional that shouldn’t be a problem.”

In Hedwall’s eyes, the good vibes have a lot to do with Mike Whan, the CEO. She said that he makes them all feel as if they are playing their part in the tour’s development – a development that has seen the number of tournaments shooting up from 23 to 33 in the past five years and the prize-money from $41.4M to $61.6M.

Korean players, once seen as a bit of a hindrance to the tour’s progress because of a language barrier, are very much in on the act. It was Caroline Bivens, Whan’s predecessor, who proclaimed that all Koreans had to learn English. Badly though that came across, it yet sired the beginnings of the happy integration that has come about in the past few seasons.

Spain’s Beatriz Recari was moved to start learning Japanese “out of respect” for the Eastern contingent, while the Koreans applied themselves to their English with much the same zeal as their putting.

“It was difficult when I first came here in 2009,” Chella Choi said. “The few Koreans who were on tour tended to stick together and help each other because we could only speak Korean. Now, seven years on, we all speak English and are still learning it.

“We have friends from everywhere and we can give proper interviews. Everything is better.”

The habitual strokeplay format is another plus. Where, in tennis, the women might be in the business of psyching each other out, golfers know nothing works better than to concentrate on their own game.

Needless to say, there were a couple of players to issue the reminder that everything changes when it comes to the Solheim Cup. In 2013, for instance, there was a veritable shouting match when Spain’s Carlota Ciganda was given what was seen to be a favourable drop.

Not good, but it maybe doesn’t do any harm to see that side of the LPGA players for one week every couple of years.

Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free


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