LPGA & PGA increasingly going global
Thanks to Vijay Singh winning nine times, foreign-born players established a PGA Tour record by winning more than half of the year's tournaments.
All that means is that the men are finally catching up with the women.
``We're already there,'' Meg Mallon said Tuesday on the practice range at Trump International, an appropriately named course for the LPGA Tour to end its season. ``There are good tours in Europe and Japan, but they send their best to the United States. We've been international for over 10 years.''
Heading into the ADT Championship, international players have won 20 out of 31 times on the LPGA Tour. Annika Sorenstam of Sweden has seven of those trophies, with the rest split among players from South Korea, England, Scotland, Mexico, Australia and the Philippines.
But that's nothing new.
There were 24 foreign-born winners last year. The dominance was really pronounced in 2000 when Americans combined to win only six LPGA events. In fact, you have to go back to 1997 to find the last time Americans won the majority of the LPGA tournaments.
``Many of our players long for the day when the LPGA Tour looked the same and talked the same and came from a similar junior golf background,'' commissioner Ty Votaw said. ``But those days are over.''
Is that bad for golf?
Votaw doesn't think so. And neither does Arnold Palmer.
The King gave another passionate speech Monday night at the World Golf Hall of Fame. Palmer praised the diverse class of inductees that included the first Canadian player (Marlene Stewart Streit), the first black player (Charlie Sifford) and the first Japanese player to win on the PGA Tour (Isao Aoki).
``The future of this game is international,'' Palmer said. ``It's something we have to recognize and enjoy.''
Palmer helped to get that process started.
At a time when the only golf that mattered was played in the United States, he traveled to the British Open in 1960 in pursuit of the Grand Slam. Palmer finished second, then won the claret jug the next two years. But his presence helped restore prominence to the Open and generated excitement throughout the world of golf.
``What was the reason for going? It was to create a relationship I thought the world needed,'' Palmer said.
The U.S. tours now are a melting pot of success.
The ADT Championship features 18 foreign-born players among a field of 30 at Trump International. That isn't much different from two weeks ago at the Tour Championship, where 15 players from 11 countries joined 16 Americans at East Lake.
The mistake is suggesting that American golf is on the slide.
Instead, it's time to treat golf like an Olympics medal table.
True, international players won 26 of the 48 events on the PGA Tour. But the United States still accounted for 22 titles, twice as many as any other country. Fiji won nine (all by Singh), while Australia had seven.
American women won 11 times on the LPGA Tour, followed by Sweden (eight) and South Korean (four).
The only fear is that while golf has gone global like never before, it is killing the international tours.
More and more Europeans are playing a full schedule on the PGA Tour -- Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Darren Clarke, soon to be joined by Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington. Adam Scott is skipping the Australian Open to play in the Skins Game. Shigeki Maruyama of Japan has a home in Los Angeles and a membership at Riviera.
The World Golf Championships are played overseas once a year (sometimes less), and Americans always get singled out for poor attendance. Why bother going to Ireland or Spain or Australia for a $7 million purse when they can go to Charlotte or Dallas and play for almost as much?
But while the LPGA Tour is taking great players from their native tours, it also is giving back.
The LPGA, which has a lot more wiggle room in its schedule, will be played in seven countries next year -- the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, France, England and two new tournaments in Mexico. The next stop could be China.
Votaw presided over the first World Congress of Women's Golf meeting this spring, and said there was concern that the LPGA Tour was going to make obsolete the smaller, less lucrative Ladies' European Tour and the Japan LPGA.
``I want there to be a strong LET. I want there to be a strong JLPGA,'' Votaw said. ``I don't mean this to be condescending, but that's where players are developed. And that's good for all of us. We will then be smart in bringing those golfers back to their home regions to develop it further.''
That doesn't mean the LPGA Tour, no matter how successful its foreign-born stars become, is going to disrupt its U.S. schedule to crisscross the globe.
The most competitive golf is in the United States. That's why the best players from all over the world are here.
And they are here to stay.
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