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Players back LPGA global expansion

The world's top players Wednesday supported an expansion of the US LPGA Tour overseas with more tournaments played globally, particularly in Asia where the sport is booming.

Annika Sorenstam, one of the most successful golfers ever, said it was clear that interest in the game had spread worldwide.

"If we look at the last 15 years, which is how long I've been playing, we have seen huge growth in the game in Asia," said the Swedish superstar, who is gunning to reclaim her world number one ranking this year.

"There are more members joining the LPGA and more tournaments in the region.

"Golf is definitely becoming a global game and the stage is set for us. I welcome that. It is good to make it more global, for the fans, for companies.

"I welcome tournaments all around the world. I think it is good for all of us."

Of 35 LPGA events this year, 25 are in the United States. Mexico gets three and Canada, France, England, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, and South Korea have one each.

Current world number one Lorena Ochoa said the fact that such a big event as the HSBC Women's Champions tournament was in Singapore this week rather than the United States showed the tour's powerbrokers were taking notice.

"We are doing it right, we have more international tournaments coming to Asia now. It's happening and it's right," said the Mexican.

"I support the LPGA very much in what they do. It is great to see how much golf is growing. I'm happy to play in the United States and I'm happy to play in Asia."

The men's European Tour is a striking example of how the game has developed over the years as it seeks new markets and a new fan base.

Of 43 events this year, almost half are in either the emerging markets of Asia, the Gulf, or South Africa.

Former world number one Karrie Webb said it was important to get sponsors on board who had the vision to take the game to the world, such as HSBC which touts itself as the global bank.

"I think HSBC has displayed their interest in golf by also taking golf to parts of the world where they don't get premium tournaments all the time. So I think it's very important," said the Australian.

"When you look at our tour, not only do we have a lot of Koreans on tour, but there's a good percentage of Asian players that make up our weekly fields in the States.

"I think it's important to build the fan base of the LPGA for us to play around the world, considering there's more foreign players on tour by far now than there is US players on the LPGA."

While she supports taking the game around the world more, Webb believes the majority of tournaments should always remain in the United States.

"I think the LPGA is the United States' Ladies' Professional Golf Association, so my feeling is that the predominant amount of tournaments that we play are played in the United States," she said.

"But we could get to a point where women's golf is healthy enough where we have world golf events like the men do where we can play several tournaments outside of the United States."


February 28, 2008


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