The State of Women in Canadian Golf

With Lorie Kane quickly becoming a faded ghost of her former self, and no one really looking to step up to fill her role, Toronto Star columnist Dave Feschuk waded into the affair yesterday, commenting on why Canada doesn’t have better female players.

Feschuk notes few Canadians played well this week in Edmonton:

This country’s women’s golfers have rarely experienced such a collectively dismal moment of weakness. The top-ranked Canadian in the current world rankings is Lorie Kane, the 42-year-old from Charlottetown who stands 119th. Canada boasts just one other player, Hamilton’s Alena Sharp, in the top 300. And today Sharp wakes up as one of just three Canadians playing for money at the national championship, which hasn’t been won by a homelander since Jocelyne Bourassa in 1973. Twelve of Sharp’s 14 compatriots in the field, including Kane, missed yesterday’s halfway cutline of three-over par.

Feschuk has a point — why hasn’t Canada produced a stronger crop of female golfers? His comparison is to South Korea, which has flooded the LPGA with a cast of strong players.

Which makes a column by hockey columnist Mark Spector, who writes for the National Post, a bit strange. Now I don’t know if Mark is a big golf guy — I usually write about it for the paper, but am not in Edmonton this week — but his take is that the LPGA needs Michelle Wie. Without a Tiger-like figure, the LPGA doesn’t have any star power, he says.

Too bad he relies on the overdone hook of blaming faceless Korean golfers for all of the LPGA’s woes:

Does anyone have an opinion on Lorena Ochoa? Was Annika Sorenstam not a brilliant golfer yet devoid of personality? Today, despite the addition of some beautiful and competitive players in Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis, the LPGA is still battling some serious recognition problems –most pointedly in its growing South Korean contingent.

I actually think he’s wrong, at least from a reporter’s standpoint. Last year, while covering the CN Canadian Women’s Open in London, I found the golfers to be full of personality, willing to sign endless autographs, subject themselves to any question I had and generally speak on almost any subject. The fans turned out too — a record crowd, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Edmonton has a strong turnout as well.

So devoid of personality? I don’t think so. The top female golfers are typically more willing to express themselves than their male counterparts and surprised a lot of people with how well they play. Are there a lot of Koreans in the LPGA? Yes. But I must admit that I get a queasy feeling in my stomach when another of my burly, white and male middle-aged colleagues complains about all the “Lees and Parks” in the field, as Spector does in his column. It has been done to death and strikes me as truly saying that only white female pros can have personality. Can you imagine if someone said baseball would be more interesting with fewer Latin players, or basketball would be better if it were more white? How would people react? But no one gets upset when another sports columnist says there are too many Asians on the LPGA Tour.

Spector is right that the LPGA is probably more marketable to middle America, but his take on Michelle Wie seems a bit off the mark:

Like it or not, at 17 Wie is THE promising front-woman for the LPGA tour — despite the fact her career has been horribly mismanaged thus far. She is American, she is six feet tall, she is beautiful, and there is no reason to believe that some day she might win with regularity on the LPGA tour.

Sure, she has jumped the queue and created jealousy in the process by receiving a sponsorship deal from Nike that most tour veterans would kill for — before even winning her first professional tournament. And her goal to make a PGA cut — stated again while she missed another LPGA cut in Edmonton this week — isn’t stopping any of the sneers on tour either. At least privately.

The truth is Wie appears a long way from being a force on the LPGA Tour. She finished 115th in the Canadian Open field — and she’s pretty much lost her credibility this year. The questions are now whether she’ll be much of anything, let alone a big star.

For a really interesting take on Wie, check Jaime Diaz’s excellent story in Golf Digest. He highlights some interesting points on Wie:

A moment of truth came at the end of Michelle Wie’s pre-tournament press conference at the U.S. Women’s Open in late June, an awkwardly frustrating dance in which pointed questions had been asked and evasive, defiant, cutesy, halting, rehearsed, clichéd or nonsensical answers had been given. Intervening for the final question, moderator Rhonda Glenn of the U.S. Golf Association wondered how the 17-year-old Wie has dealt with “an extraordinary amount of pressure this year.” Relieved and momentarily relaxed, Wie let her words tumble out in a breathy rush of adolescent stream-of-consciousness.

“I like to call back home, talk to my friends, talk to my girlfriends and my guy friends and just listen to their troubles for once and just talk about silly stuff, be stupid and just be goofy and just not think about anything, just not have a care in the world,” Wie said in her younger-than-her-age voice. “And just to lie on my bed and just lay sprawled out and just do nothing is what I like to do, just be lazy and just talk on the phone for hours.”

For syntax and theme it wasn’t exactly Stanford material. But the easy flow and the obvious conviction were telling. Finally, Wie had said something genuine and real. And enlightening and sad. Because it’s clear that the greatest female prodigy in the history of golf, the first woman whose stated mission is to compete against the best men, the global brand who is paid $12.5 million a year in endorsement contracts, indeed craves an extraordinary amount of escape. Although not as obvious, it’s evident when she’s straining to make her predicament sound wonderful.

“The worst feeling in life is when no one has any expectations of you, no one expects you to do great things,” she said. “I’m just so grateful that everyone has expectations of me…I’m just having a lot of fun.”

All a close listener could think was, No she isn’t, and no she’s not. What she really is is trapped and unhappy and alienated. What she really wants — at least for a while — is out.

The truth is Wie raised the profile of the LPGA. But my thoughts are the organization needs to market the personality of its golfers more — and there’s colourful personalities there, even in the Korean camp. It may take time, but I still think there’s hope the masses can embrace the LPGA Tour.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert, I agree with most of what you say here. The LPGA has not been successful in marketing their players and tour even though there is plenty there to market. The lack of any consistent network TV coverage really hurts them. When the LPGA came here to Glen Arbour a couple of years ago I was really impressed with how accessible and friendly most of the players were, and their games were nothing to sneeze at either. They need to capitalize on those things.

    While the column in the NP bears the earmarks of an author that knows nothing about the LPGA and little more about golf in general, the point about the Korean presence is valid. It is virtually impossible for most people in North America to get excited over a leaderboard full of Kims and Parks, all of whom appear interchangeable. That remains a real problem for the acceptance of the LPGA in North America, for right or wrong.

  • Robert…
    I am really shocked that a journalist would write about a subject but doesn’t really know what he is writing about. I am very shocked. I cannot believe the newspapers would let that happen. I thought journalists were experts in the topic they cover. Stop the presses.

  • This needs to be said…although it may be potentially controversial. To say that the Korean influence is a problem for the LPGA reflects racist attitudes…yes racist. I am sure everyone who believes there is an “Asian or Korean” problem would categorically say they are not being racist…and cite endless examples to back them up.

    The tour may be bland and have an increasing share of Asian participants but to link the two implies a causal relationship…which is incorrect. RT comments that the natural personalities of the LPGA players (all players not just Asians) are not being used for tour promotion…and they should. But the problem is poor promotion of existing personalities problem not an Asian problem…and to reference increasing Asian participation on the tour as the source of the problem reflects a racist attitude.

  • I will look at this from a different angle:

    When LPGA rolls into town, their very-approachable players will sign autographs, post for pics, grant interviews for the media and the 100,000 fans that show up. These are all fine and dandy for the locals.

    Unfortunately, LPGA has the ambition to he a bigger act than being a ‘caravan’ going from town to town showcasing their ‘acts’ one town at a time.

    As long as the LPGA wants to stay as a small time operator, what they have now is probably fine. But as far as being the premium brand, they need more than just the current acts they have. Lorena might or might not be the person to get them there, especially with her heavily-accented English (did anyone watch her post-round speech yesterday?). The Koreans are starting to be treated as individuals by the media. And you have the Gulbis and Creamers who will attract crowds. But ultimately, they need Wie and more personalities that can transient the media and garner the national (or even international) audience, not just signing autograph and posing for pics.

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