Posted by: happyfan08 | April 26, 2010

A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal, or, how to fix the LPGA (and perhaps put it into a real fix)! 

Jonathan Swift wrote an essay many years ago called ‘A Modest Proposal’, suggesting that one solution to the problem of poverty in Ireland of the time was for the Irish to sell their children to the British as food.  Yes, Mr. Swift was being satirical, having fun at the expense of the British.  In the spirit of Swift, I will create my own modest proposal to solve the ‘curious dilemma’ of the LPGA.  I’m not suggesting that my solution is in any way as absurd as Swift’s; in fact, I think it could be made to work.  Which is part of the problem, actually, as you shall see in the essay that follows!  

The Curious Dilemma of the LPGA is this.  The tour has in some ways never been more popular.  It numbers among its membership some of the most popular female athletes on the planet.  And yet, all we ever hear about the tour is how much trouble it is in.  It is certainly true that the tour has suffered a number of body blows in the past few years, and we can argue about what has caused these issues.  The net result, however, is inarguable: the sheer number of tournaments on the schedule has decreased, and so has the total purse, in the past few years.  But here is the crux of the dilemma: it’s all how you look at it.  Because, you see, the number of tournaments has actually increased in the past few years.  What?  How can that be?  They can’t both increase and decrease, right?  Well, as I said, it’s how you look at things.  For the number of events has increased – in Asia.  And has decreased – in the US.  And now we come to the Curious Dilemma.  The popular female athletes I mentioned before are not American.  In fact, it is possible the LPGA has never had fewer American stars than it does now.  And many believe this is the problem that will kill the tour. 

American fans just won't embrace a Korean golfer, even if she is like Grace Park

Being that I write a blog about Korean women golfers, it might seem apparent that I do not share this view.  But then I got to thinking about the issue a little more, and realized that the critics may have a point.  About 2002 or so, there were maybe 15 Koreans on the LPGA tour.  Which is a lot, more than any other country outside the US had at the time.  I seem to recall reading a quote from American star Rosie Jones right about then.  She had been in Korea for a tournament and had been amazed at how many great young players she had seen over there.  She boldly predicted it would not be long before there were 40 Koreans on the LPGA tour.  At the time I thought she was, frankly, nuts.    15, OK, I could see 15, but 40 would mean there were three to four times as many Koreans as almost any other country had on tour.  It didn’t seem possible. 

Last year, there were 48 Koreans on the LPGA tour.  Jones’ prediction, which had seemed so impossible to imagine in 2002, had taken fewer than six years to become fact. 

Americans will be excited by a birdie putt on the last hole to win the US Women's Open - but only if an American makes it

Now imagine this.  What if 50 is not the upper limit?  What if we could be seeing 80, or 90, Koreans on tour in the next few years?  There are only about 150 players who regularly get into tournaments on the LPGA tour; what if more than half of those players were Korean?  Imagine 25 Kims on tour, and 20 Parks.  Couldn’t happen?  Well, it seems to me far less crazy to imagine increasing the number of Koreans on tour from 48 to 80 than 15 to 48, and the latter increase only took half a decade. 

So, if this in fact happens, and if the critics of the Korean Wave are correct, having that much of an increase in Korean players on tour would without question be the death knell of the LPGA, at least in America.  For no one in this country would want to see a tournament pitting a bunch of Koreans against each other, even if they were the best golfers in the world. 

Assuming that the LPGA wants to remain viable in the States, what could they do to stem the tide? (Note that it’s not necessarily a given that the LPGA would have to stay viable over here: they could make quite a nice living becoming a mostly or even entirely Asian tour I would think.  But for the sake of argument, let’s assume they’re not ready to give up on America any time soon).  Well, they could try to make the Koreans feel unwelcome by instituting stupid rules like a ‘learn English or lose your playing privileges’ policy.  But I suspect they aren’t going to try that again any time soon.  They could impose a flat limit on the number of players who play the tour from any country (other than the States, I would imagine), but anything greater than a 10 player limit would make it pretty obvious who the rule is aimed at (not too many countries get more than that number of players, and if you end up having a rule that only affects Korea, I would imagine there would be a bit of outrage). 

Americans don't want to see players hit bunker shots for birdie to win the US Women's Open, unless they are American players

Now, you could argue, so what, who cares if the LPGA ruffles the feathers of the Koreans?  Aren’t they the problem, anyway?  Well, yes, but remember the Curious Dilemma: the Koreans may cause problems in the States, but presumably they will continue to be a big draw (and money source) in Asia, perhaps even more so when there are 80 of them on tour.  Why would the LPGA create a policy that might threaten that money?  (The fact that the LPGA did, in fact, propose rules that would threaten that gravy train (English only rules) should not be brought up here; in our imaginary world of the future, where the LPGA is moments away from utter irrelevance, they cannot afford any more dumb moves like that). 

So, if the LPGA cannot limit them, the only choice is to embrace them.  But that destroys the league, at least in the States.  Or… does it?  And here’s where my brilliant solution comes to save the day. 

The key problem that needs to be addressed is that American girls (especially blondes) just aren’t winning tournaments anymore, at least not the way they used to.  And we need blonde girls to win to keep the fans and media in the US interested in the tour.  So, the answer is to make sure there are not any Koreans (or many Koreans) in the field to prevent the white girls from winning.  But since we cannot ban them or limit them, the only way to keep the Koreans out is to give them somewhere else to play at the same time.  And so, my brilliant solution is: divide the LPGA into two distinct leagues, the Asian league and the Western league (presumably we can allow Europeans to play here and it won’t kill the tour.  Presumably). 

Americans don't like heartwarming stories about players who rise from tragedy to great success - if those players are Korean

Here’s how it would work.  The league would create two leagues, which would each have 16 events per year.  A player would be expected to belong to one or the other league.  The 16 events would be played entirely in one region of the world.  So the Asian league would have 16 events in Asia (and perhaps Australia), while the American league would have 16 events in the States and maybe Canada.  OK, we could throw in a couple in Europe or Mexico, too, provided there are any events left in Mexico once Ochoa retires.  The very top players (say the top five in either league the previous year) could choose which league to belong to.  But the rest of the players would be forced to belong to a league based on their place of birth.  The trick will be to keep the leagues balanced in terms of purses, so that the Asian players will have little incentive to play the American events or vice versa. 

OK, that gives the tour 16 events to televise in America that will almost be guaranteed to have white winners (well, unless they are all won by Korean Americans, but supposedly that will be OK, too.  Supposedly).  But wait, there’s more! 

Because 16 events is not that great a schedule, I propose that there be an additional 4 events in each league that are ‘premier events’ and will be ‘interleague’ in nature.  Each of these events will try to maintain a balance of 2/3 league players and 1/3 players from the other league.  Every player will be allowed to attend all four of the premier events in her own league, depending on the number of slots available and her relative position on the money list, and up to 2 of the premier events in the other league.  Thus, you will have 8 events with stronger fields in general. 

Lastly, the league will create 8 ‘super events’.  These are events where anyone who is good enough can play, and will generally be the most prestigious events of the year.  These 8 events would include the four Majors and four other high profile events, like for instance the Evian, the HSBC, the Match Play Championship and the Tour Championship.  

So an average star player could play up to 16 league events, 6 premier events and 8 super events per year, for a total of 30 events.  That is more than most players actually play annually.  The average is more like 24-26 events for a typical player, so this schedule should work out great for pretty much anyone on tour. 

A shudder was heard from American fans when Hee Kyung Seo became yet another Korean to win on the LPGA tour. What American male could be her fan?

By organizing the league this way, you create three tiers of events.  This has all sorts of advantages.  One is that you enable tournaments to become official LPGA events without requiring them to have huge money to provide for purses.  Right now, small markets are being priced out of hosting LPGA events, and those very small markets are often the ones that have the most enthusiastic crowds and support of the tour.  But imagine that we have three levels of pricing.  The normal league events have purse limits as low as $800K – million.  The premier events go up to 2 million minimum, while the elite eight events are up around 2.5 – 3 million.  Now, events like the Corning Classic don’t have to fold; they can simply become normal league events.  There would still be an incentive to not have the minimum as your purse total, because your event is still competing with the other 15 league events for players, and you don’t want to be the event that all the top league players skip each year.  But by allowing smaller markets in with cheaper pricing, you make it easier to create a full schedule of tournaments. 

This structure also encourages growth of events in markets where they have not existed before, notably in Asia.  In order to make this work, the biggest challenge will be to create at least 16 LPGA quality events on that continent.  Right now, there are events in Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, Singapore and a new one in Malaysia, plus two events in Australia (the ANZ Ladies Masters and the Australian Ladies Open) that could be included, for a total of 8.  If you need to get the total up to 20, how do you do that?  Well, with the idea of smaller purses for league events, suddenly countries that haven’t had events before might be able to support one.  How about an event in the Philippines?  In Taiwan?  India?  All these countries have had players on tour in the past or do now.  How about something really offbeat like an event in Vietnam, or Dubai, or New Zealand, or Hong Kong?  OK, even with new events in all those countries, there will still be some work to do to get the total up to 20.  So how about more joint events with the KLPGA?  Imagine having four or five shared events in Korea with the KLPGA?  The LPGA could help the purses come up a bit, and some KLPGA stars would be invited to play.  You would also get many of the top LPGA Koreans into their home country for events, which would certainly help interest levels there.  You could do the same thing for the JLPGA, although the higher purses that already exist on that tour would make it a big more challenging to arrange.  But if you get 10 events in those two countries, and 10 elsewhere, you meet your 20 quota.  It’s not hard to imagine it could be done. 

The robotic attitudes of the Korean players make it tough for Americans to relate to them

The best thing about this plan is that it gives the home continents a bunch of events each year where their stars get to shine without competition from the stars of the other continent.  It also makes the premier events even more special, since those events would allow people from that area to see stars from the other league they don’t normally see (doesn’t it get awfully boring to see all the top LPGA stars compete against each other week after week?).  And of course, that makes the super events even more exciting, since literally anyone could be in those fields, including potentially amateur stars and stars from outside the LPGA. 

The golf channels from their respective territories would probably only broadcast the league events from those territories.  But hey, the people in those territories aren’t going to be fans of the other continent’s players, right?  So that shouldn’t be a problem.  And you still get 16 chances (assuming the four premier events from each league are covered in both territories) to see all the players, or at least a lot of them, so what’s the trouble? 

The biggest challenge to this plan would be arranging for it to happen and maintaining a schedule that would allow players from each league to make roughly the same kind of coin.  I do think the very top players should be allowed to choose their league, as sort of an exchange program for golf superstars.  Imagine that Paula Creamer or Michelle Wie might want to try their luck one year in the Asian leagues, since both are popular over there.  Or a top Korean like Jiyai Shin might want to spend a year with a lighter travel schedule like she might get in America.  But if you let them have this option, you’d better make sure the money each league has is roughly equal, or everyone will flock towards one league or the other. 

Sometimes it's hard for Americans to read the emotions of Asian players - their culture is too different

Oh, one more thing.  Imagine now that each year you have a team event in the middle of the season that is like an all-star event.  The top eight players from both leagues meet in a team event competition ala the Solheim Cup for bragging rights the following year.  Hey, why not?  You have ready-made teams, the perfect way to choose them, and all the top players would qualify to play, unlike now, where most of the top players in the world are excluded from the Solheim. 

It remains to be seen whether the Koreans could actually function as a team in a golf event

So, there you go.  The future of women’s golf in a nutshell.  Or, at least a modest proposal…. 

Addendum: OK, so what is wrong with my solution?  It seems fairly logical, right?  Well, sure, provided that the assumptions you made at the top of the article are true.  Namely, that women’s golf is in trouble because of all the great Asians on tour, that the percentage of Asians will continue to increase, that American fans will never embrace those players and will cease to watch the tour because of them, and that American fans liking the tour is critical to the tour staying solvent.  I take issue with all those assumptions.  My biggest problem with the above plan is that it kills the biggest strength of the tour: that so many of the top players play every week.  Contrast that with the PGA, which is full of events with almost no one of interest in the field.  People who think that it’s better to have a bunch of second tier events on tour, with an inferior level of competition, just so that they don’t have to see too many players named ‘Kim’ on the leaderboard, are people who don’t want the LPGA to be the top golf league in the world, period.  Perhaps there are a lot of Americans like that out there, but in my opinion watering down the strength of the league to cater to them does not seem like the right answer. 

I do like the annual team event idea, though. 

 

Americans found it difficult to embrace Se Ri Pak when she won the 1998 US Women's Open. That year, she was never used to publicize an event after that.

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Responses

  1. Cute. Incredibly racist, but cute.

    I am guessing Koreans root for Koreans and Chinese root for Chinese when competing against the Japanese. Or the Americans. Or the Swedes.

    Every lily-white American I know roots for Americans and not against Asians (or Swedes), except as it relates to wanting Americans to win. That is called nationalism. Koreans suffer from it also.

    If in 2015, there are 150 Korean LPGA touring professionals and only 25 Americans, so be it. But, you and I both know the demise of the LPGA, as we know it, is soon to follow. Your proposal is a tongue-in-cheek way of saying, “Blonde, round-eyed girl, we do not want you, but we need you unless we are destined to play only in Asia”. We Americans won’t take our ball and go home. We will just go home.

    Americans usually take the path of least resistance. When basketball became a minority sport, lacrosse grew one hundred-fold within a decade or so and continues to grow unbelievably. If golf becomes a minority sport, we might just take up jousting.

    My question is, where are the Korean men? Working?

  2. Lacrosse? Really? Hmmmm….. I think the average person would be able to name far more basketball stars than lacrosse stars, actually.

    So if this isn’t racial in nature, answer me this. When Annika Sorenstam, or Swedes in general, were winning tons of tournaments, where was the worry that the tour was going to die? How about all those Aussies winning tournaments before that? Why is it assumed Americans can root for them? There is only one Korean in the top ten in the world rankings, and that is going to kill the tour?

    Personally, I think Jiyai Shin’s life story and triumph is infinitely more interesting than Annika’s; she has a better personality, too. The league would be lucky to have her as number one.

  3. Why are the Koreans, in their country, attempting to limit the numbers of foreign players on their tour? Plus this isn’t about race ( the same old excuse to use when things don’t go a certain way) its about business and marketing. We all know the theories on that. But you of all people should know that western culture is far more receptive to eastern culture than vice-versa.

  4. Thanks for stopping by. It’s always been said that the LPGA needs American stars, even during the Annika era. But the difference back then was that no one was suggesting that Annika’s dominance was going to bring about the demise of the tour; to the contrary, they lauded her more often than not. Saying the presence of a set of athletes will destroy a tour implies far more than a ‘marketing issue’.

    It’s interesting that you say it’s all about marketing. What do you mean, exactly? What is the marketing challenge inherent in marketing Korean golfers vs. Swedes or Aussies? Why is it a ‘given’ that Annika or Webb are marketable, but Shin or In Kyung Kim or Hee Kyung Seo are not? I like to ask this question whenever someone asserts this, because I have yet to hear a coherent, defensible answer. Perhaps you have one?

    Remember, I am not saying ALL Koreans are marketable, I’m merely refuting the claim that NONE of them are. Of course some are more marketable than others, and many of them are among the bigger Korean stars.

    I truly believe Hee Kyung Seo or Inky are MORE marketable in many ways than Sorenstam was. They are pretty, fashionable, great golfers, speak fairly decent English, and are emotional on course. And Shin has a compelling back story, great talent, and is incredibly personable.

    So if you think they are examples of marketable Koreans, then the statement that ‘(all) Koreans are ruining the tour’ is nonsense. And if you think they are not marketable, please explain why. Because other than the fact that they are not white, I can see no difference between them and other non-American stars. Or, to put it another way, when was the last time someone wrote a ‘Suzann Pettersen is ruining the tour’ article?

    Oh, and please don’t bring up speaking English; that’s such a dodge! Nobody can pick out the Korean walking down the fairway who knows English vs. the one that doesn’t! Nobody watching Ichiro or Yao Ming or some Latin American baseball player gets mad because the guy isn’t fluent in English; they enjoy watching his skill.

  5. As far as the Korean league limiting foreign players, I have no information on that. Assuming they do, it would not bother me so much, because the KLPGA never claims to be the best women’s golf league in the world.

    For instance, I have no problem with American soccer leagues limiting the number of foreign players over here, because we are trying to build up soccer over here and cannot compete with the great leagues in Europe at the moment. But if the PGA or LPGA or NBA or Major League Baseball, all of whom are clearly the best in the world at what they do, suddenly say only Americans can compete, they automatically become NOT the best in the world. Right? If your vision of the LPGA is that it should be second tier but all or mostly American, then fine, but hopefully that is not what the LPGA wants.

  6. Its very difficult to explain why “Madison Ave” does not or will not invest a Korean female golf star. The market for such expenditures is slim at best, so the value of their dollar must be maximizied to its full potential. I can think of only one real ad which featured Ochoa, and actually aired across all types of programing, not just golf shows. It was a wrist watch commercial. If the # 1 player, of western culture ( and white ), AND Hispanic is not seen as a good advertising investment, you will be hard pressed to convince me an Asian woman will be seen as such. Its nothi ng to do with race/culture. Its money and markets. I know Michelle Wie has a big endorsement deal in Asia ( Korea), why not Christie Kerr, Britanny Lincicome, or Julie Inkster? English has nothing to do with it. They can have a have voice-over ad and just have the player looking cute and acting a part. Like I said before. Its an Eastern culture clashing with a Western culture. Unfortunately the world, especially the business world, does not wear rose-colored glasses.

  7. Well, it’s certainly true that women’s golfers in general do not draw big advertising bucks over here. A few years ago, Meg Mallon, the champion of the US Women’s Open at the time, had no sponsors at all (compare that to the PGA, where every half assed player has multiple contracts). I certainly am not surprised, in that climate, that there are so few Koreans who are used in ads here (I will point out that Na Yeon Choi and Jiyai Shin appear in a Titleist TV ad, Jeong Jang was in a Cobra and Titleist ad a couple years ago, and Grace Park had a big Nike sponsorship deal and still does I think). Nor do I think there is anything racist about that.

    As for westerners in Korea, yes, not many get ads, but Paula Creamer has a popular calendar and several Japanese endorsements for example.

    It’s not the absence of Koreans in TV commercials that frustrates me. What gets my goat primarily is this notion that Korean golfers are somehow going to destroy the LPGA tour. There are many who espouse this opinion as if it’s indisputable fact, including, unfortunately, many in the media. I just ask for some kind of, I don’t know, logical argument or proof that this is true, that’s all. I never see articles complaining about Maria Hjorth, or Anna Nordqvist, or other Swedes at all, let alone articles that claim they will lead to the ruin of the LPGA. This has nothing to do with who is getting big bucks appearing in ads, because none of those women get that treatment here, either. There’s something else operating here, and it doesn’t seem kosher to me.

    Compare that to when the big western stars go over to play in Korea. The Koreans are THRILLED to see Ochoa, Creamer, Sorenstam, Webb, Inkster and other name Western stars show up on their shores. Yes, they are rooting for the hometown girls to win, of course. But they don’t have an attitude like here, where many of them fear these players are actually *ruining* the event by showing up. To the contrary, they consider it an honor that big stars like them show up to play in Korea.

    And yes, they are big stars over there, probably better known than in the States. Next time there is a big event in Korea (like the Hana Bank in October), watch this site and I’ll try to post a few of the photos. They take pictures of those Western stars arriving at the airport! I’m betting many of those players don’t get treatment like that from their own country’s media!!

  8. And before anyone says, well, look at the LPGA’s schedule and how they have lost tournaments, isn’t that proof the Koreans are ruining things?, I’ll point out that before the 2008 economic implosion, the Koreans were winning just as often and the LPGA was doing fine. And since getting rid of Commissioner Bivens, the Koreans keep winning, and they’ve added multiple events again. If the Koreans were destroying the tour, why would all the good news be happening? You shouldn’t selectively blame the Koreans when things go badly, then credit something else when things go well. Especially when you add sponsors like Kia to the tour (a Korean company!).

  9. Well I can’t disagree with what you have written, and yes, I think the attitude that Koreans are ruinuing the LPGA is a wrong position to hold. Last yeat at the Jamie Farr/Kroger event, I was shocked the way Farr was mocking the Korean girls while he was in the booth. Even the TV announcers were taken aback, with obvious moments of silence, as if not knowing what to say. We can only hope the LPGA gets some more tourneys, that some excellent players rise to the top ( regardless of race/culture), and that the shorts get a little tighter!

  10. Do you blog week after week, or….?


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