As I write this, the CME Group Tour Championship, the 2016 finale for the LPGA, is concluding and something’s missing…. once again there are no American LPGA players in contention.

The top nine players have a mathematical chance of winning the championship and the million dollar bonus so it is conceivable that someone could walk away with $1.5 million today. What is surprising is none of those players in the top nine are Americans.

2016 marks the first time in at least five years that Americans didn’t win at least four tournaments on the LPGA, and this fall from grace seems to have happened rather quickly. Just a little over two years ago Stacy Lewis was the number one player in the world and Michelle Wie had returned from the abyss to capture the 2014 US Open as well as another tournament win. In the year before, Lexi Thompson had won her first major.

Fast forward to 2016 and man, what was only a little over two years feels like a lifetime. Despite winning the Solheim Cup and capturing the International Crown this summer, only two Americans have won tournaments this year; Brittany Lang broke through and won her first career major at the U.S. Open and Lexi won in Thailand. Other than that nada, nothing, zip, zilch!  Even more surprising is the fact that Lexi is the only American ranked in the Rolex top 10 and Lang is the only American that is in the top 10 money list. Even that number is a little skewed because $810,000 of her earnings came from her US Open win.

Brittany Lang US OPEN winner womens golf LPGA
2016 US OPEN winner, Brittany Lang

So what is wrong with American golf on the LPGA? Popular theories range from laziness, lack of motivation, being out-worked, golf not being a high enough priority (which kinda sounds ridiculous considering these women do this for a living).

There is no question that there more distractions for American professional athletes regardless of their sport. Fans, media attention, everyone rolls out the red carpet for these athletes. The perks that come with being a celebrity athlete in the US are unmatched; front row seats to the best shows, free or subsidized travel and accommodation etc. etc. Long story short – there are just many other things to get involved with including fashion, endorsements, and other entrepreneurial endeavors.

In contrast, the foreign players seem to have a single-minded focus, golf is without a doubt their first priority and in many cases their only priority outside their family. In some cases, it is the only way to ‘make it’ out financially.  Fair or unfair, not many American players have been accused of spending too much time on the range, or hitting balls until their hands bleed so to speak!

LPGA Player, Pornanong Phatlum from Thailand
LPGA Player, Pornanong Phatlum from Thailand

One factor that has hurt Americans on the LPGA but also may be the biggest reason for the LPGA’s growing into the great tour it is today, is its diversity. Commissioner Mike Whan has done a fabulous job taking the LPGA’s global schedule to another level. The LPGA played tournaments in about 20 different countries this year, the Se Ri Pak movement started things in Korea, and Thailand appears to be the next women’s golf powerhouse on the rise thanks to the success of Ariya JutanugarnPornanong Phatlum, and on the men’s side, Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat. No question Shan Shan Feng‘s bronze medal in the Rio Olympics will go a long way in helping grow the game in China.

So, what’s the solution? It starts with grassroots programs, although the First Tee is a great program, it can’t be all there is. We have to find a way to get young ladies involved and interested in golf at an earlier age. In many ways golf is still considered an elitist sport – you have to have money and plenty of time to play it and unfortunately, that is discouraging growth particularly in take-up. We do have to find a way to make golf more available, affordable and attractive to young people. The larger the pool of young women playing the game, the more likely we will see gems, diamonds, and American prodigies.

It was just reported earlier this week that Paula Creamer and her long time caddy Colin Cann have mutually decided to part ways after 12 years together. (Creamer is another former American golf star that has seen diminishing tournament results over the last few seasons with just two wins since 2010). A highly respected LPGA caddy, Colin will take over the bag of the immensely talented Korean golfer of the year Sung Hyun Park who topped the money list, along with seven wins this year on the KLPGA. Park, is already the 10th ranked player in the world and hits it further than Lexi Thompson with a great short game.

Things are not going to get easier anytime soon for the US women on the LPGA. I’d say it’s time for the Americans to head to the driving range yesterday!


ABOUT ERIC STEWART

Brooke Henderson womens golf
Brooke Henderson with Eric Stewart at the 2016 Shoprite Classic

Avid LPGA fan, Eric Stewart from Mays Landing, NJ graduated with a business degree from Stockton University (Pomona, NJ).

Father to seven-year-old Josiah, Eric is an Academic Advisor at Atlantic Cape Community College. Every year he looks forward to the LPGA’s Shoprite Classic in Galloway, New Jersey.

Follow Eric Stewart on Twitter @stewville3_eric.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article well thought out and written. As the competition increases it lessens the chances of winning. By ‘competition increases’ I mean in particular the players from South Korea, Thailand, China and now India joining the LPGA Tour. It would be interesting to see an analyses of the LPGA top 10 winners and their winning scores over the last 5 years to see in fact not just the names but the Countries and whether or not in fact the scoring has improved. (Someone will jump up and say what does it matter..diversity is the thing!). The trend of ‘new Countries’ coming on to the LPGA is set to continue at the ‘expense’ of US players as their is a fixed number on the LPGA Tour each year. I was in Brisbane Australia recently and on a golf course practice range I saw a youngish girl practising with her Coach and hitting the ball consistently well. I spoke with her Coach both from South Korea speaking good English the girl was 16 yrs Amateur and playing off a +2 handicap having won lots of Amateur events in South Korea. Her Coach said her goal was to eventually get to the LPGA in the US. I asked him if there were many girls like her in South Korea with the same goals. He thought for a moment then said “Yes, around 3000”.

  2. Any info on what percentage of Americans make up the LPGA as a whole? Just curious. It would be interesting to understand the dynamics of the LPGA outside of the Top Ten. Also, the International Crown and the US Women’s Open aren’t nothin! Really good read though- thanks for the info!

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