In the isolated moment of an anomaly, even greatest athletes at times temporarily open up a shoddy amateur bar and grill establishment in the form of a highlight reel blooper, which rivals the opening of a Red Hen influenced restaurant promoting decrepit policy, intolerance, personal politics, and a complete dearth of customer service and sanitary protocol. Well, maybe not that bad.
LPGA golfer, Beatriz Recari, shook off the embarrassing gaff of completely missing the ball on a swing, but recovered quickly to regain her poise and grit in front of a live television audience and gallery at the Thornberry Creek Classic in Oneida, Wisconsin last Friday. In a testament to the invariable truth that the grinding and frequently cruel game of golf does not discriminate between genders, earlier this year PGA great Phil Mickelson added to his own legend inn the making, by whiffing at an attempted drive on the global stage of the Masters tournament. “Lefty” managed to overcome his temporary coalescence with the average Joe and ultimately made the cut, finishing the weekend tied for 22nd. Unfortunately for Recari, in the lingering aftermath of the errant swing which was caused by a brief issue with footing, her score of 74 did not earn her the right to remain in the tournament over the weekend.
Recari’s viral lowlight (thank you smartphones), not only illustrates the importance of mental toughness during the emotional roller coaster ride of a typical round on the links, but brings attention to the evolution of the LPGA over the last two decades from a true international game into an exclusive ultracompetitive sport. As prize monies continue to skyrocket, and the tour maintains consistent broadcast ties with ESPN and The Golf Channel. the growing diversity within the ranks of the global player standings is compelling, if not telling, as the traditional power structure at the elite tier has undergone a complete makeover. However, space is premium in the rarefied air and crowded summit of the perilous heights of the Mt. Everest summit of women’s golf.
In a phenomenon created by soci0-biological and economic factors, the leaders of tournament fields once dominated by US and Northern European golfers, are currently owned by a Far East majority, with the South Korean influence carrying the highest percentage of the championship weight. The staggering numbers indicate an extreme shift at the top of the leaderboard from 2008 to 2017, as 19 out the last 30 major winners at the British Open, US Women’s Open Championship, Women’s LPGA Championship hail from either South Korea or Taiwan. Compared to the previous ten years, where Asian nationals claimed only 7 combined titles at the three majors, the recent numbers are extremely telling and may signify the beginning of the end of the professional game in the US.
The raw data clearly shows that American, European and Australian golfers are simply being consistently and thoroughly outperformed in a trend that points to the possibility of complete irrelevance within the next few years. As the game has quickly transformed over the last three decades from US domination, to a diverse international flavor and into the tedious state of an Asian power play, will the congested pipeline of golfing prospects from South Korea and Taiwan continue to push the boundaries of playing excellence for years, or lead to the utter destruction of the LPGA?
While the reality at the championship level is not the product of deliberate actions, tour officials must weigh the difficult decision of either leveling out the competition in adopting new rules and strict policy involving tournament qualification protocol, or accepting the current reality and allow the organic ebb and flow of the game to articulate a future that may not be conducive to a widespread audience. As a very specific group of highly skilled athletes raise the overall level of the game, the detriment to compelling television is a bi-product of the systemic dominance. If the underdog has not feasible chance in stealing a title, then what is the point of watching the inevitable?
The onus is not only on the powers that be of the professional league to adapt and survive, but on aspiring pros, especially in the US, who must weigh the critical decision of either attending a four year university with a powerhouse golf team, or forfeiting their amateur status in order to participate in tournaments and bridge the competitive disadvantage chasm. It is a known fact that a high percentage of international participants forgo the university experience, and instead opt to turn pro upon completion of their primary schooling. A wise move considering the lucrative size of tournament purses, with winning prizes nearing the $1 million threshold.
As cultural nuances play a crucial role in the current hierarchy of the LPGA, colorful personalities like Beatriz Recari are destined towards obscurity come Sunday of even Friday of tournament week. Maybe it is up to the women of the in the rest of the world to identify that competition is now fierce thanks to the substantial payouts, and to realize that the sport, like it or not, has evolved into a feasible industry, where achieving excellence goes far beyond the token afterthought of entitlement.
In women’s golf earning legitimacy as a self-sustaining entity, the brilliant play by the South Korean has fired a resounding global message to aspiring golfing champions that the current reality on the links is not a quantum singularity and either ceaselessly work hard to compete or wallow in obscurity. A lesson that should be embraced, yet has been neglected in a society of participation trophies.