Friday, August 22, 2008

Paging Sal Johnson

Via Jason Wulterkens at The Primary Cut, I came across the latest from Sal Johnson of Golf Observer on Michelle Wie. Unlike last week, when Johnson had a terrible point about the LPGA's treatment of Wie and muddled his way to a retraction of it, this week he has an eminently sensible point--Wie should submit her entry to 1 or more sectional qualifiers for the LPGA's Q-School--but managed to muddy it with errors of fact and logic, not to mention ignorance of the new criteria for entry into LPGA tournaments for 2009. In fact, Wie has more options than Johnson thinks.

But first, Johnson's gaffes:

1) "What is odd about Reno was the fact that Wie could of [sic] flown over to England instead and tried to qualify for the Ricoh Women's British Open. 18 spots were open and the way Wie was playing the odds were in her favor. But she chose not to and basically wasted a week by going off to Reno." Untrue. As Brent Kelly of has documented, Wie had withdrawn from the WBO pre-qualifying tournament after she made the cut at the Jamie Farr LPGA event. Thus she wasn't eligible to play in the final qualifier the week of the Reno-Tahoe PGA event. Johnson should stop peddling misinformation.

2) "She could play in Europe, they have two dozen events over the year but in most cases the average pure [sic] is under a $1 million dollars so first place pays just around $100,000, small under LPGA standards." Heck, she could play on sponsor exemptions into the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET if she wanted, in the process getting a lot of appearance fees in addition to her winnings abroad, learning how to deal with global travel and different playing conditions, and building her global brand on a firmer foundation of solid golf rather than, well, human lightning rod. It would be harder than making your home on a single tour, but it could be done for a year, especially by someone her age. And if all goes well it could generate more value for Nike and Sony than her doing what U.S. fans and media want her to do. I'm not advocating this one--I'm just saying the global route is a better option than Johnson makes it out to be.

3) "Wie could play in some Future [sic] Tour events, but those are really sparse in prize money." Yeah, but with the battlefield promotion rule the LPGA has just put into place, Wie could get her 3 wins on the Futures Tour and basically be low girl on the high-priority totem pole--she'd be able to get into more events than just by sponsor exemptions and give herself more chances to win (which would give her the option of applying for immediate LPGA membership or waiting till 2010 to exercise the non-member win option should she not do well enough to end up inside the top 80 of the 2009 LPGA money list). Plus, if it takes her 6 FT tournaments to get those 3 wins, even better, as the top 5 from the FT money list are a little higher on the priority totem pole than non-member top 80 finishers.

4) "No matter what, the LPGA could really use a figure like Wie. The Tour has a lot of dark clouds in [sic] the horizon, first in tournaments not being able to get sponsors, thus some are leaving the LPGA. On top of that it's [sic] star base is also leaving...." Certainly, the LPGA would benefit from Wie being on tour as a regular member. But new sponsors and stars always turn up. And it's not like Ochoa is going away tomorrow. 5-6 years is an eternity in golf.

5) "Another problem that is hurting the LPGA is winners from Asia that don't have the appeal value that Michelle Wie has because of language barriers. Since the first of June, Asian's [sic] have won seven of the ten events and this doesn't help drive the LPGA bus in getting not only more fans interested but new sponsors and television networks." Put the adjective "American" in front of Johnson's closing nouns and you might have grounds for an argument, at least. But as it reads, his statement refutes itself. The LPGA's best TV deals are coming out of Asia. LPGA winners like Ji-Yai Shin, Inbee Park, and Eun-Hee Ji are treated like national heroes upon their return to Korea. There are rumors the communist regime in China would love to see a Chinese Se Ri Pak emerge in the next decade. Ai Miyazato is--wait for it--a "rock star" in Japan, while Yuri Fudoh may well be the most significant golfer in Japanese history. Women's golf is tied to national pride, economic development, regional rivalries, and corporate growth across Asia. What's not to like about Asian winners?

Besides, there are plenty of talented and successful young Americans on tour beyond the Blonde Brigade (and how could Johnson have forgotten Morgan Pressel?)--not just the overhyped Brittany Lincicome and Nicole Castrale, but Asian Americans like Stacy Prammanasudh, Christina Kim, and Jane Park, as well. With Stacy Lewis (yay, another blonde!) coming in 2009 and Amanda Blumenherst and Tiffany Joh among others coming in 2010, there's nothing to worry about with respect to the American pipeline to the LPGA. What Johnson should be focusing on is the LPGA's youth movement. It's hot young stars who drive more girls to the game, which is the bottom line for future American success on tour. Wie is a part of that--a big part--but not even close to the only part. And the whole is bigger than any part.

6) "We just have to hope that Wie, her parents and anyone with influence (Ms. Bivens are you reading this) will be able to bring this to light and help Michelle through this tough time. Yes Q-School is a painful moment for anyone, but in reality it's a split second in time and even a failure would not be a drastic setback for Wie who does have other options like being a student at Stanford." What's so painful about Q-School? (Besides, well, everything about it.) Seriously, Johnson shouldn't give in to the notion that it's demeaning to go through Q-School. Ai Miyazato did just fine there, setting a record matched only by Jane Park last year. If Wie were to break their record, it would put an exclamation point on her return to the top rank of the women's game.

Jason adds on his own misguided addendum to Johnson's post when he claims the LPGA is in "dire financial straits." Sure, the LPGA is having a hard time filling out its domestic schedule, not very good news when they're also trying to negotiate a new tv contract. But as Geoff Shackelford and Ryan Ballengee have both noted, following an article by Bill Huffman, the PGA is in potentially bigger trouble, given the struggles of the U.S. financials sector. And the LPGA has a better relationship with existing Asian tours than the PGA does, which gives it a leg up on becoming a truly global tour (and following the money around the globe).

But the bottom line is that Wie should think through her options--Q-School now, Futures Tour for at least part of next year, or global jetsetter in '09--and talk them out with those she trusts. And she shouldn't let anyone else--not her parents, her agent, her coach, or her sponsors--make the final decision for her. Much less Sal Johnson.


Average Golfer said...

How many aspiring female golfers from any country would love to trade their talent and "status" with Wie?

The Constructivist said...

Heh! I'd say her options are pretty good.