Monday, January 12, 2009

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Mostly Harmless's Golf Writing

Bill Jempty, Ryan Ballengee, and Patricia Hannigan have started a conversation on Sal Johnson's take on the future of golf and the media that's worth contributing to. But how? I have nothing to say about the value of blogging or the tensions between journalists and bloggers that Michael Berube hasn't said better--and much funnier. So what to do? I'll focus here for a start on how I approach golf blogging. In a later post, I'll discuss what I value from the best golf bloggers I've come across.

My training as a scholar and teacher shapes my approach to golf blogging. My aim is to produce quality research, use it to educate a few people, and have a little fun in the process. Which is to say, (1) I don't aspire to become a golf journalist, much less somehow undermine or supplant golf journalism, (2) I follow established academic ethical codes (support claims with evidence, cite sources, and so on) and emergent bloggy ones (link link link!), (3) I pursue what I'm curious, excited, and enjoy writing about in the world of women's golf (with a few visits to other worlds sprinkled in here and there), (4) I try to develop a particular niche and a distinctive voice for my Mostly Harmless golf writing, (5) I am more interested in gaining the respect of the golf writers, bloggers, and commenters that I respect and admire than in making any money off my golf writing, and (6) I won't do anything to draw in a bigger audience to my golf writing that would sacrifice these goals and principles.

On the research side, one thing I enjoy doing is dusting off some ancient and atrophied math skills (back in the day I was a double major in English and math) by developing my Best of the LPGA, Best of the Young Guns, and Best Off the LPGA ranking systems. Although I've made other forays into the wide wide world of golf stats, Hound Dog's the leader of the pack in this neighborhood. So even though I'm sometimes in his league when it comes to predictions and competitions, the math stuff is mostly a fun side gig for me.

Where I actually can make the best contribution, I believe, is by drawing on my own areas of expertise in cultural, ethnic, and postcolonial studies to examine attitudes toward the sport and undercurrents in golf media and fan discourse, not to mention issues of language and culture, race and gender, and globalization and nationalism in golf. What draws me to the LPGA in particular is how global the women's game has become and the range of ways that players, tours, fans, sponsors, and the media have been responding to--and contributing to the (re)construction of--cultural, ethnic, and linguistic differences. With Seoul ably covering the KLPGA and the accomplishments of the LPGA's Korean contingent (along with the top Korean players and golfers of Korean descent on other tours), I've been free to branch out to consider the future of international team golf competitions, the prospects of women's professional golf in China, and the LPGA's new event in Brazil. But my particular research focus has gravitated toward the place of Japan in the world of women's golf and on golf's global youth movement.

I've focused on Japanese golfers on the LPGA and the JLPGA for a variety of reasons, not least among them that I started LPGA blogging while living in Fukuoka and teaching American literature and culture on a Fulbright. My wife is Japanese and my two daughters (onechan, 5, and imoto, 2) have dual Japanese and American citizenship, so it's probably no surprise that Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda are among my favorite players (while onechan favors Natalie Gulbis, Paula Creamer, and Karrie Webb), but it took me until last March to work on my rudimentary reading skills in Japanese and dive into the JLPGA web site. In addition to trying last season to produce better round-by-round overviews of JLPGA events than Kyodo News or Golfweek (which was far far easier than it oughtta be), I became interested in who were the JLPGA's finest golfers, why there has been a Se Ri Pak effect but no Ayako Okamoto effect on the LPGA, who from the JLPGA would be most likely to succeed on the LPGA, what American players and the LPGA could learn from Patti Rizzo, and what kind of schedules those with dual JLPGA/LPGA membership might put together in 2009. I still have a ways to go before I'm ready to focus on a book project that's come out of this research, but at least I have the idea and can continue to make progress on it here.

An outgrowth of my attention to Ai Miyazato's and Momoko Ueda's fellow LPGA rookies and to the up-and-coming players on the JLPGA (and, to a lesser extent, the KLPGA) has been my focus on the teens and 20somethings in the world of women's golf who are changing the face of the LPGA. Women's golf's global youth movement picked up a lot of steam in 2008, as Seon Hwa Lee became the 1st among the LPGA rookie classes of 2006, 2007, and 2008 to post multiple wins in a season and Morgan Pressel became the 1st to join her in emerging from the fast-growing pack of 1-time winners in their generation. With Ya Ni Tseng and Louise Friberg from this past year's rookies joining Super Sophs Inbee Park, Eun-Hee Ji, In-Kyung Kim, and Ji Young Oh and Junior Mints Julieta Granada and Meaghan Francella, that's 14 wins and counting from the Young Guns. Who will be next? Na Yeon Choi? Angela Park? Amy Yang? Ai Miyazato? Brittany Lang? Song-Hee Kim? Jane Park? Hee Young Park? Shanshan Feng? Or will Jee Young Lee or Momoko Ueda follow up on their non-member wins (in Korea and Japan, respectively) before them? Or perhaps someone from the much-heralded Class of 2009 will live up to her hype and steal the Young Guns' thunder? When you look at the list of young winners on the KLPGA and JLPGA in recent years not named Ji-Yai Shin--Hee Kyung Seo, Ha Neul Kim, Sun Ju Ahn, He Yong Choi, So Yeon Ryu, Sakura Yokomine, Miho Koga, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Yuko Mitsuka, Hyun-Ju Shin, Bo-Bae Song, Eun-A Lim, Erina Hara, Ayako Uehara, Akane Iijima, Mayu Hattori, Miki Saiki, Yukari Baba, Chie Arimura, Maiko Wakabayashi, and Na Zhang--you have to wonder who else will be coming over to the LPGA soon from Asia and making a big impact on the New Blood generation. (That's to say nothing of the NCAA and Futures Tour, which I plan to pay more attention to in 2009).

One area that I didn't expect to get so interested in researching, despite the fact that it connected closely to my interest in globalization and transnationalism, was the infrastructure (both organizational and financial) of women's professional golf--from how tour schedules get put together to how they connect with TV deals, from the new rules for membership and priority status on the LPGA to a controversy (like over tying membership to language ability--and backtracking [with good reason]) or two. As a result, I'm actually more optimistic than most everyone I've been reading on the LPGA's prospects for a new TV contract for 2010-2015. (But more on that later.)

On the teaching side, my major aims are to help LPGA fans (whether casual or devoted) dig deeper and perhaps even educate the golf media in the process. With no regular AP writer covering the LPGA last season and with many good local golf writers getting the ax in '08, there was a serious lack of context and perspective, not to mention detail, in the game stories that get the widest audience on sports pages and news aggregators. Outside of Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, and Michelle Wie, the casual sports fan might have heard of only a handful of other LPGA players, mostly American (and blonde), and the AP was doing little (if anything) to change that. Even the magazine writers paid to cover the LPGA left me looking for more on and So I worked out a more systematic approach to previewing and commenting on LPGA events this season than last, trying to uncover the rounds and the players that even the best LPGA bloggers weren't attending to all that closely. (I tried to do the same, on a smaller scale, for the JLPGA in 2008.)

In addition, by raising questions, identifying turning points, noting trends, marking milestones, offering criticisms of bad reporting, analysis, and opinion writing in the golf media (by Steve Elling [twice], Ron Sirak [twice], Jason Sobel [twice], Doug Ferguson, and Sal Johnson [twice]), and looking for future LPGA stars (like Mika Miyazato, Hannah Yun, Cheyenne Woods, Kyung Kim, and others), I built in 2008 on my attempts the previous year to call attention to the quality of competition on the LPGA by organizing LPGA-centric blog carnivals, identifying LPGA generations, and introducing well-known, better-known, and lesser-known LPGA players. I see last week's 6-part series as the culmination of these efforts to highlight the very best players on tour.

But just as important to me has been my attempt to convey the struggles of those trying to make it as professional golfers by following the ups and downs of the budding careers of everyone in the Young Gun generation, not just the heads of the class. In my 1st junior golf tournament, I was paired with Moira Dunn, who would go on to join the LPGA in 1994. I've followed her career ever since and even though she's had a handful of good seasons and has 1 career win, she's been struggling to hold onto her card the last several seasons. While I've been attuned for a long time to following her competition in the middle and lower reaches of the LPGA, I've enjoyed tracking more closely over the past 3 seasons how the newbies have been doing relative to her. I hope my readers gain perspective on career arcs and come to appreciate how good the best of the newbies have to be to outdo tough competitors like Moira.

When I consider my research and teaching efforts as a whole, I'm hoping that those bloggers and journalists who reach a wider audience than me might consider what they can learn from what I've done here and how to incorporate some of it into their own golf writing. In a broader sense, the golf writing I do here at Mostly Harmless is an experiment in how much and what kind of an influence I can have on its various constituencies and institutions, from fans, players, and tournament organizers to writers, sponsors, and tour officials.

So, yes, this blog is for fun--which means I can experiment with more free-form autobiographical pieces and on-course reports (3 of my favorite posts evah), focus on a cute moment between Tiger and Sam Alexis Woods, make poetry out of a Momoko Ueda fingernail injury, explain why the LPGA is more interesting than the PGA, and root on my favorite golfers (Ai-chan, Moira Dunn, Seon Hwa Lee, Ya Ni Tseng, Momo-chan, In-Kyung Kim, Mi Hyun Kim, Jeong Jang, Eun-Hee Ji, Na Yeon Choi, and Jane Park)--but that doesn't mean I take my golf blogging any less seriously.

Simply put, my ultimate aim is to become one of the preeminent American experts on the LPGA and JLPGA on the web. And maybe someday, off it, too. Mostly Harmless is my means to these ends.


Hound Dog said...

Maybe if I had majored in English in college (or better yet, even finished college), I would be able to articulate my bloggy purpose half as well as you. Well done! And thanks for the compliment.

The Constructivist said...

I think you're being too modest (as usual)!

Liz said...

Well said! Your English degree is serving you well. Very nicely done. My husband is a golfer and he visits a few sites -- not many, but some. He enjoys seeing what's out there. I like looking for fun books (or articles) about golf, for fun gifts. He's getting for Easter a semi-humorous book about golf, by Josh Karp, called Straight Down the Middle. The subtitle gives you a hint at what it's about!" "Shivas Irons, Bagger Vance and How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Golf Swing." Probably more guy-oriented -- and even if it doesn't improve your golf game, it should help you find greater enjoyment on the course.