Monday, June 21, 2010

Paging Sal Maiorana

Sal Maiorana is one of the great local golf writers, and he's going all out already this week with overviews of Locust Hill and the tournament history, profiles of Ai Miyazato, Ya Ni Tseng, and defending champion of the '09 LPGA Championship Anna Nordqvist. But check out the disconnect between what he's actually doing and the ways he's framing it. In my view, it's unnecessary, but maybe there's a method to his madness.

What he's doing is introducing the tour's best players to Rochester golf fans. In his Miyazato profile, he does a great job explaining what a huge star she is in Japan and what kind of pressure and expectations she faced when she first came to the LPGA and won Q-School by as many shots as she had racked up victories in Japan (12). Although he gets a few details on the timing of her slump wrong, he gives a sense of what depths she sunk to after she hurt herself in the '07 match play championship (where she finished 2nd to Seon Hwa Lee) and how far she's risen since then. (His piece was published the day she won her 4th event of the season and 5th in the last year.) In his Tseng profile, he connects her to Annika Sorenstam, both in terms of talent and potential and through anecdotes about Tseng's buying Annika's house and seeking advice from her during a tough stretch last season. With Nordqvist, he focuses on her decision to leave Arizona State early and her experience winning at Bulle Rock last year so early in her rookie season and playing in the Solheim Cup for Team Europe. For each, he notes their nationality (Japanese, Taiwanese, Swedish), but focuses on the players as individuals. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's right out of the Mike Whan playbook:

Americans will love, bond and support a major superstar as long as they get to know them.... We're going global and I think there will come a time five or six years from now where we'll all chuckle and say "Do you believe we didn't see Ji-Yai Shin as one of our own?" It's a natural progression.

Given all that he's doing, why, then, does Maiorana focus his Sunday overview articles on the LPGA's "identity crisis," lack of "star power," and dominance by foreign players without "high-level U.S. marketability"? Why focus on the "South Koreans who seem to win almost every week" when he knew full well Ai Miyazato alone had won as many tournaments this season as all the South Koreans combined? (She's now winning 4-3.) Why refer to Whan's position as akin to the musicians on the Titanic? Why suggest that Brittany Lincicome and Morgan Pressel's embrace of globalization is an "insular viewpoint"?

So is Maiorana simply unaware of the gap between his rhetoric and his actions? Is he allowing his own personal biases to creep in? Has he calculated that those biases are widespread in Western NY, so he needs to air them out so we all can confront them? Or does he think that setting up the conflict will sell more papers than focusing on the incredible competition week in and week out on the tour?

The great thing about being here is I get to ask him these questions directly. I'll post my interview with him when I get a chance. While you're waiting, check out Happy Fan's analysis of the "identity crisis" meme. Me, I think it's on its last legs. The new world #1 Ai Miyazato has opened up a $250K lead on Suzann Pettersen on the money list and a 36-point lead on Ya Ni Tseng in the Player of the Year race, while lowering her scoring average to 69.96 (and is still only 5th!) and raising her birdie rate to 4.12 per round (and is 1 of 10 players averaging 4 or more BPR). As I've maintained for a long time, as the very talented younger players on tour start winning more often, they can't help but become better known. Right now the only players among them with 3 or more wins are Ya Ni Tseng, Seon Hwa Lee, Ai Miyazato, and Ji-Yai Shin. As they approach the totals racked up by Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer, they'll start to stand out even more. And they won't be the only ones.

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