Saturday, December 4, 2010

Paging Steve Elling

Steve Elling took the misguided meme of "parity" on the LPGA to an absurd extreme yesterday. That's the only way to understand his suggestion that having half a dozen players at the top of their games at about the same time and duelling for every single season-long award and honor this week is nothing to get excited about. Why? Because "good is not great"--it's more like "mediocre."

The fact is, we have no way of knowing if Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, and Lorena Ochoa would have been able to dominate Na Yeon Choi, Ji-Yai Shin, Ya Ni Tseng, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, and Ai Miyazato this season. Sure, in their peak years they each posted lower scoring averages than Choi's 69.79 (not counting the 1st 2 rounds of the LPGA Tour Championship) and racked up more wins than Miyazato's 5. And one of them must have won more majors than Tseng's pair in one of their career seasons, right? But please point to a year when there were 5 players with sub-70 scoring averages--as is still statistically possible this season. Or when 5 players averaged 4 or more birdies per round (which is statistically possible this season). OK, OK, how about a year when 6 players made more than $1.5M in a season? (Yes, Miyazato needs a huge charge this weekend to become the 6th, but roll with the possibilities for a while.)

There is no way these kind of stats are products of mediocrity (that would characterize the many big names between #29 and #49 on the money list) or even just good play (which would characterize #17 through #28). In fact, everyone from #7 Song-Hee Kim through #16 Amy Yang have had very good years. It's just that the Big 6 have been excellent. Sure, only time will tell how great they'll each be. But let's wait 2 more rounds and see who has how many Hall of Fame points at what age, shall we? And then let's see how long they can sustain this level of play and who among them and their lead chase pack can find another gear and force everyone else to play catch-up (for a time). Greatness can be a product of consistent excellence, even if it doesn't result in long stretches of dominance.

The bottom line is that even if Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Suzann Pettersen, and Ji-Yai Shin were in the best position to make the leap to instant greatness when Lorena Ochoa bowed out earlier this year, it's no aspersion on them that it didn't happen. If Kerr had been a little less shaky on a few Sundays over the past 2 seasons, or if the latter 3 had been healthier this season, we'd be having an entirely different conversation right now. But their losses have been Ai Miyazato's, Ya Ni Tseng's, and Na Yeon Choi's gains. At different points this season, they each played some truly fantastic golf to put themselves in the mix and in the conversation. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see In-Kyung Kim, Inbee Park, Morgan Pressel, Song-Hee Kim, and Amy Yang making similar moves next season. But the point is that very soon the battles among the Big 6 will be settled for this season. The issue at hand is not dominance or greatness but who can play the best golf over the next 36 holes. After the dust settles from this week, we can start looking back on this season and looking ahead to the next. Let's keep our eyes on the ball, shall we, Steve?

Me, I'm hoping Elling's essay has the same effect on the Big 6 that posting in your locker room what an opposing team's player or coach says is supposed to have on your team. Most of them are playing pretty crappy golf this week, truth be told. Time to get fired up, ladies! Right now, most of the mainstream golfy media (exemplified by Elling's absurdity) are on the opposing team. How about every time one of them makes a birdie this week, they tell the cameras, "This is for you, Steve!"?

[Update 1 (7:11 am): Compare Mike Southern, who attempts to put the week's world of golf in come perspective, and you'll see what's lacking in Elling's attempt to tell the LPGA it isn't all that.]

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