Thursday, July 8, 2010

How Low Can the AP Go?

I haven't made the effort to identify who's responsible for the latest U.S. Women's Open preview from the Associated Press, but talk about using old talking points! The title: "Americans No Longer Dominate U.S. Women's Open." The theme: how badly Americans have been doing lately against international competition on women's golf's biggest stage.

The problems:

(1) Even Beth Ann Baldry, who's not the best-informed writer on women's golf in the world, knows that Cristie Kerr is the favorite to survive and maybe even tame Oakmont. Yet our anonymous AP writer takes 5 seconds on's stats page and decides that because she "doesn't rank among the LPGA's Top 10 in driving distance, accuracy or putting," the fact that she's #1 in scoring average and putts per green in regulation, #2 in wins, winnings, Player of the Year points, rounds in the 60s, and rounds under par, #4 in birdies per round, and #5 in greens in regulation (72.2%) and top-10-finish rate--oh, and by the way, is averaging almost 257 yards off the tee, hitting 72.4% of her fairways, and averaging 28.68 putts per round--just doesn't matter. 2 wins in the last 3 events? Pshaw. A 2-tournament winning streak in her last 2 events entered? Not even worth mentioning.

And when he (I'll betcha anything a guy wrote this!) tries to praise Kerr, he even gets the storyline wrong:

Give her the 36- or 54-hole lead, like she owned last year at cross-state Saucon Valley before losing out to Ji, and it may be difficult to get it back.

Um, dude, Kerr had chances to win 2 majors last year and let them slip through her fingers. Nobody stepped up to challenge her in the LPGA Championship for any serious length of time. Kerr still has to prove she's a closer in majors. That and the fact that she won at Locust Hill with a leaky driver--something that Oakmont will penalize much more severely--are the doubts that any knowledgable writer should be emphasizing about Kerr's chances to get her 2nd Open, 3rd major, and 15th career victory on the LPGA. Read Mike Dudurich or Randall Mell or Tim Maitland if you want to understand where Cristie Kerr is this season. Not this hack.

(2) So when most writers (and even Seouls Sisters fans like bangkokbobby) are focusing on how important for the tour and how inspiring for other American golfers Kerr's dominating victory at the LPGA Championship has been--do you think it's a coincidence that Christina Kim almost followed Kerr's formula (change putters, get focused mentally, and bring it on) to the letter last week and moved from 73rd to 59th in the Rolex Rankings with her playoff loss to Na Yeon Choi in the process?--our dogged correspondent decides to dig even deeper. What has he discovered?

An American victory in its national championship, once all but a certainty, now would be a surprise. Cristie Kerr is the only American to win in the last five years and, since 1995, there have been nearly as many South Korean champions (4) as U.S. winners (5). By comparison, Americans won all but five Women's Opens from 1946-1994.

I have 2 responses. 1st, how is this news? The supposed lack of American dominance has been going on for 15 years! But 2nd, is it really fair to American golfers to hold them to a higher standard than the golfers of every other nation? Read that paragraph again: Americans have won the Open more time than golfers from any other nation in the world! We're still #1, baby! w00t!!

Let's break this down further. Of the 8 players last year with the best chance to win, 4 were American (including naturalized citizen Candie Kung). Even with Inbee Park winning by a comparatively large margin in 2008, 3 Americans were among the 9 in the mix at some point on that Sunday. Yeah, Cristie Kerr basically carried the flag alone when she won in 2007, but the year before that 4 Americans were challenging Annika Sorenstam (who beat Pat Hurst in a playoff) and Se Ri Pak among those few players less than 7 shots off Sorenstam's and Hurst's pace. In 2005, Birdie Kim beat 2 promising American amateurs, Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang (who have since developed into elite professionals), by 2 shots with her miraculous walkoff hole-out from the bunker, and Natalie Gulbis made it 3 Americans in the top 5. My point in bringing up all this not-so-ancient history is that Americans have disproportionately been in the mix in the Open, even in the last few years when the women's game's globalization has intensified exponentially.

Yes, I know there's a big difference between being in contention and winning. My point is that expecting American domination on the LPGA is incredibly out-of-date, just as it would be to expect Korean domination, or Japanese domination, or Spanish domination--or, for that matter, any single country's domination. The world of women's golf is by no means flat, and its center of gravity may well have shifted to Asia sometime last decade, but that's all the more reason to face reality with something less than jaw-on-the-ground stupefaction and incredulity.

(3) The U.S. Women's Open has actually been the staging ground for a lot of American cinderellas in recent years, from Michelle Wie to Stacy Lewis to Alexis Thompson to Jean Reynolds. And as Stuart Hall points out, it's become the locus of a debate about attending college vs. turning pro for teenagers of all nationalities. It's pretty significant that long-heralded, big-hitting Hawaii native Kimberly Kim turned pro at about the same time that just-shy-of-Hall of Famer Meg Mallon announced her retirement, eh? And that, as David Shefter and Rhonda Glenn point out, there are plenty of great stories from other new pros and top amateurs--including Americans Jennifer Song (ok, she had dual citizenship with South Korea, so both countries get to claim her) and Tiffany Joh (who's made the Open for the 1st time in her life!).

(4) Finally, it's not like I'm loving the new flavor of the week--how gosh ding dang tough the USGA can make an already over-the-top Oakmont--but at least that one's a case of lowering casual viewer/reader expectations scoring-wise (when it's not an excuse for having fun with a damsels in distress storyline). Americans having just a slightly better chance of winning this Open than golfers from any other single country is just "dog bites man" these days.

Look, it's not that I'm expecting Pulitzer-prize winning material from the AP when it comes to covering the LPGA. I'd accept just basic competence, thank you very much. That, and this Stephanie Wei interview with Paige Mackenzie edited down into a short article and sent around to every newspaper in the country!

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