Ji-Yai Shin’s first LPGA victory is her 22nd career win and her first outside of Asia. While being interviewed over the weekend, Shin revealed that she had planned on playing in Japan next year since she had already earned a full exemption on the JLPGA. Fortunately (for us fans who don’t have access to watch Korean or Japanese golf tournaments) she will have to rethink that choice and it would surprise me greatly if Ji-Yai isn’t among the 2009 LPGA rookie class. You may have previously questioned my decision to include her in my Top 30 rankings this year or Shin’s Rolex top 10 ranking but there is now no denying her place among the world’s greatest players.
It wasn’t your typical British Open, scoring-wise – 72.17. That’s nearly four strokes lower than last year’s average at St. Andrews, three lower than the 2006 average at Royal Lytham and almost one full shot lower than the 2004 average at this same course. Shin’s -18 winning score sounds really low for a major championship but it came up one shot short of the British Open record set by Karrie Webb in 1997 and tied by Karen Stupples in 2004. Yep, both of those Opens were held at Sunningdale.
I won’t be giving Shin or Yuri Fudoh the Big Surprise Award this week – they’ve both won tournaments on their home tours this year. Even though she’s had two previous Top 10 finishes in 2008 (plus other successes in her first two seasons), I’m giving it to Ai Miyazato. A fifth-place finish in a major championship – with a great chance to win until the closing holes – is a great sign that Ai-chan’s game is finally back. Morgan Pressel gets the Big Disappointment. She flew across the pond two weeks early to get acclimated and came away from this major missing the cut by three shots.
With the five Asians at the top of the board (and 13 of the top 20 positions), the theme of domination from the Far East will once again rear its head. As the Olympics open at the end of this week, I am reminded of a situation from that stage which resembles the one the LPGA is currently dealing with. When basketball was first designated an Olympic sport, the United States destroyed every team they played for decades. As the Russian team and others began to get competitive and actually started beating the U.S., the American collective reactions were first “what’s wrong with our players” and then “we need to change the rules so our professionals can play”. When those Dream Teams started failing (that is, didn't win the Gold), it was back to "what's wrong with these guys?" Obviously we missed the point there on what Olympic competition is about. Americans are trying to miss that point again with the LPGA – if you desire your sports organization to be the best in the world, its PLAYERS must be the best in the world whether they are American, Asian or European. In case you didn’t notice, the player who dominated the last 10+ years is no more American than Bjorn Borg or the Shocking Blue and you didn’t have much problem recognizing either of those players or listening to “Venus” for the last 30 years. Now that I mention it, how much harder is it REALLY to visually tell the difference between Jee Young, Seon Hwa and Meena Lee than for say, Kristy McPherson and Paige Mackenzie? Or Wendy Ward and Reilley Rankin? As usual, I digress. But if you require Americans to be first and foremost in your sporting POV to enjoy the show, it’s only going to get more difficult for you in the coming years no matter what you watch. The Golfy Universe doesn’t need any extra elitism, folks.