It is as much a slap in the face to women’s professional golf as it is to Inbee Park.
Park just fashioned a history making year, becoming the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1950 to win the first three major championships of the year, and yet Park didn’t even finish among the top three in the Associated Press voting for Female Athlete of the Year in 2013, as announced on Christmas Day.
Park is among just three women to win three majors in a single season in the history of golf. She joins Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) as the only players to do so. Park went to the Women’s British Open in August with a chance to become the first man or woman to win four professional majors in a single season. Though her historic march fell short at St. Andrews, it’s baffling that her efforts were not considered among the top three in women’s sports this year.
Tennis star Serena Williams easily won the voting among sports editors, claiming 55 of 96 votes. WNBA rookie Brittney Griner was second with 14 votes and swimmer Missy Franklin was third with 10.
Williams enjoyed a banner year, winning 11 titles, two of them Grand Slam titles (U.S. Women’s Open and French Open). Still, Park’s achievements were more historic, a major championship run that somehow didn’t register the way it should have outside golf’s niche. It’s not as if Park didn’t do anything beyond the majors. She won six times overall, became the first South Korean to win Rolex Player of the Year and won her second LPGA money title.
Griner is a spectacular showcase for the WNBA. She set dunk records for the league and helped her Phoenix Mercury make the league finals. But nagging injuries slowed her progress as a rookie. A left knee sprain plagued her much of the season. She missed the All Star Game with it. She missed seven regular-season games in a 34-game season.
Franklin won four gold medals in the 2012 Olympics, but this isn’t even an Olympic year.
Griner and Franklin have larger profiles, more mainstream recognition than Park enjoys. Their names, their faces, their stories resonate more than Park’s. They're also all Americans. Still, that doesn't completely explain the voting. As recently as 2003 through 2007, women’s golf owned the AP award, with Sweden's Annika Sorenstam winning three times and Mexico's Lorena Ochoa twice.
This was a terrific year in women’s golf, with storylines galore in Park, Suzann Pettersen, Stacy Lewis, 16-year-old Lydia Ko, 18-year-old Lexi Thompson and a history-making European Solheim Cup team. Still, apparently, the stories aren’t resonating enough beyond the golf niche. The women in golf aren’t playing on a stage big enough to overshadow women’s tennis, the WNBA or the Olympics. Or they don't have the star power to illuminate the stage.
The talent’s definitely there in the LPGA ranks, but this year’s voting has to make you question the tour’s star power, or lack thereof.