The Best of the LPGA

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Annika Sorenstam may be the face of womens golf, but shes not pictured on the front of this years LPGA Tour media guide.
 
For the first time in six years, the worlds No. 1-ranked female player is not gracing the cover. Instead, that honor belongs to reigning Player of the Year Lorena Ochoa, reigning Rookie of the Year Seon Hwa Lee, and ADT Championship winner Julieta Granada.
 
Seon Hwa Lee
Seon Hwa Lee had one win and seven top-10s in her 2006 Rookie of the Year campaign. (WireImage)
What does this say? With or without Annika, the tour is ready to move forward ' and promote itself on a global level.
 
Meanwhile, on the back cover of the guide is the 2007 tournament schedule ' and it says that the season is finally ready to begin.
 
The SBS Open at Turtle Bay will commence the new year, and do so without Sorenstam, who is set to make her debut in three weeks in Mexico.
 
Ochoa, however, is there. So, too, are Karrie Webb, who just won back-to-back tournaments in Australia; Se Ri Pak; Cristie Kerr; and just about every other notable player the tour has ' as well as a host of very talented players with who fans arent overly familiar, many of who are South Korean.
 
While players like Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis and Michelle Wie grab major headlines, these South Korean players are busy grabbing titles.
 
Last year, they accounted for 11 LPGA Tour victories ' four more than the next most represented country, the U.S. There were also NINE different South Korean winners. Only one other country (the U.S. with five) had more than ONE different winner in 06.
 
There has been a debate over recent years as to whether or not this is a good thing for the tour. Critics say American fans, in particular, cant relate to Korean players. They argue that many of these players dont speak English well ' or at all. Theyre not entertaining or charismatic.
 
And?
 
And what? Should the LPGA order a South Korean embargo? Should they suspend players until they are fluent in a language most of its natives butcher every second of every day? Should they have to have the sex appeal of Gulbis or the fashion sense of Creamer?
 
I understand the concerns; and so, too, does the LPGA. Carolyn Bivens and company know they have to find a way to help popularize these players with their core audience and have the fans embrace them, because, as they are well aware, the South Korean contingent is only going to increase ' and they are going to continue to be a dominant force for many years to come.
 
To do so, the LPGA has provided tutors as well as online assistance to help foreign players learn English as a second (or even third) language. They have translators on site at tournaments. They have implemented classes to help them acclimate to a new culture. They even have Asian staff members to help their cross-cultural program.
 
The LPGA seems to be doing their part. And the Korean players should do theirs as well. They should do their best to try and gain a working knowledge of the language (if they don't already have it) and make an effort to interact personably with fans and their peers at events. This will help them professionally, personally and even financially.
 
But, more so, they need to do this for the tour. The LPGA is at a critical stage in its quest to increase exposure. And South Korean players are a significant part of the tour today. They, like all members, have a responsibility to help the tour grow and prosper.
 
This isn't to say that the South Korean players are being neglectful. Some may be, but I'm sure many are not. It's just to say that the opportunities exist and they owe it to themselves, the tour and Korean LPGA hopefuls to take advantage of them -- and to say to critics, be patient. It can't be easy for them to spend the majority of the year in a foreign country, even if they are surrounded by countrywomen and some family members. Adjustment time is needed.
 
Just imagine yourself playing full time on the Japanese Tour. How long would it take you to find your comfort zone? How long would it take to learn the language? And would you even try to read, write and speak Japanese -- so much so that you could interact socially sans interpreter.
 
There was a time when Se Ri Pak was the lone South Korean flag bearer on the LPGA. This year alone, there are 11 players with tour status with the last name Kim.
 
Overall, there are 42 Korean-born players with LPGA status this season. Thats up from 31 in 2006 and 24 in 05. And these numbers dont even include the handful of players who were born outside of the country but have Korean heritage.
 
Is this good for the tour? The question is irrelevant. Good or bad, its the way that it is. You just have to accentuate the positives.
 
The fact is, South Korean players have helped make the LPGA Tour the most competitive its ever been. They have helped popularize the game on a global level. Theyve helped the LPGA extend its brand far beyond the United States and into lucrative Asian markets.
 
Its not their fault that, on the whole, they are better than everyone else at the moment. The LPGA is for the best female players in the world ' and, right now, the best group of players originates from South Korea.
 
It would certainly be beneficial for the tour to have the likes of Gulbis or Creamer, or Morgan Pressel or any number of young American players to win more often. That would undoubtedly create more fan interest and better ratings in the States.
 
But the LPGA cant just hand trophies to these ladies. They have to go out and earn them. And to do that, theyre going to have to play better, play up to their increasing level of competition. Its as simple as that.
 
This is the current state of the LPGA. And a new season with 31 events begins this week in Hawaii ' where there just happens to be nine Kims, including the defending champion; four Lees; and three Parks in the field.
 
Enjoy it. Because these are the best female players in ' and from around ' the world.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - SBS Open at Turtle Bay