SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Jay Gatsby tried to start over here, too.
In a quest to win back the love of his life, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fictional character lavishly rebuilt his life in the novel 'The Great Gatsby' somewhere neighboring the Hamptons.
While it didn’t work out so well for Gatsby, who tragically couldn’t win back Daisy Buchanon, American women have their own designs on writing a happier ending here in the golf rich east end of Long Island. They’re on a quest to win back their first love, too.
For an American woman, there is no greater prize than winning the U.S. Women’s Open.
But major championships are prizes that are becoming harder and harder for Americans to win.
In fact, the U.S. Women’s Open is becoming a symbol of the American struggle in women’s golf.
Nine major championships have passed since an American has won. That’s the longest drought in the history of women’s golf. Stacy Lewis was the last American to win a major, claiming the Kraft Nabisco Championship early in 2011. If the Americans are going to end that winless spell at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club, they’re likely going to have to go through the most dominant force in all of golf. They’re likely going to have to go through the talent-rich South Koreans.
South Koreans have practically gained squatter’s rights over the U.S. Women’s Open. They couldn’t be more comfortable in this championship if it were played in Seoul. They’ve won four of the last five. Paula Creamer’s the only American to win a U.S. Women’s Open in that run, taking the title at Oakmont three years ago.
For those who think too much is made of nationalistic loyalties in women’s golf, then why even call it the U.S. Women’s Open. Why not rename it the World Open? And why should the LPGA fly the national flags of all its participating players over scoreboards at LPGA events? Why take golf to the Olympics?
“Winning a U.S. Open, God, especially pretty close to home for me, it would mean anything, everything, just the world,” said Cristie Kerr, who has a residence in New York City. “Words can’t describe. If I have a chance on Sunday, I’m going to have to kind of win that battle within myself, not get ahead, and not get too emotional.”
Kerr knows what it means to win a U.S. Women’s Open. She won it in ’07 at Pine Needles. She knows how hard it has become to win it, too. Twice, she has finished third since last winning.
“Growing up, that was the championship everybody wanted to win,” said Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, a two-time U.S. Women’s Open winner. “You go anywhere in the world, and if you say you won the U.S. Women’s Open, everybody respects that, and gets that.
“If I never won a U.S. Women’s Open, I would feel like my career is just not where I would want it to be.”
To be clear, Inkster never drew this parallel, and never meant to, but you could argue the same thing applies to the big picture in American women’s golf. If American women aren’t winning the U.S. Women’s Open, the state of the American game is wanting.
Of course, the women’s game is changing. Americans won 20 of the first 21 U.S. Women’s Opens, 35 of the first 37.
The game is more global today, but that makes it even more patriotic in its largest events.
South Koreans are proud of their success, and they ought to be. They aren’t just dominating the U.S. Women’s Open. They’re dominating majors. South Koreans won four consecutive major championships, five of the last six. Asians have won nine in a row.
South Korea’s Inbee Park is vying this week to become the first woman since Babe Zaharias to win the first three majors of the season.
“It’s in our blood, I guess,” Park joked.
If the Americans can break back through this week, Kerr sees it as a possible boost to the reconstruction of the women’s game in the United States. She believes American girls need to see more events in the United States. Fourteen of the tour’s 28 events are staged in the United States. She sees American success leading to more American title sponsors.
“We need to build golf in America back up for women again,” Kerr said. “If we could get four, five or six more tournaments in the United States, that would make us really well rounded. It would also help to build USGA Girls’ Golf and LPGA Girls’ Golf in the United States.”
Winning the American woman’s first love in golf would help the reconstruction.