Saving the Best for Last


LPGA Tour _newThey left you wanting more.

If you’re an LPGA fan, the season ended Monday with hope and promise leading a terrific rally.

A week after Michelle Wie broke through to win for the first time, Lorena Ochoa and Jiyai Shin staged the most dramatic duel for the Rolex Player of the Year award in the history of the tour. Their gut-wrenching battle came down to the final hole of the LPGA Tour Championship at The Houstonian Golf & Country Club in Richmond, Texas. Ochoa won the honor by a single point after closing with a birdie and watching Shin’s desperate final chip tease the hole before slipping inches away.

The duel was so compelling it overshadowed rookie Anna Nordqvist’s victory and her torrid run of seven birdies over eight holes in the middle of the round.

Coupled with Wie’s title, the ending gave the LPGA a much-needed bang-bang finish to the season.

Ochoa’s visible sigh after securing her fourth consecutive POY award summed up the angst of the entire tour this year.

“This has been the toughest, for sure, and the one I’m going to enjoy the most,” Ochoa told Golf Channel. “I was very proud of the way I finished.”

In a year that at times seemed cursed, with title sponsors bailing out by the bunch, players ousting their commissioner in a revolt and Americans struggling, the ending felt like a turn toward something better.

The LPGA’s new commissioner gained a clear view these past two weeks of the complex foundation he has to build upon.

Michael Whan got to see what’s right and what’s wrong with the tour he’ll officially begin leading on Jan. 4.

If Wie’s on the verge of stepping up in class, of becoming a dominant force, Whan’s job is a lot easier. Wie is an American with a giant-sized Q rating. The tour needs stars and an American star who can win with regularity. Whan won’t have to be much of a marketing man to market that. It would be good for the tour, too, if Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford and Morgan Pressel can find their way more to the winner’s circle.

The larger issue is selling the globalization of the tour to American audiences.

Americans won just five times this season, making this the nation’s worst showing in 60 LPGA seasons.

Sunday’s finish summed up the year.

Sweden (Nordqvist), Mexico (Ochoa) and South Korea (Shin) dominated the finish with Kristy McPherson the lone American with a chance to win on the back nine.

The LPGA may be a global tour, but it’s American-based and American-focused.

“When you’re a girl, this is where you dream about coming to play,” Australian Anna Rawson told the Wall Street Journal in a Sunday story about the state of the tour.

“At least 75 percent [of LPGA events] should be here,” fellow Aussie Katherine Hull told the newspaper.

While Ochoa and Shin put on a riveting show Monday, they aren’t the stars they ought to be, given their winning resumes.

Golf relishes being witness to stardom more than it does to drama. When Tiger Woods ran away with the U.S. Open title by 15 shots in 2000 and the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, TV ratings were through the roof.

As the No. 1 player in the world, Ochoa should be more celebrated.

As a South Korean, Shin leads the most dominant force in women’s golf. South Koreans won 11 times this season and yet there is a troubling disconnect with American audiences.

Ochoa and the South Korean contingent rule golf, but their stories aren’t resonating the way they could or should.

Whan’s challenge is changing that dynamic. It’s making foreign stars shine when Americans don’t and getting American audiences to care more about those foreign stars.

Or praying for an American resurgence.