Over four weeks the LPGA will hopscotch from Thailand to Singapore to Mexico before finally making its way back to the continental U.S. at the end of March. All the meandering underscores the increasingly global nature of the game, especially on the women’s side, and it got me thinking about the Solheim Cup and, more specifically, Is it time to blow up the event?
This team tournament pitting Europe against the U.S. will be played Aug. 21-23 at Rich Harvest Farms near Chicago. It is supposed to be a showdown of the game’s best, but this year it more likely will conjure a Who’s Who of Who’s Missing.
Lorena Ochoa, unquestionably the best female player in the world, is from Mexico and therefore ineligible. Annika Sorenstam, the biggest name in modern women’s golf, has retired. Karrie Webb of Australia? Ineligible. Inbee Park, who last year, at 19, became the youngest U.S. Women’s Open winner, is from South Korea, as is 20-year-old Ji Yai Shin, the 2008 Women’s British Open champion. Yani Tseng, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship winner at only 19, is from Taiwan. In all, only five of the top 10 and six of the top 20 players in the LPGA Rolex Rankings — and none of 2008’s major champions — are eligible for the Solheim Cup.
To make matters worse, the biggest name among those eligible, Michelle Wie, will have to start winning tournaments — something she hasn’t done since she was 13 — to qualify automatically, although judging by her second-place finish in this year’s SBS Open, it seems as if she’ll play well enough to merit a captain’s pick without causing an uproar.
But even with Wie, the U.S. versus Europe in the Solheim Cup is like playing the World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Kansas City Royals.
How long can the Solheim Cup keep ignoring the rest of the world, even as those diverse faces come to dominate the game? A tournament with only Europe and the U.S made sense once upon a time, but now that notion seems prehistoric. At least the men’s game has gotten the rest of the world involved with its Presidents Cup (which should be merged with the Ryder Cup to make one superworldwide event — but that’s another story).
Even if they wanted to emulate the Presidents Cup, the women couldn’t do it. An international team with Ochoa, Webb and the Asians would be unbeatable. What they need to do is remake the Presidents Cup: Asia against the World (North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia). It would be the young stars of the East — Park, Shin and Tseng — against the Americans (Wie, Creamer, etc.) and friends (Ochoa, Webb, Suzann Pettersen and Sorenstam, if she ever unretires).
If that sounds like a mismatch, consider that if they named the teams now, the Asians would have 26 of the top 50 ranked players. They’re loaded.
It would be a heck of a match, and for the first time in team golf no great player would be left behind (unlike Greg Norman and the Ryder Cup). The TV ratings in Korea and Japan would be Godzilla-like.
Play away, ladies. This is going to be good.