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The LPGA Can Teach Baseball a Lesson

January 24, 2011

by William Szczepanek

Annika SorenstamWhy don't professional women golfers have trading cards? Women's golf is probably the most-watched female sport in the country.  More and more women are taking up the sport and it's a game where rivalry between both sexes can be both enjoyable and competitive.  Ladies' tees aside, the handicap system works for men and women.  With some of the petite Asian golfers hitting 280 yard drives these ladies can really sting the ball. There are more things in common with the LPGA and other major sports than most would think.

Upper Deck issued cards for a dozen or so LPGA players back in 2003 with other cards available in 2004 and 2005. While the most popular players were highlighted, the vast majority of the women on the tour were left out. Sales obviously didn't go well since cards have not been issued since, but the game plan was very similar to today's marketing of baseball cards, where stars are abundant and most collectors find themselves wondering what they are collecting.  It would have been much more interesting if all of the LPGA players were highlighted in cards and everyone could look for their favorites.  The common cards  back in the 1950s were what sold baseball cards. While cards of the stars were the most  sought after, many collectors wanted cards of their favorite players and some of these everyday players would go on to be great stars.  We all know that rookie cards of great sports stars get the most attention, but who knows when greatness will show up.

Lorena OchoaJulie InksterWhat's happened to the  LPGA may be a precursor to what may occur in other sports. The LPGA is struggling. The LPGA is now dominated by Asian players.  This has occurred after years of chasing Annika Sorenstam of Sweden and Lorena Ochoa of Mexico.  The last time an American LPGA golfer was "Player of the Year" was in 1994 when Beth Daniel captured the honors.  Prior to 1995 the United States dominated women's golf.  At age 50 Julie Inkster is the only remaining U.S. World Golf Hall of Fame player still on tour. Se Ri Pak of Korea and Karrie Webb of Australia still grace the course.

Se Ri PakKarrie WebbThe number of tournaments in the United States has dwindled over the last couple of years due to the dismal economy and lack of sponsorship.  Jan Stephenson, a popular LPGA player from the past, was put down for her comments that the Asian players were "killing" the game.  She apologized for the comment, but she may be right in the sense that Americans can get tired of seeing their young ladies whipped by their Asian counterparts.  Right now the Asians are playing better than most other groups and therefore are winning more often.  In the long run that is good thing because it will bring out the best in everyone.

Could interest in other American sports dwindle?  Football is the most popular American sport.  If it were dominated by Europeans would Americans lose interest? If baseball were dominated by Eskimos would mainland Americans lose interest. The difference is that the LPGA is truly international.  The competition comes from all over the world and the rest of the world is getting better faster than the Americans.   This could happen if Major League Baseball  ever plays a World Series against a team from another country sometime in the future. Baseball is fairly popular in other countries.  So is basketball.  American Football is pretty safe since no one seems interested outside of the U.S.

The fact that the LPGA is struggling in this country because of lack of sponsorship and overall interest doesn't seem to be stopping other countries from moving ahead.  Right now the Asians are very supportive of their players and they treat the Americans well too.  In fact, the money to support tournaments is flowing pretty well in other parts in the world.  Maybe people in other countries would be interested in LPGA trading cards.

The new LPGA schedule for 2011 indicates that the first event in the U.S. will be for charity. The Founders Cup, dedicated to the founders of the LPGA, will be played at the Wildfire Golf Club at the JW Marriott at Desert Ridge in Phoenix, AZ.  Instead of getting a paycheck, the prize money will go to the LPGA Foundation that runs the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program. The money and points the players will earn will still be applied to the world rankings. Commissioner Michael Whan said that the LPGA players ..."should leave the tour better than how they found it".

It would be great if players in other sports like baseball, football and basketball donated their time and money to a good cause. I'm sure some do, but it certainly doesn't seem like a priority to most of them. Maybe if these sports suffered a bit we'd see some sacrifice on the players' part.

Are America's best days behind us...  can the new crop of college athletes bring home the bacon?   We need to face the fact that we have to work harder to succeed, in everything, but do we have the capacity to be better? I think so. Let's support these gals and maybe the U. S. can regain some of the prestige it once had in more areas than just golf ─ like education.

LPGA Cards for Today

Since LPGA cards are not produced for these gals today, I thought I would create some virtual cards  ─ some for the stars and some for the up and comers. Please excuse the fact that I have left out hundreds of other lady golfers who have supported this sport for many years. If any particular professional golfer feels left out, let me know.  I would gladly create a virtual card for you.

Yani TsengChristie KerrWhile I will root for the USA gals I will give credit to Yani Tseng for winning the Rolex Player of the Year Award for 2010. She is the youngest player in history to win three career major championships and was LPGA Rookie of the Year in 2008. While only 5' 6" tall she was in the top ten in driving distance with an average of 262.3 yards.

Cristie Kerr (sorry your name is misspelled on the card) was runner up to Yani Tseng of Taiwan for Rolex Player of the Year.  Christie is one of the most consistent players on the tour and is all business while on the course.  She has a routine for every move she makes whether driving or putting. She gives the U.S. the best chance for returning to the top of the game.

Paula CreamerNatalie GulbisPaula Creamer is the quintessential girl next door.  She is one of the most popular players on the tour and has battled a severe thumb injury throughout 2010. In spite of the fact that her driving distance was down because of the injury, she managed to win the 2010 U.S. Women's Open. Though she ranked 103rd in driving distance for the year, she ranked second in driving accuracy and she is an extremely accurate with her irons.  This "Lady in Pink", also more familiarly known as the "Pink Panther", has established her entire image around the fight against breast cancer.  She and her LPGA friend ,Morgan Pressel, do much to support this cause every year. Paula brings style and grace to the game.

Natalie Gulbis is one of the best known of the golfers on tour.  For a while she was considered the sex symbol of the LPGA and did much to raise attention for the sport and herself.  With recent appearances on Celebrity Apprentice she is one of the most recognizable players on tour. Looks aside she did win the Evian Masters in 2007 and topped one million dollars in earnings in 2005. Back injuries have slowed her down a bit.  We hope she turns things around in 2011.

Azahara MunozCarling CoffingThe stiff competition doesn't only come from Asia, there are five major women’s professional golf Tours: the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA); Ladies European Tour (LET); Ladies Professional Golfers’ Association of Japan (LPGA of Japan); Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA); Australian Ladies Professional Golf (ALPG); as well as the Ladies Golf Union (LGU), which administers the Ricoh Women’s British Open. A newcomer who has already established herself is Azahara Munoz of Spain by becoming the 2010 Rookie of the Year.  She is very personable and has been see regularly on the Golf Channel. She is also academically distinguished, graduating summa cum laude from Arizona State University. She has one of the most beautiful swings in golf finishing with a graceful arch not seen as much anymore.

Sara BrownTwo more newcomers include Carling Coffing and Sara Brown of Big Break fame. Carling drew the attention of fans with her cute little dances after making a good putt. Coffing is a diabetic who must fight the disease daily. If she can do for golf and diabetes what Ron Santo did for baseball and diabetes, Carling will be great, but she needs to qualify in the LPGA school first.  Sara Brown qualified this past fall.

There is something strange about the desire to collect LPGA cards.  I actually think I might want to do that, not for the value the cards might have in the future, but because of the interest and altruistic value in the cards, like it was for collecting baseball cards in the 1950s. Maybe these cards would be popular items for young girls ─ maybe not. The whole idea of collecting trading cards is becoming passé.  The world is changing and trading cards will probably not be around forever.  For that matter neither will the sports of baseball and football. There is a good chance that golf will outlast both of them.

Watch the LPGA. These girls really do rock. The LPGA could be a model of what sports will be like in the future ─ players from all over the world competing in a truly global arena. Let's support these gals and maybe the U. S. can regain some of the prestige it once had in more areas than just golf.

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