Please, everyone, chant this mantra along with me: “There is nothing wrong with the Americans in women’s golf.” And say it like you mean it because it’s absolutely true. The Yanks, who get more than their fair share of abuse on social media, haven’t gotten worse; the rest of the world has simply gotten better. And, in case you haven’t noticed, the gals from the USA have started off 2018 quite nicely, thank you very much.
How easy it is to forget that back when the Americans were dominating the LPGA, players from the United States made up the vast majority of tour members. In 1998 – the year Se Ri Pak’s victory in the U.S. Women’s Open triggered the growth of golf in South Korea – 120 of the 185 LPGA members on the final money list were Americans – about two-thirds.
After four events this year, 122 players are on the LPGA money list and 45 are Americans – about 37 percent. That’s a significant drop. Quite frankly, the chances for players from the United States to win have been greatly reduced because so many good players now come from so many different places. Despite this, U.S. born players have won three of the first four tournaments – the last time that happened was in 2007 – despite the fact 23 countries have played the tour so far this year.
And while it is difficult to use statistics too accurately this early in the season because of the small sample size, three of the top five on the money list are Americans as are three of the top five in scoring average as well as four of the top five on the Race to the CME Globe points list and four of the top five in the Rolex Player of the Year race. In addition, four of the top 14 on the Rolex Rankings are Yanks with Lexi Thompson, who is a solid No. 2, just 0.08 points behind Shanshan Feng of China.
And American players like Jessica Korda (No. 12), Michelle Wie (No. 14), Danielle Kang (No. 20), Brittany Lincicome (No. 32) and Nelly Korda (No. 44) are trending up after Lincicome won the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic, Jessica Korda took the Honda LPGA Thailand and Wie wowed everyone at the HSBC Women’s World Championship where Nelly Korda and Kang tied for second.
Let’s use the results of the major championships as a way to gauge how the LPGA has expanded its borders to every continent except Antarctica. From 1950, when the LPGA was founded, through 1992, only 11 of the 141 major championship winners were born outside the United States. Of the first 63 majors played through 1966, Fay Crocker of Uruguay in the 1955 U.S. Women’s Open and 1960 Titleholders was the only non-American winner.
But since 1993, when Helen Alfredsson of Sweden won the ANA Inspiration and was quickly followed by fellow Swede Annika Sorenstam, Laura Davies of England, Karrie Webb of Australia and then the twin wins by Pak in 1998, 69 of the 105 major winners have been from outside the United States – about two-thirds. That’s a dramatic shift totally attributable to the increased depth and breadth of talent.
In fact, things have quietly been trending up for the United States in recent years. Since the LPGA went to five majors in 2013, seven of the 25 major winners have been American and at least one Yank has won a major each year and those seven majors were won by seven different Americans – Lincicome, Wie, Kang, Thompson, Brittany Lang, Stacy Lewis and Mo Martin. From 2001 through 2012, Americans won just 10 of the 48 majors and there were four years in which the Yanks were shutout.
After an off-week, the tour swings back to the United States with the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix and then the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif., as preludes to the first major of the year – the ANA Inspiration. And the ANA is the major at which the Americans have had the most success recently, winning four of the last nine, the most wins by the Yanks in any major during that period.
Lincicome won in 2009 and ’15; Thompson took home the title in 2014 and Lewis in 2011. And Wie, who will be playing her 14th ANA, is quite comfortable on the Mission Hills course, where she has six top-10 finishes.
Watching over the 18th green at Mission Hills is the iconic statue of Dinah Shore, the late singer who championed so diligently for the LPGA. As she would sing in a famous car TV ad: “See the USA… America is asking you to call,” punctuating the line with a powerful punched fist and a big smile. Look closely at that statue this year: You just might see a little smile on Dinah's face. The USA players are hitting on all cylinders right now.