Before Se Ri Pak expanded the borders of women’s golf into Asia, a pair of Swedes took the game to the continent of Europe and an Englishwoman reminded Britain that it is the home of golf. Truly, Liselotte Neumann and Helen Alfredsson did for women’s golf in Europe what Seve Ballesteros did for the men’s game while Laura Davies was an inspiration for a generation of Brits.
All three are now pioneers in the new way, playing this week in the Senior LPGA Championship presented by Old National Bank on the Pete Dye Course at the French Lick Resort. The Senior LPGA, now in its second year, was joined as a senior women’s major this year by the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, raising hopes that a full-fledged senior women’s tour could be not too far down the road.
While Pak is rightfully given her place in history for triggering the growth of girl’s golf in Korea with her two major victories in 1998 – the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open – a decade earlier that trio of Europeans took the first significant steps toward the globalization of the LPGA which, while American based, truly spans the globe.
In 1987, Davies won the U.S. Women’s Open, followed by Neumann the next year. Alfredsson captured the ANA Inspiration in 1993 and Davies took the Women’s PGA in 1994 and both the du Maurier Classic and the Women’s PGA in 1996. Suddenly, media from Europe was showing up at LPGA events, especially the major championships.
Lotta and Helen were followed on tour by fellow Swedes like Annika Sorenstam, Carin Koch, Catrin Nilsmark, Sophie Gustafson, Maria Hjorth and now Pernilla Lindberg, Anna Nordqvist and Madelene Sagstrom. And the spillover to the European continent has resulted in golfers on the LPGA from Germany, Spain, France, Denmark, Norway, Italy and more.
Davies inspired young stars like Georgia Hall, winner of this year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open, and Charley Hull as well as their UL International Crown teammates, Bronte Law and Jodi Ewart Shadoff. Also playing the Senior LPGA this week is Catriona Matthew of Scotland, who turned pro eight years after Davies won the 1987 U.S. Women’s Open, and Trish Johnson, the Englishwoman who is the defending champion here.
“We were lucky we won some big events early on,” Alfredsson said Monday at The Pete Dye Course. “It feels good to have been in on the start of something.” Alfredsson, 53, won seven times on the LPGA while Neumann had 13 and Davies 20. Their success brought new faces inside the ropes and new fans outside the ropes.
“I had won some tournaments on the European Tour before I came over to the U.S. in 1988 so I knew how to win and play well under pressure,” Neumann says. “But winning the U.S. Open was way bigger than I expected. That win gave me confidence, new sponsors and lots of opportunities to play around the world. That win changed my life.”
That win by Neumann a year after the victory in 1987 by Davies changed the life of a lot of female golfers. It was after Davies and Neumann had won majors that the Solheim Cup was launched in 1990, pitting the United States against a team from Europe in a contest that has visited the continent in Germany and Sweden twice.
In 2014, the Solheim Cup was joined by the UL International Crown as a team event, this one open to any country if it is among the top-eight in cumulative Rolex Rankings points. This year, the International Crown traveled to Korea where it was a rousing success, embraced by large, enthusiastic crowds and won by the home team.
Three decades after they helped change the face and future of women’s golf, that trio of Europeans is still growing the game. Davies, who won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open in July shot 68 in the opening round of the Senior LPGA with Neumann at 69 and Alfredsson with a 72. When it comes to global golf, they got in on the ground floor.