The Duel at Kingsmill
September 14, 2012
by William Szczepanek
Paula Creamer, the Pink Panther of golf, scratched and clawed her way into a playoff with Jiyai Shin in the Kingsmill Championship. The record-setting nine-hole playoff took its toll on both golfers as they dueled with irons and putters, playing the 18th hole over and over again until, with darkness upon them, they decided to resume the match the next morning. It only took one hole for Shin to finish things off as Creamer missed a 5-foot putt after her lengthy initial attempt skidded by the hole.
A despondent Creamer tried to smile while choking back the tears and praised Shin for her play. It shows how much these players want to win. They are the cream of the crop and Paula Creamer carries the weight of the entire LPGA on her shoulders. Paula Creamer is the marquee name of the LPGA. When she is in contention, the fans watch, the fans show up and the money roles in.
This playoff was actually bigger than either of these players. Jiyai Shin was the number one player in the world for a short while and Creamer was the number one putter on tour as a teenager. As rivalries go, little is made of the regional differences of the players. For many years it was an American sport that purportedly started in Scotland during the Middle Ages and matured in the British Isles before moving to America. Now, the sport is dominated by Asians and the South Koreans look like they invented women's golf, though they don't act like it. They just slowly go about winning ─ week after week. This was the 7th consecutive tournament won by Asians, and not one of them by the same person. Four of the last five U.S Open champions have been won by players who came from that tiny country of South Korea, except for a win by Paula Creamer in 2010. In the last 10 years 15 different Koreans have won major golf titles.
It has become such an issue that it has now become an area of study. American golfers are understandably tired of talking about it, but they better get used to it. The topic is not going away soon.
Watching the LPGA
Americans like to watch Americans win and the USA is the largest commercial outlet. A couple of years ago I personally got tired of seeing Asian golfers all over American courses. I no longer wanted to watch, but I did. And, something very weird happened. I started to gain a respect for how the Asians played. I began to like to watch them. They weren't glamorous, but could be. They weren't outspoken, but were humble and... they just kept winning. After a while I began to wonder. Why?
It May be a Cultural Thing
Why are the Asians better than so many others at this sport? Some have suggested that it is their work ethic. They DO practice harder and longer, but they are also a lot smaller and less physically blessed than many American players who can out drive them. They are very good at the little things, like pitching and putting. But, there are only so many practice putts that you can take before it becomes mind numbing rather than a positive muscle memory thing.
At a recent tournament on a practice round I followed Paula Creamer while she played with a couple of Asian colleagues. Now, Paula Creamer is one of the hardest working professionals on the tour, as are many other Americans. During the practice round Creamer was hounded by autograph hunters, followed by photographers and interrupted hundreds of times during her round, while the Asians went unnoticed. In short, Creamer had to work much harder to achieve the same level of practice. But, that is her business. She has more responsibilities and much of her time is not her own. Now, I'm not trying to make excuses for her and the other Americans. They don't need any. Many are as competitive and as good as any other golfers on the tour, and they do work to make the sport popular. It doesn't matter who is better if the sport isn't popular.
Even if you take all of these things into consideration, the Asians still outplay everyone else. Asians do much better at many other things than do Americans --- science, math and medicine are some examples. It could just be that this whole picture is more complicated than many would like to think. It may be that it's a cultural thing. It may not be how hard you work, but how smart you work. It may be more of a mental thing that comes from an inner drive to achieve something that is unexpectedly hard. It may be that Se Ri Pak proved to the young girls of South Korean that you can do it if you just put your mind to it. They have a hero who inspires them. America needs more heroes.
We will continue to investigate this phenomenon that should not be foreign to Americans. It's how previous generations got us to where we are. The South Koreans may just be beating us at our own game and the game is not golf.
"These Girls Do Rock"