Jutanugarn Opens Up the World For Top Golfers
Top Golf Coming from Around the Globe
How things have changed from the old days. Back in the era of my childhood, the LPGA was predominantly an American affair, and the foreign golfer provided international color. Over on the men’s side, it was Arnie, Sam and Jack, with Gary and Chi Chi spicing up the proceedings. Even Lee Trevino’s Mexican heritage lent his presence on the tour an exotic quality. Â Mickey Wright and Patty Berg were easily-pronounced names, and then, golf did what we hoped it would do – it went big time, all over the world. The world responded by developing and sending its best. Asia opened the floodgates, and in the most recent phase, Thailand – once a golf apprentice – became a master in the scheme of things. Ariya Jutanugarn, winner of last week’s Women’s British Open, saw to that at Woburn.
The women’s tour doesn’t seem to buy into the suggestion that golf is on the wane. Events are up, televised coverage is up, venues are increasingly interesting, and galleries are looking full. Perhaps the old timer grumbles a bit, because the new names require a little linguistic practice. Maybe a few nationalistic spectators lose interest in the game if their country loses its hold on the outcome. However, a new group of heroes are taking the stage, and they can be adopted by those who love the new worldwide game. Ariya Jutanugarn has elevated herself into one of the elite few who will become household names in golf families.
And where has the power gone, once it left American shores years ago? When we consider the world rankings with its intricate points system, we find Lydia Ko of New Zealand clinging to the top spot. New Zealand? You mean lefty Bob Charles and all that? Quaint, touch of flavor, etc. No, I mean the relentless champion, Lydia Ko. New Zealand is, for the time being, a golfing superpower. Jutanugarn, who has now won four times this year, including one major, has carried herself and her country of Thailand to the number two spot on the world stage. What was a developing program a decade or two from contention has arrived early, and strong. Canada comes in as the third member of the power group with the emergence of Brooke Henderson who, despite her stellar first two years on the tour, is not the only Canadian playing well of late. Watch for Alena Sharp when you turn on the Olympics. Numbers four, five, and six are taken by powerhouse South Korea, Japan, and Sweden – courtesy of Sei Young Kim, Haru Nomura, and Anna Nordqvist. Â The U.S. takes the seventh spot, and is capable of erupting at any time. Outside of those rankings, we would do well to remember that Shan Shan Feng and Yani Tseng are still out there. Suzann Petersen, Stacy Lewis, and several other notables from stardom in the last few years are still in the mix, and sure to be heard from sooner or later.
In the case of the women’s game, we will all get to see these luminaries up front in Rio, despite the many problems with this year’s version of the Olympics. Jutanugarn will be there after becoming the first Thai golfer to win a major. Losses of female stars due to the Zika Virus have been minimal, unlike the men’s picture. Jutanugarn and her fellow stars should provide a stellar exhibition as we take a week or so off from chasing big purses around the world, and hone our mission to winning medals.
Reports of the death of golf are premature. The Olympics may prove that. The Solheim between the States and Europe may have to give a little room for East-West events that showcase New Zealand and Thailand. By following Ko’s model, Ariya Jutanugarn has also mandated it.