U.S. players hoping to end Asians' dominance
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It has gone beyond consensus, into almost universal agreement. No one produces a women's golf tournament like the U.S. "You can go anywhere in the world, and if you say you've won the U.S. Open, everybody respects that and gets it," said Juli Inkster, who Thursday will set a record by playing in her 34th Open.
The question that sits heavily over Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, and the start of the Women's Open this morning, is this: Can the U.S. still produce the best golfers?
Each of the past nine women's majors has been won by a player from Asia, a part of the world where the game is booming -- largely because people in those countries have had success on the American tour. Players from the United States are painfully aware of that streak and they are intensely hungry to stop it. The next four days will show if they have whatever it takes to win their own national championship.
"We're very international and I think we need to keep that," said Cristie Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Women's Open champion who was raised in Florida and has a home in Manhattan. "But I also think that we need to build up golf in America for women.''
Her solution is to get sponsors to back more LPGA Tour events on U.S. soil. But will sponsors want to pay millions for tournaments if Americans don't win them? It is the conundrum facing women's golf. Everyone involved in it realizes it, including the golfers from South Korea, who have succeeded on tour in recent years.
"If an American is playing really well, we have a really good chance for more [competition]," said So Yeon Ryu, the 2011 Women's Open champion. "I'm also rooting for Stacy and other American players."
Perhaps the uniqueness of Sebonack, and possibly some vigorous New York-area cheering will be enough to help U.S. golfers go against the grain this week. Maybe it is not a crisis, either. Meg Mallon, a former U.S. Open champion and captain of the U.S. Solheim Cup team, pointed out recently that golf goes in cycles, and that there are numerous good young American players on the way up.
"They are highly motivated. They want to win golf tournaments," Mallon said. "They don't want to just play out here, they want to win."
On the other hand, there is no denying the dedication of golfers who have dominated recently.
"It's just different cultures," Inkster said Wednesday. "I've raised two girls and I had my girls in everything. They did dance, they did music, they did golf, they did basketball. Over in Asia it's a little different. If the parents want the girls to play golf, they play golf, and they do it really well. I'm not saying my way is right, I'm not saying my way is wrong. I'm just saying it's two different cultures."
American players will assure you that wanting to win still is deep in their own culture and in their blood. Kerr, who has organized patriotic-themed charity outings, said that winning the Open "would mean everything. Just the world. Words can't describe.
"Long Island brings out the best in people," she said. "So I think you're going to see a lot of great golf this week."