LPGA Tour Might Be Under the Weather, but It's Definitely Not Dying

Just ask tough, tiny, Korean winner Eun-Hee Ji.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I came in from running the dog on Sunday afternoon, and switched on the tube. As I surfed through the channels, I discovered that the women's U.S. Open golf championship was on, with four or five players within a shot or two of the lead.

Great stuff. There was Cristie Kerr, unsuccessfully trying to master the golfing demons as, hole by hole, she lost her confidence and the title. And Brittany Lincicome, making a back nine charge. And Paula Creamer, shooting a 69 with her trademark pink golf ball, to atone for that one awful hole that ruined her chances on Saturday.

And, best of all, there was tough, tiny Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea, dressed like some sort of ninja-biker-sprite, fighting back from a double bogey, hunting pins and sinking a 20-footer on 18 to win.

I gotta tell you, I was flabbergasted. I've been reading for months about how much trouble women's professional golf is in, now that Annika Whatshername has retired. But what I saw was a first-class athletic event.

Yeah, the tour has business issues. It needs sponsors for some big events. And, yes, the Asian golfers need to keep working on their English, and at defining their personalities. This year's money list looks like a Seoul phone book, and language remains a barrier as American fans try to figure whether they are glad that Jiyai Shin is having a great year, or whether they prefer In-Kyung Kim, or if they even know who's which.

They Asian contingent needs a dominating successor to the great Se Ri Pak. Since 2004, seven Korean golfers have won major championships—but none has won two.

Nor would it hurt if Mexico's Lorena Ochoa seized Annika's mantle as the world's best woman golfer with a little more zeal and ruthlessness; the sport needs a Tiger. And that goes for Michelle Wie and Natalie Gulbis—two gals the galleries can recognize, each of whom failed to qualify for their national championship this summer.

But all this stuff is fixable. And the really good news is that the women's golf is overflowing with the indispensable ingredient: young talent.

Try Morgan Pressel, 21, and Jean Reynolds, 24, who finished high on the leader board Sunday. Or Alexis Thompson, who made the cut in her third U.S. Open at the ripe old age of 14 last week. Lincicome, 23, and Kerr, 31, and Pressel already have major championship victories. And you have to figure that Creamer, 22 is due, and that Wie, 19, will eventually learn how to work a putter.

The very appeal of these young women athletes, perversely, can work against them. As soon as one of these young athletes shows some ability, the marketing begins. In our celebrity culture, they can make a lot of money, fast. Which is all well and good, I suppose. But you never win the Open by appearing on the cover of People magazine.

You do it by hitting balls out on the range, aiming at the flagsticks, and sinking 20-footers for one-stroke victories on Sunday afternoon. Ask Ji.

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