A New Dawn In The East

More than one journalist confidently predicted that the US would run away with the Solheim Cup. Anything within eight points would be some kind of achievement for Europe.

The predictions suited the narrative. The women’s game has seen its power base shift east. In ladies golf Europe versus America is an old world skirmish and its struggling to survive without an injection of fresh talent.

In the event the Americans had a couple of dodgy moments and, as so often happens, European spirit papered over some of the cracks in the visiting team. The demolition was postponed and Solheim as a transatlantic head to head will live on.

That the debate gathered such pace is, however, interesting in itself.
This, after all, was taking place just days after golf looked to have secured an Olympic place and after Y E Yang captured Asia’s first major.

Sometimes the most permanent revolutions are caused by a series of unconnected events falling sharply into place at one time. Could it be that golf, that most frustratingly resistant to change of all sports, stands awkwardly on the brink?

How so? Well, many of us thought the game had changed forever when we saw a young man called Tiger roar through the field at the 1997 Masters. This was the future and the future wore red with a swoosh. Golf as a marketing man’s fantasy. Tiger was to take the game to a new level both in terms of performance and interest.

And he has. He’s the most famous golfer who ever walked a fairway. One of the richest men in the history of all sport. When Tiger’s on course the viewing figures go up, often he is the only show in town.

But Tiger’s impact hasn’t been exactly as predicted. In America and Europe golf remains expensive and time consuming. For all that Tiger has been compelling, unmissable, a once in a generation box office draw, the game hasn’t enjoyed the massive growth expected on the back of those red clad Sunday charges.

At least it hasn’t in the traditional golfing strongholds. Elsewhere it has grown and grown and grown. China, Korea, Columbia. Where do you fancy your next golfing holiday? Argentina, Turkey, Thailand? Golf is now global and its showing no signs of slowing down. This is fertile ground and golf is exploiting it.

Golf will not be treated like an Olympic sport in the UK or the USA. Our focus is elsewhere during an Olympiad – can you name more 100 metres champions or more tennis champions from the last 20 years of Olympic competition? Golf will be an intriguing novelty worthy of a small clip on a post peak time highlights show for many of us.

In some of the developing nations that won’t be the case. The Olympics will offer more chance of funding, Olympic success will create golfing heroes, training programmes will create nationwide legacies. And all the time golf in these countries will grow and grow.

Peter Dawson, secretary of the Royal and Ancient, admitted during an interview at the Open that golf in the traditional nations had “reached saturation point.” The Olympics was important because it meant giving the game a massive profile boost in those countries where there is still room to grow. The powers that be accept that growth is unlikely in the UK or the US. So golf’s administrators were shifting their focus and adopting the Olympics as the ideal way to carry out their missionary work.

Were there other cogs ready to slip into place? Y E Yang somehow, improbably, gloriously volunteered to add to the jigsaw when he became Asia’s first major winner at the PGA Championship. Not only will Yang’s win spike interest amongst youngsters but it will give those already in the ranks or about to break through a massive psychological boost. It’s been done, it’s possible, so what’s stopping the rest of us?

Gradually the plates are shifting. The European Tour ends its season in Dubai and you can bet the PGA Tour is painfully jealous. The LPGA Tour is crammed full of Koreans who are doing far more than making up the numbers. In Europe and America sponsors drop off the roster at the same time as the Asian Tour announces a new TV deal with the UK’s Sky Sports.

Of course change in golf is traditionally slower than a Tiger Woods – Padraig Harrington pairing. But change does come.

Remember the tale of the 1913 US Open? Remember how Harry Vardon was all but helpless as Francis Ouimet wrestled golfing dominance from the Brits and handed it right over to America? We’re getting close to the end of a century of that dominance now – might that be the time for another realignment of the game’s epicentre?

One thing’s certain – not many of us predicted all this when we watched Tiger in 1997 and tried to grasp the sheer shocking force with which that young man was going to shake the game from its perpetual lethargy.

2 Responses to “A New Dawn In The East”

  1. heather says:

    I congratulate both teams in the solheim cup for their ball striking it was awesome but the stewarding or lack of it was simply disgraceful The captain of the usa team allowed this wonderful event to be mearly a circus When we reflect on the Justin Leonard Ryder Cup incident I would have hoped the american golfing officials had learned something not a bit of it the conduct of some of the winning was a disgrace. All so unnecessary as they were all very good golfers perhaps they could all learn how to conduct themselves from Catriona Mathews BRITISH OPEN CHAMPION and fellow Scot of whom we are all very proud. I m afraid the LPGA or whowever was responsible for the running of this great event was WELL BELOW PAR

  2. Len says:

    Dignity and a modest degree of sportsmanship is all I would ever ask of any audience or indeed players in any form of sport. In the Solheim cup this is sadly missing. The United States players seem to me to throw their toys out of the pram whenever things go wrong and then they actively go around encouraging the crowd to make as much noise as possible when things go right for them. They are all blessed with a talent that most people could only dream of but they have yet to learn the art of decorum and dignity. It seems to me that fairness could only ever be achieved properly if this particular competition was played in a neutral country.

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