European women golfers struggle to gain attention

Less than a decade ago, European women were among the top

golfers in the world with the likes of Annika Sorenstam and Laura

Davies regularly vying for the top spot and racking up victories at

the majors.

These days, golf fans would be hard pressed to name one top

European.

This year’s majors went to an American and three Asians and

there is only one European – No. 2-ranked Suzann Pettersen of

Norway – in the top 20. And despite Europe’s surprising Solheim Cup

victory over the Americans in September, the head of the Ladies

European Tour admits it could take some time before the region

produces another global superstar.

”You would have to say the Europeans haven’t had as many

victories. That is what makes a big difference to get into the top

10 in the world,” said Alexandra Armas, the tour’s executive

director who was in the United Arab Emirates this weekend for the

Dubai Ladies Masters. ”You have to win tournaments and win

tournaments regularly. Although they are very competitive, the

quantative victories these Korean players are having has eluded

them.”

The European women’s struggles can be chalked up to some degree

to the dramatic rise of Asian players, since 30 of the top 50 come

from South Korea or Japan while the top spot is held by Yani Tseng

of Taiwan. But players and tour officials said it also comes down

to the failure of some top Europeans to play on the LPGA Tour.

European Tour purses are on average about half what they are in the

LPGA resulting in players getting far fewer ranking points.

”When I was the No. 1 player for those five years, I played

virtually most of my golf in America and that’s the way you’re

going to do it,” said Davies, the four-time major winner who

played in her record 12th Solheim Cup this year.

”So if you want to be the top three or four in the world, you

have to play in America or Japan because they get a huge amount of

points,” she said. ”Now whether that is good or bad, I don’t make

the rules in the world rankings but that is just the way it

is.”

But with all the Asian players on the LPGA Tour, qualifying is

harder than it has ever been for Europeans.

”I still think there are loads of good European players out

there but not a lot of us playing in America,” said Sandra Gal,

the 38th-ranked German and a member of this year’s Solheim Cup.

”I think it’s very hard for European players who go over to

America and get their card. I’ve heard from a lot of girls who say

that if they just grow up in Europe and never played in the States

and go to Q school, they have a hard time. Q school is played in

Florida. It’s Bermuda grass and totally different from the course

that they are used to.”

While the men’s European Tour features the world’s top four

players in Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Martin

Kaymer, the ladies tour often has trouble getting media attention,

big prize money and has been hit hard by the economic crisis –

losing one unnamed tournament this year after its primary sponsor

pulled out.

”There is a big difference in prize money and you will probably

find the same difference between the PGA and European Tour,” Armas

said. ”That is why Luke Donald and everyone goes and plays there.

Obviously we try and find ways to give more value back to events so

they can generate more sponsorship. It’s a tough time. You can’t

push too hard and lose events.”

Sorenstam, the Swedish former great, dismissed suggestions there

was any crisis in European women’s golf. Pointing to the Solheim

Cup which Europe won for the first time in four tries, she said it

demonstrated that there were plenty of top quality golfers coming

up through the ranks.

”I think the state of European golf is strong as evidenced by

their incredible performance in the Solheim Cup,” Sorenstam told

The Associated Press.

”Recognition for European players is not necessarily the

situation. It is recognition for female players in general. It

would be great if one day female players could play for the same

prize money and exposure that the men get, but we are simply not

there yet.”

Fellow Swede Caroline Hedwall, named the European Tour rookie of

the year after winning four tournaments, said that Europeans will

challenge for the top again.

Hedwall leads a pack of promising young players including Gal,

Anna Nordqvist of Sweden and 16-year-old Klara Spilkova of the

Czech Republic, who this year became the youngest player to ever

make the tour.

”We do have a lot of good golfers from Europe and I think

within a couple of years they will be way more up there,” the

40th-ranked Hedwall said. ”I hope to get up there next year. Of

course, you want to be among the best players in the world.”

But Armas cautioned that Europeans will have a difficult time

knocking Tseng off the top spot in the coming years.

”It’s going to be difficult for anyone,” Armas said. ”We are

in era of her (Tseng’s) dominance like Annika was for 10 years and

Lorena Ochoa dominated for five years. But it will happen.”

Follow Michael Casey on Twitter at

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