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