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Asian Players Outnumber Americans in LPGA's 2009 Rookie Class

By: Dave Andrews


The LPGA has released its list of rookie players for the upcoming season, and players from Asia dominate the class of 2009. Once again, South Korea is heavily represented in the ranks of new players joining the tour.

Of the 21 players who make up the 2009 rookie class, six are from South Korea and seven are from the United States. Two members of the new rookie class are from Japan and two others are from Thailand. These numbers are more evidence of the continuing growth of women's golf in South Korea and the development of the women's game in other Asian countries.

Five of the seven American rookies - Michelle Wie, Vicky Hurst, Mindy Kim, Angelo Oh, and Sunny Oh - have South Korean heritage.

Six members of the rookie class earned their way onto the LPGA by finishing in the top 10 on the season money list on the Duramed Futures Tour. Fourteen made it through the LPGA Q School sectionals and the five-day final, which concluded Sunday at LPGA International Golf Club in Daytona Beach, Fla. One player, Ji-Yai Shin of South Korea earned her way onto the 2009 tour by virtue of her three tour victories in 2008 while playing as a non-LPGA member.

Here's a breakdown of the nationalities of the 21 rookies on the tour:

United States 7
South Korea 6
Japan 2
Thailand 2
Canada 2
Sweden 1
Spain 1

The number of Americans on the LPGA's season money list has been declining steadily over the last decade, while the number of South Koreans has increased dramatically. In 2000, there were 117 American players in the top 150 on the tour's money list. This year there are only 59 Americans. In contrast, there were just six South Koreans in the top 150 on the money list in 2000. This year there are 37.

South Koreans currently dominate the top 50 on the money list. This year there are 17 South Koreans and only 13 Americans in the top 50. It is an impressive performance by the Asian nation, especially considering that the U. S. population is six times greater than South Korea's and there is a century-long history of women's golf in America compared to just a few short years in South Korea.

The tour has lost three of its American events for the 2009 season, and total purse money will be down more than $5 million from 2008. The state of the economy is taking its toll on the LPGA, as it is on other professional sports. However, the loss of American players is not helping the tour maintain its domestic fan and sponsor support.

The presence of touted American players, Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie, who despite playing in previous LPGA events will both officially be tour rookies in 2009, should help to increase fan interest in next season's events. The LPGA should be hoping that these two impressive young players contend early and often in 2009 to help attract paying spectators and TV viewers at home.

Lewis and Wie both earned full LPGA status at the Q School final in Daytona Beach. Wie, still a student at Stanford, has not indicated how many tour events she plans to enter. Lewis, an All-American at the University of Arkansas, said she intends to play the full LPGA Tour schedule.

Dave Andrews is a Harvard-educated former television news reporter. He's also an avid golfer who has become a fan of the Duramed Futures Tour. His home course in Concord, N.H., is annually the site of one of the tour's events. The inspiration for Dave's 2007 novel, "Pops and Sunshine," came from meeting many of the young aspiring women golfers on that tour. Each of them has a passion, dedication and determination that he finds remarkable. His novel is a fictionalization of the dream that these young women share. To order Dave's book, visit http://popsandsunshine.com.