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The Asian Swing - The LPGA's Fall Dance

By: Nancy Berkley


The Asian Swing is not a new dance. It is the name of the LPGA's fall season with stops in five Asian countries. It begins a few weeks after the September Evian Championship in France, which is now the fifth "major" on the LPGA Tour. The Evian Championship, however, is by no means the end of the LPGA season or the competition for the Rolex Rankings and Player of the Year awards.

LPGA tournament competition moves on - just further east - globally. Of the top 70 money earners this season after the Evian, only three opted not to play in any of the fall Asian tournaments.

The first tour stop of the Asian Swing was Beijing, China, on October 6. Then the Tour moved to Malaysia the following week; to South Korea on October 17, then to Taiwan this weekend (where Suzann Pettersen defending her title). The fifth and final event is the Mizuno Classic in Japan, November 8-10. If you wanted to dance with the LPGA and began your trip in Beijing, you would log over 7,000 air miles until the final tournament in Japan.

It's no surprise that not all LPGA Tour players choose to play in all of the Asian Swing events. The travel schedule is rigorous. Angela Stanford, for example, 13th on the LPGA money list, chose to pass up the Asian Swing and stay in the U.S.

However, those close to the top of the rankings and to earning Player of the Year honors need to play in the tournaments to hold onto their positions. Good performances also increase the chances to play in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational Presented by Banamex in Guadalajara, Mexico, November 14-17. n addition, points earned on the Asian Swing may make the difference in qualifying for the last event of the season November 21-24: the CME Group Titleholders at the Greg Norman-designed Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla.

In addition, playing in the Asian Swing always offers a chance to make history. For example, in the first Asian stop - an inaugural Reignwood LPGA Classic in Bejing, China, Shanshan Feng, a native of China won - her first Tour victory. In front of a hometown gallery, she eagled the final hole to overtake American Stacy Lewis.

In the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia event, Lexi Thompson, a teenager from Florida, won. It was one of two tournaments she entered in the Asian Swing, but with that victory became the youngest LPGA member to win two LPGA titles.

History can work the other way also. South Korea's Inbee Park topped the prize money list after the Evian and opted to play in four of the Asian tournaments. She seemed a sure bet for Player of the Year. But Park's game has not been in top form in Asia and Norway's Pettersen, who elected to play in three of the Asian tournaments, won the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship and has a chance to overtake Park's lead for Player of the Year in the remaining events.

The question I am always asked and the question I always ask LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan in my annual interview at the CME Titleholders is: How is the global strategy of the LPGA working out for the LPGA? His answer has always been overwhelmingly consistent and positive (see my interviews at www.cybergolf.com/womensgolf).

In his view, the players come from all over the world, the fans come from all over the world, and the sponsors of the LPGA events are global corporate players. For the sponsors, the opportunity to play in LPGA pro-ams and be inside-the-ropes is good business for the LPGA and the sponsors, and it is assumed that it will ultimately grow TV coverage and fans for the tour.

But how does the global LPGA really affect the average female golfer in the United States? What, how and where is the "trickle-down" effect? Does it matter to the LPGA? In my view, the LPGA must find a connection between the international focus of the tour and the recreational female golfer and fan in the United States.

Next season the LPGA tournament schedule will include an inaugural match play global event called the "International Crown" to be played at Caves Valley Golf Club outside Baltimore, Md. It is something like the Solheim Cup but different!

With good leadership and creativity, the LPGA will hopefully figure out a way to build a bridge between the LPGA Tour players and the current and potential recreational female golfers in the U.S. For women's golf to grow in America we must convert fans to participants. The LPGA has done the best job among the major golf tours in showing the personalities of its members and building a spirited girls golf program. But there are still challenges.

This topic will be high on my list in my next conversation with Whan in a few weeks.

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to www.cybergolf.com/womensgolf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on www.berkleygolfconsulting.com and is often quoted in national publications. She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on www.golfergirlcareers.com. Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.