Ochoa Hands Off to LPGA’s Real Personalities

The world’s top female golfer steps aside, and the world shrugs. Now it’s time for budding stars like Michelle Wie and Christina Kim to spur the tour’s rebirth

Thrash TalkSome are saying Lorena Ochoa’s retirement is the latest blow to the LPGA. They must have forgotten the women’s tour took a major leap into irrelevance and tiptoed toward extinction while the phenom from Mexico sat atop their rankings.

How can it get any worse with her stepping away? It can’t. If anything, it should open the door for more of the LPGA’s personalities to take the spotlight. Names like Christina Kim and Michelle Wie, who can make more headlines without hoisting a trophy than Ochoa ever could while assembling what would be a Hall of Fame career had she stuck around for 10 years.

OchoaI like to pride myself in being a big fan of the game, and trying to maintain some interest in every tour. What I know about Lorena Ochoa is that she’s from Mexico, and she’s been atop the women’s game for a quite a while. And now I know she’s hanging it up, presumably to go have babies, walking away while tops in the game.

Since the news broke, I went looking for more about Ochoa. What she’s like as a competitor, how she’s grown and promoted the women’s game, what sets her apart from anyone else on tour, other than the scores she posts. Truth is, there’s not a ton out there, which is a shame, but also telling when it comes to the dismal state of the LPGA brand.

Michelle Wie

Ask me to name five female golfers and the first one is easy – Michelle Wie comes directly to mind. Obviously Wie comes with baggage. We know her for surging into the public eye as a teenager with brash goals and a father who studied the playbook of Richard Williams and Earl Woods. The difference is, his daughter wasn’t Venus, Serena, or Tiger. It’s taken almost a decade for her to settle into the place we expected her to be by her sweet 16 – rounding into shape as a top 10 mainstay. Maybe the fact she’s easily more recognizable than the woman who has dominated the LPGA illustrates the fact it’s better to aim for breaking barriers and setting obscenely high goals than simply racking up victories and world ranking points.

Christina KimAfter Wie, I would name Christina Kim, but I’ll admit I’ve probably seen her play about 18 holes of golf in my life. I know she stole the show (or made a fool of herself, depending on who’s weighing in) at the Solheim Cup, an event I stumbled upon but was riveted to. You might say there’s a lot of emotion on display at the Ryder Cup, but these women took it to a new level, and it’s now a “mark your calendar event” for me. Lately, Kim has been in the public eye thanks to a book that the people who sell books are wisely pitching as a look into the dirty (maybe even seedy) underbelly of drinking, carousing, and fooling around on the LPGA circuit. Are there likely only a few pages out of a few hundred with such tales? Probably. But that’s fine, because women’s golf can use all the publicity it can get, and who better than a vivacious, full of life personality like Kim? Now, could I tell you if she’s number two in the world or number 35? Without looking it up, I couldn’t. But just like Wie’s lack of trophies, does it matter? Apparently not, if she’s the second name to come to mind.

Creamer PinkBy the time I get to a third women’s golfer, I’m already starting to struggle. I’d spit out the name Paula Creamer. What do I know about her? She wears pink. She’s sick and injured more than she’s playing (pretty sure I read that a few months back). And she’s got a commercial in heavy rotation where she roars at herself and all I can think each time I see it is, whoa, I wonder what that would be like if she’d just eaten garlic bread?

At this point, I’m racking my brain. I know there are awesome Korean players out there, but I couldn’t name any. Se Ri Pak comes to mind, but her heyday roughly coincides with David Duval’s, so I’m dating myself.

annikaSo now I’m thinking I better come up with a fifth, and I can’t stop thinking Annika Sorenstam, because she’s still the one who carries on as the face of ladies golf, even four years since her last major title and two years after announcing her retirement. At the height of her greatness, she transcended the LPGA Tour, and I maintain that her attempt to play a PGA Tour event was brave, bold, and deserving of respect. It also cemented her place as an athlete who pushed the boundaries, entered an uncomfortable place, and performed admirably. Add it all up – an astounding 72 LPGA victories, another 17 on the European LPGA, and 10 major championships, plus the guts to see how far she could push herself – and you can say Sorenstam belongs on any list of the greatest golfers ever, male or female.

When you boil it down, there are a lot of great players on the LPGA Tour, but just as I’ve said about the men, I reiterate it here: there needs to be more to your athletes to generate the interest and buzz. Wie’s bold arrival. Kim’s party girl persona. Creamer’s branding as the Pink Panther (hell, Gary Player has said he never really liked black, he just needed something to help define himself, so the Black Knight was born). Sorenstam’s mind-boggling performance, paired with a risky one-week foray onto the men’s tour. Notice I haven’t even mentioned over-the-top sex appeal, because we’ve seen that Natalie Gulbis can get into Maxim magazine but not the final pairing on a Sunday. Without sports substance, for my money it only cheapens the tour if it goes out of its way to promote looks. Good looking stars will emerge regardless of which tour. Forcing it is what can be a real turn off.

Much ink has been spilled this week lamented Ochoa’s retirement as a setback to women’s golf. I couldn’t agree less. Her fire never burned brightly enough to transcend the small circle of LPGA fans, and by stepping away, it’s merely a blip on the radar. I had high hopes for the tour this year, and still do, considering it’s early. But when it’s late April and you’ve played five events (two in America, and one that won’t even be televised until two weeks after it was played), are we supposed to consider that a golf tour? They even played a major. Who knew?

One thing I did know is that Christina Kim’s got a book out that I’m looking forward to picking up. And, if I could ever find the LPGA on TV, I’d tune to watch Michelle Wie play golf. That’s got to be cause for optimism. Right?

13 thoughts on “Ochoa Hands Off to LPGA’s Real Personalities”

  1. Lorena really did nothing for the LPGA when it came to injecting charisma, excitement or promotion. She was robotic and boring.

    There are some great personalities out there, but Christina Kim needs to find the balance between excitement and poor sportsmanship. Her behavior at the Solheim was ignorant.

  2. Sad article but you’re entitled to your opinion. Sounds like you’d prefer to have a LPGA based on the principles of some reality TV show. A shame but not surprising these days.

  3. I couldn’t disagree with you more. As someone who HAS watched more then 18 holes of LPGA golf, Lorena has been a role model, and an excellent golfer. Michelle Wie is a long way from reaching her potential. I fear her lack of play in amateur tournaments will always hinder her. She still doesn’t know the rules. Christina Kim is a self absorbed player more concerned about showing off, than playing good golf. The LPGA has many wonderful golfers. “Who knew they played a major?” Everyone who really follows the tour!! Are you sure you’re qualified to be writing and article on the LPGA?

  4. Calm down Bestro. I’m a huge golf fan, and the LPGA is in a transition period and people don’t care. They have lose 16 tourneys or so, and may lose more. So quit crying

  5. Sure, people who follow the LPGA may disagree with you, but as a casual fan, I totally agree with you. I didn’t care about Ochoa, I’ve been looking forward to her getting knocked off by Wie or Creamer for some time now. No charisma, it would be like having Stricker the face of men’s golf. Sure he’s a great guy, but he isn’t going to glue me to my TV. Every successful sport has great personalities who are the faces of their respective games.

  6. While Ochoa’s effect on the LPGA Tour will be debated for some time, as someone who loves to watch golf I found her fairly boring. She is a great player, just one without a great deal of personality. That being said my feeling is that the Korean explosion on the LPGA Tour and the week-in, week-out winners that have to do every interview through a translator are even worse. Ochoa may be lacking in personality, but 99% of the Koreans are missing it completely.

  7. The Korean contengent is so strong that it makes it difficult to favor one over another because of the language and cultural barriers. So, if you follow LPGA – it’s shots, smiles, trophies, and hit the remote.

  8. Nice shot of Michelle Wie crowd surfing – the rest of the article (and most of the posts) read like sour grapes. I hope for your sake the US men keep playing well and in an exciting (but not too exciting) way or the PGA tour might be the recipient of your wrath too.
    I couldn’t claim the proud boast of being “a big fan of the game” but it seems to me most golfers could learn more to improve their game by watching the women play – both course length and the distance they hit their clubs are closer to club male golfers than men on the PGA tour.
    Get out and support the ladies and become a student of the game, not just a fan.

  9. Sad to say but I’m having to agree with the writer on this one. However, in any sport, sometimes the best or dominant player of the time will lack personality – think back to Stefan Edberg or Ivan Lendl on the ATP. They were not Jimmy Conners or John McEnroe or Andre Agassi.

    But that’s the way sports is…if we should award trophies to the best looking or the brash loud mouth…then Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim would win week-in and week-out. But golf is a sport of putting the little white ball into the hole in the fewest number of strokes.

  10. Are you sure you don’t write for TMZ? Lorena was a true champion, who played the game with dignity, poise, and great skill. I just don’t get the fascination you have with Michelle Wie, what has she done anyway besides make an ass of herself at every opportunity, she certainly hasn’t won any events. I know, why don’t we just give exemptions to Lindsay Lohan, Amy Winehouse, and Kate Gosselin. Then maybe the LPGA will have the excitement and drama you seem to crave.

  11. What I want to see is good golf. If a player like Christian KIm has personality, but can’t compete regularly and effectively with Lorena or other top players, then how can that be good for the sport.

    Unless the LPGA wants to sell personality instead of talent, hard work, the ability to focus, to over come adversity, to show judgment, to cope with risk and so on.

    This article serves to make the golf less important, its serves to reduce the accountability of players to play good golf and encourage the transition of the sport from golf to something else.

    While the blogger has the right to present his or her opinion, he or she is doing a disservice to the sport in advocating the view that one needs to have personality to be a great player. I only see the need to play great golf!

  12. I honestly wonder how people think Wie with zero personality and only a top 10 golf game is supposed to take over for Lorena? What the heck am I missing? You have beauties like Suzann Pettersen and Paula Creamer who can golf circles around Wie and the media ignores them. You have Tseng Shin and Kerr who aren’t beauties but are head and shoulders better golfers than Wie. This seems to be the equivalent of hyping Jim Furyk and ignoring Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson. No wonder the LPGA is dying.

  13. Was there any point to this article other than the rather shameful admission that when it comes to the LPGA you’re generally shallow, narrow-minded and almost completely uninformed? I’m guessing not. Whatever, I’m a huge fan myself and could name fifty players off the top of my head and could probably top eighty within twenty minutes, so who needs your ignorant viewpoint? All this crap about “I won’t watch without the personalities I like best winning” being posted on here just exposes those individuals as shallow and unappreciative of the true talents so many of these ladies possess and they should be ashamed, frankly.

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