News & Opinion

Solheim solution: LPGA/Europe vs. Korea

The Solheim Cup is broken.

The lopsided 16½-11½ victory by the Americans on Sunday put an exclamation point on what we have known for some time: this biennial competition between the U.S. and Europe has become little more than an exhibition between two inferior teams.

It’s now time to think in larger terms for the Solheim Cup. We need the best players in the world in this event. And by that, we mean the Koreans.

Let’s face it: the Koreans would beat the Americans or the Europeans if they armed 12 of their best players with a 6-iron and a putter. 

The late Louise Solheim, the wife of Ping’s late founder, Karsten Solheim, was the godmother of the Solheim Cup. Her aim was to bring an international spotlight to women’s golf. That has been accomplished.

But it’s time for a change. When Laura Davies, Annika Sorenstam, Liselotte Neumann, Helen Alfredsson, Alison Nicholas and Carin Koch were at the peak of their powers, the Europeans posed a formidable team. But the Americans countered with Betsy King, Beth Daniel, Meg Mallon, Rosie Jones and Juli Inkster, and the list goes on.

Both sides without a doubt had the best female players in the world, and the competition reflected that fact. But those days are gone. The team that Europe fielded last week was the weakest in the cup’s history.

Europe had to depend on Florentyna Parker and Madelene Sagstrom, two players not known beyond Europe’s borders. The Americans were not much better. I’ll bet you couldn’t pick Angel Yin out of a lineup, even though she was one of Inkster’s captain’s picks.

Here’s a plan: the LPGA vs. the Korean LPGA. The Americans and the Europeans band together under the LPGA flag to play against the Koreans. Pick each team right off the Rolex Rankings.

The upside would be tremendous. You’d have two great teams, and the competition would be fierce. The LPGA’s biggest revenue stream is Korean television. When the new Solheim Cup would be held in South Korea, it would be the biggest thing in Korean sport. Se Ri Pak, the most beloved player in Korean golf, could be the Korean captain for as long as she wanted.

Players on both sides would fight for two years for spots on their respective teams, especially the Europeans and the Americans. They would know that there would be only a handful of opportunities to play for the LPGA team, and the residue of that would be a higher level of golf on the LPGA tour.

With any new plan comes some questions. Here are a few:

* Would longtime foes in America and Europe easily become teammates? While it’s true that Europeans like nothing better than to beat the U.S. in anything, these women play against one another all year on the LPGA. They know their opponents, and in many cases, they are friends. They would adjust to being teammates.

* Would this not destroy the natural rivalry between the U.S. and Europe? Perhaps. But you can guarantee that the Americans and Europeans are tired of hearing that the Koreans are the best female golfers in the world. This would create a new rivalry.

* Aren’t the Koreans members of the LPGA tour? Yes, but they could be members of the KLPGA, as well. The KLPGA could establish minimum appearance requirements for its best players, who would happily meet the requirements.

* What do you do about Lydia Ko? An interesting question. She could have her choice. She could play for the LPGA team. Or, because she is a New Zealander of Korean descent, she could join the KLPGA and play for its team.

This is where we need LPGA commissioner Mike Whan. It’s time to think globally and act locally where the women’s game is concerned, and no one does that better than he does. The health of the Solheim Cup is at stake. It needs a new plan.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf