August 4, 2008

The View

Solheim going global?

Among the lessons learned at last week's Ricoh Women's British Open is the need to tweak the Solheim Cup to get the players now dominating women's golf into the mix. Fifteen of the top 20 finishers at Sunningdale GC were from countries not eligible for the biennial competition, including Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and Australia. This can be fixed -- although probably not until 2013 at the earliest -- and sources tell Golf World it is being considered. That's a good thing.

The three-stroke victory by Ji-Yai Shin of Korea over Yani Tseng of Taiwan, who won the McDonald's LPGA Championship in June, meant that all four majors this year were won by players who will not be at next year's Solheim Cup at Rich Harvest Farms in Illinois. Inbee Park of Korea won the U.S. Women's Open and Lorena Ochoa of Mexico took the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

There is another reason to include the rest of the world in the biennial competition: The U.S. team appears as if it will dominate Europe in the Solheim Cup for the foreseeable future. If the U.S. has slipped behind Asia in women's golf, Europe -- especially Britain -- is disappearing even more rapidly in the rearview mirror.

The U.S. side has a commanding 7-3 advantage over Europe in the Solheim Cup, including last year's 16-12 pummeling in Halmstad, Sweden. To make the competitive landscape less lopsided, the rest of the world needs to be brought into the event. This will involve some tricky negotiations among the LPGA, Ladies Europe Tour and the various Asian tours (JLPGA and KLPGA primarily).

The Solheim Cup is a major money-maker for both the LPGA and the LET. How would that windfall get divided with the Asian and Australian tours? Things are also complicated somewhat by the Lexus Cup, a team competition at the end of the year pitting Asia against an International team. And then there is the question of whether the Solheim family would want to change the format. But Ping CEO John Solheim has a good reason to change: Lorena Ochoa, the highest profile woman on the Ping staff, is not Solheim Cup eligible.

The LPGA and the LET announced earlier this year that AIB Group and Rolex would join Ping as Solheim Cup sponsors for the 2009 and 2011 competitions. If new nations are brought into the mix (and presumably additional Asian-based sponsors as well), it would be after 2011 when those contracts expire. Ping is on board with the event through 2015.

The LPGA and the LET can learn from the PGA Tour. The Presidents Cup was created in 1994 to bring those golf powers outside the U.S. and Europe into the mix. But because top American players now have a team competition every year, it virtually assures a big name or two will eventually skip either the Ryder or the Presidents Cup.

Lesson One: Figure out how to have all sides involved in one biennial competition. Don't dilute the product by creating two events. If it is the U.S. against the Rest of the World or some sort of three-team competition, maintain it as one biennial event. That keeps it special. But whatever it takes, figure out a way to get Ji-Yai Shin, Yani Tseng and Lorena Ochoa into the Solheim Cup.