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Feng's victory portends big changes for LPGA

Can it be all that long before a dinner-table conversation in America goes something like this:

Young Daughter: I'd really like to go to go see the LPGA.

Dad: Let's find out if there's a tournament coming close by.

Mom: Try Tokyo. It's about an hour closer than the one in Shanghai.

Dad (laughing): I was thinking maybe one in this country.

Mom: Good luck.

Dad: What? I thought they used to play a lot of tournaments over here.

Mom: Yeah, they used to. Then the Asians started winning everything in sight. And that was even before Shanshan Feng took the 2012 LPGA Championship.

Young Daughter: She's from China.

Dad: So?

Mom: Eastern players had swept four straight majors leading up to Feng's victory. A lot of that was attributed to Se Ri Pak's influence. South Korea in particular became golf crazy after she won two majors in 1998.

Young Daughter: And China's bigger than South Korea.

Mom: Exactly honey. There are fewer than 50 million people in South Korea. That's like the bathroom line at a Wal-Mart in China. When Feng won that championship at Locust Hill the golf boom really exploded. Young girls were eager to play and try to be like Feng.

Dad: There are golf courses in China?

Young Daughter: Lots.

Mom: There were only about 20 golf courses in the whole country in the 1980s. By the time Feng won there were more than 300. The Mission Hills complex alone had 12 courses. They were built by Dr. David Chu, who by 2009 was already heralded by Golf Magazine as the seventh most influential man in all of golf. I don't know how many there are now but I'm sure it's in the thousands.

Dad: How could you possibly know any of this?

Mom: I looked it all up the day Feng was becoming the first Chinese player to win an LPGA event in the States. Because I thought if Pak changed the game that dramatically, the impact of Feng's victory would be unbelievably immense considering China's population.

Dad: It was that big a deal?

Young Daughter (sighing): Oh, Daddy

Mom: Of course it was. To win a tournament in the States was the ultimate badge of honor. The purses were bigger over here. Victory brought great prestige. A lot of girls from the Far East would come here at a young age and spend almost all their waking hours practicing, hoping to make it on the U.S. tour.

Dad: Why did that stop?

Mom: The game outgrew its reliance on America, and don't think Nike, Calloway and all the other golf companies minded one bit. They were all poised for the day when golf would really take off in China. And how could you blame them given the size of that market? Golf was growing at a 20 percent rate there before it went nuts.

Dad: There are no more U.S. tournaments?

Young Daughter: Just the U.S. Open. But they always play it in Hawaii.

Dad: Why's that?

Mom: For the same reason the tour became based in Asia. Once there were 200 Asian players, 20 Americans and a scattering of others, what was the sense in making all of them fly over here? Especially with the sponsors over there starting to put up big bucks. As for the U.S. Open, Hawaii pretty much qualifies as middle ground.

Dad: And you could see all this coming?

Mom: I still remember Feng at her interview after she won the LPGA Championship. She spoke of how she hoped young golfers in China would follow her lead and set goals to play professional golf. And right then I could see that the LPGA could be in for drastic change.

Young Daughter: So can we go, Daddy?

Dad: How do you feel about lacrosse?

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com