Philadelphia, PA – Following her win this past weekend at the LPGA Championship, Shanshan Feng spent some time talking about what it means to become the first golfer from mainland China to win a major title.
Feng, 22, had never before won on the LPGA Tour before firing a final-round 5- under 67 at Locust Hill Country Club. So she saw the victory not only as a watershed moment personally, but as a watershed moment for the game in her native country.
"I think it's really going to help golf in China because now we know that Chinese can be now winning all over the world," Feng said. "And I think that's really going to help."
If there is a Chinese golf boom because of Feng's win, it would follow other Asian countries that have driven success in the women's game -- Korea, Japan, Taiwan.
At the very least, Feng is another player who can be added to the list of those not able to participate in the Solheim Cup, one of the handful of prestigious team match play events in professional golf.
The Solheim Cup, of course, pits an American team against a European team every two years. They play 28 matches before one side gets to claim the Waterford Crystal cup.
But for all its prestige, the Solheim Cup is far from inclusive if it intends to be the international match play competition in the women's game.
It's far from a secret that the event excludes players born outside the United States and Europe. The format has been this way since the event's inception and first running in 1990.
Back then, the United State vs. Europe format was at least representative of the dominant players in the game. Those playing in the tournament also were probably those winning the majority of individual events on the women's calendar.
But then Se Ri Pak started winning majors and led the Korean influx into the game. Australian Karrie Webb started piling up wins in the mid-1990s and shortly into the new century, Mexican Lorena Ochoa became a dominant force on the LPGA Tour. Now, Taiwan's Yani Tseng is the runaway No. 1 women's golfer and, at just 23, already owns five major wins.
But none of them could have, or can, participate in the Solheim Cup.
This might not be a problem if there was some alternative. At least in the men's game there is the Presidents Cup, in which a U.S. team competes against an international team featuring golfers not from Europe.
And it may not be as noticeable a problem if most of the best women's golfers were from the United States or Europe.
But they're not:
- In the women's world rankings, only three in the top 10 are from the United States or Europe. In the top 20? Only seven.
- In the last five years (including all of the 2007 season), an American or a European has won just nine of the 22 major titles.
- Of the 12 LPGA Tour events this season, five have been won by Americans or Europeans.
But pointing all of this out is less to say that Americans and Europeans are no longer the dominant players in women's golf. That's too negative a view, and it's been apparent for a while.
It's more to say that there needs to be a women's team match play event that includes players from countries outside the United States and Europe. There needs to be a way to include Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Feng, Ai Miyazato and others.
At best, leaving them on the sidelines keeps the Solheim Cup or any other similar competition from being as entertaining as it could be. At worst, it's exclusionary and perpetuates a kind of Western hemisphere-centrism.
The situation isn't going away, either.
"I think, you know, all of the Asians are good," Feng said after her win. "That's what my parents told me. All of the Asians are good at controlling small things. I don't know if that's true or not. But I will say if Koreans can, Chinese can, and golf in China is really growing up and getting more popular."
I can't speak to the part about Asians being good at controlling small things. But if the game really is growing in China, it will become more and more apparent that women's golf, and the Solheim Cup, should grow with it.