Title IX has been both a blessing and a curse for professional golf among American women. While the game has become the sixth most-offered college sport for women at the Division I level, the growing opportunities to land scholarships in other sports has created intense competition among talented female athletes.
In many other countries, such as South Korea, girls encounter far fewer athletic opportunities, and gravitate to golf in large numbers. Many of those international players end up at American universities, eventually making their way to the LPGA. The result is a tour that has become increasingly international, both in terms of membership and event location.
Twenty years ago there were no Koreans on the LPGA, and 133 of the 182 players on the tour’s final money list were Americans, totalling nearly 75 percent. That all changed when Se Ri Pak burst on the scene in 1998, triggering the phenomenal growth of women’s golf in South Korea. This year, only 64 of the 164 players on the LPGA are Americans — fewer that 40 percent — while 24 were from South Korea. In total, 23 different nations are represented among tour members. In 1997, the LPGA played five of its 38 events outside the United States. This year, 17 of the 34 tournaments will be played in 14 different countries.
From the LPGA’s founding in 1950 until 1994, the only non-American to lead the tour’s money list was Ayako Okamoto of Japan in 1987. Since 1994, only one American — Stacy Lewis in 2014 — has topped the money list. And those other money leaders have come from eight different countries: England, Sweden, Australia, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand and Thailand.
What has changed? Certainly, golf has grown globally, but the LPGA’s evolving landscape can be traced…