Yani Tseng just completed one of the most dominating seasons in women’s golf history, which raises three simple questions:
1. Shouldn’t she be Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year”?
2. Whatever happened to American sports dominance?
3. Yani who?
Yes, Yani Tseng.
(Before we get going here, first an admission: In the last 25 years, I don’t think I’ve watched 25 minutes of LPGA golf. I have a longtime aversion to several sports on TV – most golf in general, NASCAR, MLS, the NHL, the WNBA and, of course, Dick Vitale – so I’m more likely to curl up to a documentary on chutney consumption than I am to the Kraft Nabisco Championship.)
This year, Tseng was No. 1 in scoring average, driving distance, birdies and rounds under par en route to her second consecutive player-of-the-year award.
She recorded seven LPGA victories – with 14 top-10 finishes in 22 events – plus she won four other titles worldwide. Tseng captured two majors, giving her five since 2008; by comparison, Nancy Lopez won three majors in her entire career.
Tseng is 22 years old.
Tseng makes Tiger Woods look like Carl Spackler.
Now, if it were up to me – though I can’t remember the last time anything was up to me – Tseng would be the clear choice for SI’s Sportsman of the Year.
(Before we go any further, another admission: Sports Illustrated is unlikely to listen to a word I say. In 1992, the magazine hired me to write a weekly column; as it turned out, I turned in a column every week, and every week an editor said, “Uh, this stinks.” That lasted a year. Then, a couple of Aprils ago, SI.com started running Couch Slouch, but after six months, they decided it also wasn’t up to their standards. If I penned “The Great Gatsby,” those folks would reject it in favor of a Peter King treatise on decaf double mocha.)
If Tseng is somehow denied Sportsman of the Year, it might be, frankly, because she’s not American enough – well, actually, she’s not American at all; she’s from Taiwan. As a rule, we prefer our sporting icons to talk like us and look like us and be one of us – sure, Tseng has a home in Florida, but, hey, an immigrant is an immigrant.
And I hate to be overly cynical here, but Sports Illustrated’s not going to sell too many extra copies honoring a low-wattage foreign athlete. Heck, the best chance for a Taiwanese woman to make an SI cover would be if she either changed her name to Kardashian or if she were blonde and buxom and it was the swimsuit issue.
In fact, Tseng’s ascension largely defines the LPGA’s inability to captivate more of its U.S. base. LPGA heroes once were the likes of Kathy Whitworth, Pat Bradley, Betsy King and Amy Alcott; now it’s a steady dose of Se Ri Pak, Na Yeon Choi, Ai Miyazato and Amy Yang.
On the LPGA money list this year, 26 of the top 35 golfers were from abroad – of late, an LPGA leaderboard reads more like a Korean phone book. What’s the solution? Watching the presidential debates, I half-expect to hear someone suggest that maybe the LPGA needs to build a border fence.
The LPGA’s plight mirrors the larger one in sports: The U.S. is no longer a super power.
We do not dominate the Olympics in the manner we once did. We’re giving up ground in golf and tennis and boxing. Other nations are closing the gap in even the most American of games, baseball and basketball. Yes, we’re still No. 1 in football, but then again, the rest of the world prefers futbol.
To be sure, I’m more concerned that we’ve lost the edge in technology and education than in track and field. However, in the meantime, I just hope we’re big enough to honor and celebrate the greatness of Yani Tseng, even though, I confess, I’m not planning to watch too much of her too soon.
(OK, here’s a final admission: If they ever put miniature golf back on TV – oh, how I love Putt-Putt – my TiVo will be working 19 holes a day.)
Ask The Slouch
Q. I need a new couch for my family room. My wife found one that she says is the perfect color and style to match the room; I found one that is large and comfortable, and it comes with built-in cup holders and a pouch that holds the remote and snacks. What should I do? (Barry Jirousek; Seven Hills, Ohio)
A. Just find some cups that match the room.
Q. Has anyone ever told you that you have trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction? (Roger S. Brown; Willow Bend, W.Va.)
A. Remnants of dating Michele Bachmann in the summer of ’77. Or was that Rush Limbaugh?
Q. If the NBA season had been completely lost, would tattoo shop owners been eligible for a federal bailout? (Jim Sleeth; New Palestine, Ind.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
Q. If coaches with losing records like Herman Edwards and Eric Mangini can get jobs as football experts, shouldn’t you be producing, directing and hosting “The Marriage Ref”? (Paul Buch; Bayonne, N.J.)
A. Shirley, I just found an agent!