Golf program needs a mulligan » Manila Bulletin Sports

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by Ding Marcelo

Nearly a week after the British Open ended, the world is still ecstatic about Jordan Spieth’s magical victory at the world’s oldest golf championship, played this year at the Royal Birkdale in England.

His feat unleashed such praise, it is not unimaginable that Webster was a little stretched providing words for the pain, pathos, and panache of  Jordan’s comeback from near disaster to magnificent finish on his way to capturing a third major golf championship.

It thrills me to have been able to follow Spieth, through television, in another one of his for-the-books journeys to the top of the game. But in between watching The Open’s bad shots (very rare) and the good shots (in abundance), my thoughts wandered over to America, where another kind of golf was being played at nearly the same time.

This was the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour where two of our very own players were competing. The LPGA is, of course, the Holy Grail for women golfers. Make it there, and you basically set yourself up as an accomplished player, or even as one of the world’s best. Every year, hundreds of women spend thousands of hours and millions of their family’s savings to polish their game and earn that LPGA Tour card.

Although the LPGA has always been a poor cousin to the PGA Tour, its men’s counterpart, over the years its prize money has risen dramatically and, with it, the level of competition. In 2016, the total prize money for women rose to $63 million in 33 events. This year, it’s $70 million and 35 events.

This year, Dottie Ardina, 23, and Regan de Guzman, 25, are the two Filipinas among roughly 200 players from all over the world chasing the money. Alas and alack, their chase has been mainly fruitless and disappointing.

Although, it must be said, Ardina was slowly getting the hang of it. After missing the cut in her first four LPGA events this year, she made a breakthrough, and actually qualified for weekend play at the Thornberry Classic two weeks ago where she tied at 28th place and earned close to $15,000, incidentally her biggest paycheck as a pro.

Ardina made the cut again the following week at the Marathon Classic in Ohio, but here her earnings had dipped substantially, coming up with only $4,000 after a final round that tied her at 64th, her total score just better than those of three other players.

De Guzman has had it worse. While Ardina registered small triumphs despite her limited playing rights, De Guzman, who had full-time LPGA playing privileges, never used these well. She was privileged to compete in any LPGA event this year, and she did, but in 10 out of 10 events, she never made the cut.

Such a performance was a blow not only to De Guzman’s self-esteem but to her finances. A player missing the cut gets nothing. Zero dollars. She now has to dig into her pocket for everything — plane fare, food, hotel, caddy fee.

If she continues on this road, she is on track to follow the footsteps of another Filipino player, Cyna Rodriguez, who played full-time in the LPGA last year with high expectations, only to bomb out, making just one cut in 25 tournaments.

What this shows is, simply, that the LPGA is not a walk in the park. Players need coaches, trainers, sports psychologists, and sponsors for shoes and apparel and clubs. This kind of retinue often accompanies success — but it costs plenty.

So, one has to admire Jennifer Rosales, the country’s first LPGA player, who competed for 15 years and won two titles. When she retired in 2015, she had banked nearly $3 million in career earnings. It took another 16 years for a Filipina, Cyna Rodriguez, to play full-time in the LPGA.

What all this also shows is the sad state of Philippine golf: The current development programs handled by the National Golf Association of the Philippines and the ICTSI are not working.

The ICTSI program, in particular, is worth noting. Despite the millions poured into it for nearly a decade by its benefactor, business mogul Ricky Razon, the program has not reaped rewards.

In the period since it began, it has produced only three LPGA players and a few Symetra Tour campaigners. The country’s golf base — women and men, boys and girls—is still mired in failure.

In contrast, Thailand, the nation which the Philippines can appropriately compare itself against, has 12 players in the current LPGA Tour. Weeks ago, its top player, Ariya Jutanugarn, briefly held the world’s No. 1 ranking, and got personal congratulations from the king.

Perhaps it’s time to get changes going in the ICTSI program. The way things are going, there will be no congratulations anytime soon from anyone, royalty or commoner.

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