Last weekend was an interesting one in the world of sports and it was the distaff side that provided the entertainment. As baseball limped into the All-Star break, football and basketball were locked in a, well, lockout. Sports fans would be forced to look elsewhere for our fix.
All I can say is, thank you, ladies. I have always been a fan of women's athletics. Whether they are competing against each other or trying to take on the boys, female athletes continue to show that they too can play the games. In the last 10 days the ladies of sport wowed us on the pitch, the links and even the racetrack. Let's take a look.
I have never been much of a soccer fan. The game just doesn't interest me, though I do appreciate the skills exhibited by great soccer players. The last time I got excited about the game - until recently, that is - was in 1999. When Brandy Chastain emulated the boys (in more ways than one), soccer captured the imagination of Americans everywhere.
That was of course the Women's World Cup championship game played in the Rose Bowl. Chastain's penalty kick and subsequent celebration brought soccer and women's sports to a new level. A dozen years later a new generation of American soccer ladies has renewed our interest in the game, and yes, women's sports.
The game against Brazil was thrilling. Abby Wambach's header very late in the contest brought about a penalty kick finish, as was the case in 1999. The American ladies played with grit and determination, overcoming some questionable officiating and being down a player for much of the contest. Hope Solo made a great save on a Brazilian penalty kick and the U.S. moved on.
A 3-1 victory over France on Wednesday sends the American women into the finals later today against Japan in Frankfurt, Germany. To be perfectly honest, I would not be watching if the U.S. were not playing. Remember we are talking about soccer. That was not the case however with the U.S. Women's Open Golf Championship played last weekend at the Broadmoor in Colorado.
A pair of South Koreans went to a three-hole aggregate playoff to determine the champion. Despite the fact that an American was not involved, the golf was dramatic and I found myself riveted to the television.
Twenty-one-year-old So Yeon Ryu needed to birdie the last hole to force the playoff and she stuck an iron to 6 feet before casually rolling in the putt. The playoff featured Hee Kyung Seo (just 25 herself) against Ryu. After both players scored pars on the 16th hole, Ryu birdied the par-5 17th while Seo bogeyed. The match was effectively over at that point, but Ryu decided to birdie 18 again. Only 28 birdies were recorded on the finishing hole the whole week and all Ryu did was birdie it twice within an hour.
The playoff between the two Asian golfers was great golf. It almost didn't happen, though. A couple of years ago, facing criticism because of the plethora of Asians, particularly South Koreans on the U.S. tour, the LPGA passed a rule that players had to speak English to be eligible to play.
Apparently, wealthy businessmen who coughed up big sums of money to play in pro-am events the week of a tournament, were not happy about having a playing partner who could not converse with them. To appease these sponsors the rule was announced. The criticism of the rule greatly outweighed the original arguments and the rule was quickly rescinded.
There are still people in this country who bemoan the fact that so many foreigners fill the field each week. The numbers don't lie, particularly when it comes to South Koreans. There are 43 players from South Korea on tour. Eighteen of the top 50 players on tour are Korean while only eight Americans made the list. If you look at the final standings of this year's U.S. Open you will find that the top dozen finishers included six South Koreans, three Americans, two Japanese and an Australian.
To that I say - SO WHAT! Let the best golfers in the world play on the LPGA tour. If most are Asian, I don't care. It is nice to see an American win the Open as Paula Creamer did last year, but I can enjoy watching anyone play great golf. That's what we got this year and at the top of the list were two South Koreans. Good for them!
One more item caught my attention last week and it involved a woman trying to be successful in a traditional man's sport. Danica Patrick has been driving race cars for a while now. She has had some success and I think she will be a force to be reckoned with in the future whether it's in an Indy car or a stock car. (For the record I believe it will be a permanent ride in NASCAR in the near future.)
Last weekend Danica was in Toronto racing Indy cars. An early altercation with Japanese driver Takuma Sato made the lady a bit unhappy. Both cars went to the pits for repairs and Patrick made her exit first. As she went by Sato's car she gave him a one-finger salute that wasn't a suggestion that she felt he was the best driver on the circuit.
Though the gesture was certainly not very lady-like and I would not necessarily endorse such behavior, it brought a smile to my face and did send a message to her competitors. She's in racing for the long haul, wants to win and will not tolerate poor driving.
To that I say - you go, girl!
Al Stephenson is The A-T's golf columnist.
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