Earl Woods gets my vote for founder of “the youth movement” in golf

The Golf Channel Morning Drive Show has a daily poll question and one question was on a topic I have written about often — young golfers.  The question was posed because a 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, Guan Tianlang, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and a spot in the 2013 Masters.

Here is the Morning Drive poll question tweeted by Lauren Thompson Twitter coversatin with Lauren Thompson on Morning Drive Poll QuestionI was pleased to get a direct message back from Lauren ThompsonImage of Twitter DM from Lauren Thompson

As you can see from my response to Lauren Thompson I did not select any of the four options.  Yes, I think all (coaching, equipment, global exposure and technology) are important factors but that does not speak to the underlying support system that allows kids to pursue a sport with such intensity at such young ages.

The only way a child can achieve such great success at such a young age is because the parents support it.  There will always be the debate as to whether or not the child truly “wanted” to “live and breathe” golf or if the parents really wanted it for the child.  But either way, the steps the parents must take to create the opportunity is the basis for it all.

Tiger Woods is the most famous child prodigy that ever played the game.  Yes, Tiger has proven his place in history as one of the best golfers ever.  However, I truly believe Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, was the mastermind behind the Tiger brand that exists today.  After all, Earl Woods not only taught his son golf at a young age but also was savvy enough to get his son “exposure” at a very young age.  If you have not seen it, below is the video of 2-year-old Tiger on the Mike Douglas show.

After Tiger, the next young phenom to come along was in women’s golf – Michelle Wie.  At the age of eleven Wei was the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur championship.  Wie’s career has not been as stellar as predicted; although she has reaped the financial benefit and fame sponsors like Nike deliver.  In recent years Wie’s poor play has been blamed on her focus on college but now that she is out of school she is still struggling to find her game.  Only time will tell if Wie will become a truly great golfer.  If she does not become a champion golfer then Wei’s rise and fall may become a cautionary tale of burnout or peaking too soon.

In 2012, we have seen a flurry of young golfers making news:

  1. Andy Zhang, a 14-year-old amateur golfer (also Chinese but living in Florida) made history as the youngest player in the US Open.
  2. Lydia Ko, a 15-year-old from New Zealand (originally from South Korea) made history winning the Canadian Open.  Ko is the youngest player to win a LPGA event.
  3. Beau Hossler, a 17-year-old Californian, became a sensation at the 2012 US Open when he took the lead (over Tiger) for a short period of time.
  4. Lexi Thompson won the Navistar LPGA Classic in 2011 at age 16 which triggered Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner, to waive the 18-year-old age requirement for turning pro and gave Thompson (age 17) her PGA tour card for 2012.
  5. Guan Tianlang, 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, made history as the youngest winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and will make history in 2013 as the youngest golfer to ever play in the Masters.

So is this a good thing for the sport or not?  Some will say “yes” because it will bring a younger audience to the game and hopefully grow the game for the future.  Some will say “no” for reasons such as it is not good for the child (i.e. the pressure, the travel, the risk of injuries at a young age).  Whatever your opinion there is one thing that is hard to argue and that is “the cat — or should I say, Tiger — is out of the bag” and there is no turning back now.

 

Lydia Ko wins USGA Women’s Amateur: second-youngest winner at age 15

2012 USGA Women’s Amateur Overview

There is no surprise that Lydia Ko won the USGA Women’s Amateur because she is the #1 ranked amateur in the world rankings (WAGR).  It is amazing that she has held the number one spot for over 40 weeks (and was 14 when she attained the rank).  She is another young prodigy poised for golf greatness.

The USGA Women’s Amateur is a four-day event.  The first two days are stroke play and the top 64 players advance to the weekend match play rounds.  Lydia Ko played Janye Marie Green, an 18-year-old American, for the title.   Janye Marie Green was ranked 14th in the world and moved up to the 7th ranked player after coming in second at the USGA Women’s Amateur.

Janye Marie Green did challenge Lydia Ko in the finals but Ko went 3 up to win the title.  The turning point in the final was late in the second round of the final day; specifically on the 24th and 25th holes.  Green hit a tree on the 24th hole ending up in a horrible position. Green tried twice to hit the ball back into the fairway.  She could not advance the ball and had to concede the hole.  On the next hole, Green hit a beautiful shot onto the green and looked like she might win the hole because Ko was still off the green. It was amazing to watch Ko chip in and make a birdie to go 3 up.  Green never got back in the match.

Age and the USGA Women’s Amateur:

If you read my previous post, “They just keep getting younger: 10-year-old Latanna Stone makes history,” then you know I believe there should be an age limit to compete in the Women’s Amateur.  So while watching the USGA Women’s Amateur, I tweeted the following:

Tweet about youngest and oldest players in USGA Womens AmateurAs you can see from the tweet, 10-year-old Latanna Stone missed the cut; but so did the oldest player Brenda Picardo (who was age 56).  Honestly, I was really hoping the oldest player would make the cut.

So once again, I want to highlight the power of social media because the USGA listened to the “twitter conversation” and answered my question.  The USGA first marked my tweet as a “favorite” (which gave me a hint that they might reply later).  The next day, the USGA did tweet age related information.  Here is the first tweet (after my tweet) from the USGA:

First Tweet of USGA explaining ages of remaining players

After I tweeted my age question, the USGA sent a tweet with age ranges

Now, the USGA did not re-tweet my question (which would have been nice) but they did provide the information.  The USGA continued to tweet age information.  It is interesting to see that the average age kept dropping with each round of golf.

Note: To read a tweet stream (in chronological order) go from bottom to top — or 9 Aug to 11 Aug

USGA Tweets age information for Women’s Amateur

Although the tweets do not mention it, Jayvie Agojo is a 26-year-old mother with a young daughter.  Agojo’s amateur world golf ranking went from 155 to 108 after the tournament.

Paula Reto is a 22-year-old who did not even take up the golf until 2005.  Reto was a member of Purdue’s winning team at the 2010 NCAA Division I Women’s National Championship.  After the USGA Women’s Amateur tournament Reto moved from 27th to 22nd in the amateur world golf rankings WAGR.

Does being a great amateur translate to being a great professional golfer?

The final tweet acknowledges Kimberley Kim who won the Women’s amateur at the age of fourteen.  I was curious what happened to Kim because I do not recall seeing her play in the LPGA events I watch (or course, not all players are highlighted on television).

To my surprise Kim has not had a successful professional career. The LPGA has a minimum age requirement so Kim turned pro after the age of 18.  Her LPGA bio shows zero earnings as a professional during her rookie year in 2011.  She missed every cut and it appears did not qualify to return to the tour.  According to another online bio, Kim did so poorly that the website, soulsisters.com stated:

“At Qualifying School in the Fall, she played so terribly that she did not even gain Futures Tour membership, let alone LPGA membership (her first round was an 89!). Presumably she is not ready to give up on pro golf, but exactly what her immediate plans are is unknown.”

note: Kim is American and half-Korean so that is why the website soulsisters.com, a website that follows Korean players on the LPGA, lists her bio.

As for Lydia Ko, all things point to an amazing future.  Ko has already won a professional golf event as an amateur.  In January, she made history winning the women’s New South Wales Open (Ko is from New Zealand and was born in South Korean).  Ko seems well grounded, plans to remain an amateur, and then go to college.

The LPGA’s Funny Girl – Tiffany Joh

Another US Women’s Open has come to a close and most bloggers will be writing about the winner, Na Yeon Choi but I’m going to highlight a player that did not even make the cut — American golfer, Tiffany Joh.  Why?  Because, whether it is intentional or not — she is in the process of building a unique personal brand.

This year Joh is struggling a bit with her game and is 115 in the Rolex World Rankings.  However, Joh is a solid player and shows promise.  Joh won twice on the LPGA’s Future tour.  As a member of the LPGA 2011 Rookie Class, Joh had an excellent year with $237,365 in earnings and ranked eighty-seven (87) on the Rolex Women’s World Golf rankings list.  Joh also had a top 10 finish in 2012.  She was second at the Navistar Classic.  Unfortunately for Joh, it was the tournament Lexi Thompson (Golf’s newly anointed “phenom”) made history as the youngest winner (at age 16) on the LPGA.

So what makes Joh unique?  The PGA may have the Golf Boys but the LPGA has Tiffany Joh.  She loves music and has become known for her music videos.  This week, the week of the 2012 US Women’s Open, she posted her most recent video on her YouTube channel (Just Your Morning Cup of Joh.)   The video is All I Do is Win (LPGA Remix).  A parody of the song, “All I Do is Win” by Ludacris.

Joh has had a YouTube channel since 2008 but she really got noticed for her LPGA video last year “Grip It” (a parody of Freak Nasty’s 1996 hit song “Da’ Dip”).  It’s amazing how she get’s her fellow LPGA players to be silly on video.

Not only is she clever and creative with music videos but she has a great channel title “Just your morning cup of Joh” and user name “CupofJoh” and has a cartoon-like drawing (self-portrait – I’m guessing) and uses it as her YouTube channel and Twitter background.  All creating a unique personal brand.

The one thing that surprised me is that her website does not carry this branding.  However, if you visit the website, Joh’s humor and attitude come through loud and clear with just a single page stating “You are a Nerd…Websites are for Nerds.”  Is she ahead of the curve or just representative of her generation who live on social media?  I believe it is the later.  After all, the websites of the big golf stars are supported by big sponsor money.  So Joh’s site may get an upgrade if she lands a major sponsor.

It’s not just that Joh is using social media but she is savvy too — do you think the timing of the recent video was a fluke? No way.  The US Women’s open gets more press than any other women’s golf event and Joh’s video was all over twitter (at least the people who tweet about golf).

As I mentioned earlier, Joh did not make the cut at the US Women’s Open but her sense of humor never fails.  Here is a screen shot of her tweet from the airport the next day:

Tweet from Tiffany Joh on Missing Cut at US Women's Open

If you are old school and think golfers should only get noticed for their golf achievements than Tiffany Joh’s style may not be your “cup of tea” (or joh); but I respect the fact that she has developed a personal brand that sets herself apart from all the other young female golfers on tour.

The LPGA’s Marketing Challenge

The LPGA has a challenging issue in the American market.  The challenge is to change the perception of the LPGA in the mind of the average American golf fan.

What is really behind this challenge?  Let me share a recent conversation I had with other golfers on the Wednesday before the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  I was playing golf with a group of women (all play a lot of golf and are passionate about their sport).  I asked if they watched the LPGA and they all said no because the top 10 women golfers are all Korean.  Their perception is that the LPGA is becoming an Asian tour.  Their declaration that the top 10 players are all Korean is not correct. They were surprised when I told them both Stacy Lewis and Christie Kerr are in the top 10 of the world rankings; and that Stacy Lewis had won two of the last three LPGA events.

On Thursday, I started watching the Wagmens LPGA Championship.  It looked like an American might actually win this major tournament; Paul Creamer, Christie Kerr, and Stacy Lewis were playing well.  Then, on Sunday,  a Chinese player, Shanshan (Jenny) Feng shot an amazing 67 and won.  She is the first Chinese player to win but this means that the current title holders for the four LPGA majors are all Asian (from Korea, Taiwan, and China), and this is “the story” that is focused on in the media.

On the golf channel, both Ron Sirak and Tom Rosenforte raised the issue of what Feng’s win means for the LPGA.  Ron Sirak even suggested that it might mean the LPGA Championship could be held in China in the near future.  In Beth Ann Baldry’s GolfWeek online article she also pondered what Feng’s win means… “For all we know, decades from now this tour might be based in China. Crazier things have happened.”  These golf commentators are adding fuel to the fire and provide even more proof of the “image battle” facing the LPGA marketing team.

So what’s the LPGA to do?  They have tried very hard to position the tour as a “global” tour and promoted Yani Tseng so that fans can embrace her.  This is an important message because the huge growth in golf will be from markets like China.  But frankly, that doesn’t really help with the immediate (and sensitive) image issue facing the tour in its key market, the United States.

It is important to give credit where credit is due and the leaders of the LPGA are reinvigorating the tour overall. For example, they have added events, gotten new sponsors, and they have a really great new marketing campaign for 2012 —  “See why it is different out here.”  I promise, you will enjoy the video below.

They also have embraced social media as I highlighted in my previous blog post “Funny Tweets from LPGA Golfers.”

Now this is all great but the problem is that the message is not getting out to the average golf fan (at least not where I live).  The ads I see for the LPGA are only on the golf channel and mostly shown during coverage of the LPGA.

So what is the LPGA to do?  Well, here are a few suggestions.

  1. Get the Golf Channel to show the new ad campaign during broadcasts of the other tours; especially the PGA.  I get why the new ads are shown during LPGA coverage, but to me this is “preaching to the choir.”  As a marketing professional, this has always been a “pet peeve” of mine — showing ads that are intended to reach new customers to viewers already engaged with your product.
  2. Target an ad campaign to the viewers that “long for the days of Nancy Lopez.”  Heck, get Nancy to do some ads to promote the new breed of American players.  The message is that if you liked Nancy Lopez, then watch Stacy Lewis.  Which brings me to the next issue.
  3. Promote the heck out of your top American players.  Stacy Lewis is #2 in the Rolex world rankings — make a big deal of it.  Play off the developing competition between Stacy Lewis and Cristie Kerr to be the top American.  It’s great that the golf announcers talk about it during the broadcast but take advantage of it in your marketing (use all that great TV footage for some great viral videos).
  4. Expand social media and create a Pinterest strategy.  First, I give credit to the LPGA for having an official Pinterest page; but it has no strategy to engage Pinterest users. The strategy right now looks like they just put up some images as placeholders. They are missing a huge opportunity to brand the LPGA (as well as women and golf)  on a social media site whos biggest demographic is women. I can think of lots of quick wins for their Pinterest presence.
  5. It’s great that the LPGA has embraced Twitter with their players; but now it’s time to see if they can get some love from their brothers on the PGA. The young golfers on the PGA tour “are champions” (excuse the pun) at tweeting and some of the PGA players have huge followings.  I am curious if PGA players follow the LPGA.  If yes, see if they will tweet about it.
  6. Focus on grassroots marketing (and not just when the LPGA is in town for a tournament).  Basically create an outreach program with content that golf associations can use in their eMarketing channels.  There are many golf organizations that are key influencers in their markets and could be the local cheerleaders of the LPGA but they need to be given the messaging and the stories to push.

This blog post may seem like I’m on my soapbox but it just irks me that the golf media has to keep the focus on the large number of Asian players on the LPGA.  Since the media is determined to keep it as a top story; it is up to the tour to create the stories to give the home fans something to embrace.  Many of the American LPGA players are trying hard to step-up and compete (should I say it again, Stacy Lewis is #2 in the world) so they are doing their part.

Golf fans are passionate about their sport and usually have a favorite player (or players) that they follow.  For golf fans that like to cheer for the “home town players,” the LPGA has a lot of great American players to promote in the US market.  Golf fans love to watch great drama unfold during tournament play.  The LPGA has all these things, but right now it seems to be the best kept secret from the average golf fan.

Funny tweets from LPGA golfers

I have been following a number of the LPGA players on twitter and it is really amazing how much information they share about their personal lives.  Yes, they do promote events they are attending and products they use (or should I say endorse) but overall the tweets are not commercial.  In fact, many of the ladies are quite funny.

The best tweets involve photos, food and/or drink, insider jokes, and conversations between players.  Below are some examples.  If you are not familiar with Twitter, I’ll do my best to explain.  One thing to keep in mind is that anytime you see a twitter handle (like @ChristinaKim) just replace it with a name.  Here we go….

Here is a tweet from Christina Kim that represents it all (Photo, Food, Humor – self-deprecation).  Kim replied to a tweet from Nicole Hage.  Hage tweeted a photo showing her recent baking efforts.  Hage says “all done” (and includes a photo) and Kim replies ” You bake, and look like you….”

Christina Kim Tweet to Hage

Now, Kim has been tweeting a lot about her workouts at the gym (which adds to this already funny tweet.)  If you don’t know this…in the tweet above, there is a photo, Kim is the women in the front (that’s Michelle Wei behind her and the photo is from the Solheim Cup).

Nicole Hage

Here is a Photo of Nicole Hage.  I had to add the photo because Kim said  “you bake, and look like you” (so I know my readers would ask, so what does Nicole Hage look like).

Now, many of you who read my blog know I have written about slow play and how it is bad for the game.  So here is a funny tweet between two players about the time it took to play a Pro-Am tournament.

Suzann Petterson Tweet on Pro-AMChristina Kim reply to Pro-Am As you can see, Kim’s reply comes after Pettersens’ text..5:50, Stop exaggerating. Ugh!  The joke is self-evident.  Hopefully, now you get how to read the tweets.

Below is a “tweet conversation” that I loved because the players are exchanging a bit of “teasing” before a match.  Sophie Gustafson and Karen Stupples were scheduled to go head-to-head in match play (this was tweeted the night before the match).

Tweet between Gustafson and Stupples

Gustafson Foot Photo

And, Gustafson attached photo of her foot…to which, Karen later tweeted..love the golf tan.

Here is a great tweet from Karen Stupples regarding a rain delay.

Stupples tweet about rain delay in NJ

I guess as a traveling golfer you see it all.  Here is a photo tweeted from Rachel Connor.

Connor Tweet on Airplane

And how about this tweet from Sophie Gustafson at an airport terminal.  I can’t attach the video but here is a still of the object on the luggage carousel (yup, it’s a Heinken)

Gustafson Video Tweet

There are so many more good tweets I could show but this post would just get too long.  I want to end with two that are not really “funny” like the ones about; but show the great support these players give each other (as friends) on tour.

Kerr tweet to GulbisLincicome Tweet Congrats to OToole

This week, at the ShopRite tournament, the LPGA will promote the use of twitter by adding player’s twitter handles to name tags that go on the back of the caddie’s bib.  Now, as a fan, I already follow my favorites. So the bibs are interesting but I’m not sure it will get me to follow more.  As a marketing professional, I say “good for the LPGA for trying something new;” and I will be interested to see if it impacts individual player’s (i.e. will they get more followers.)  I plan to do my own research and see if I see any spikes in followers for the players.  By the way, the LPGA did tweet about the new name tags.

LPGA Photo Tweet

Finally, are you wondering which LPGA player has the most followers?  Well, it is Natalie Gulbis with 115,855 followers (as of May 28 at 2:38 pm).  This doesn’t surprise me given I wrote a blog post titled “Natalie Gulbis – This golfer is a savvy Marketer.”

Golf pundits all a “Twitter” about Jason Gore

Golf is often given the bad rap of being a traditional “old boys” sport so I am not surprised by that the fact the big story today is that Jason Gore was given a sponsors exemption because of Twitter — Golf fans are not so old school after all. No surprise to a fan like me!

If you don’t know the score…back on January 6, Jason Gore sent out a tweet that he was signing up for the Northern Trust Open (Feb 14 to 19) qualifying event and tweeted he’d be “stoked” to get a sponsor’s invitation.  His fans delivered with a twitter campaign that filled the Northern Trust Twitter page with support for Gore.  Just 6 days later, Northern Trust sent out a tweet that Jason Gore is awarded an exemption.

Why I am writing about it? Because my profession is online marketing and it was fun to see how all this played out.  By the way, it didn’t hurt to have media outlets like the Golf Channel commentators talking about the twitter campaign on TV over the last few days (before Northern Golf make a decision) and giving it even more exposure.  Northern Trust got it right — They listened to the golf fans and gave them what they wanted — an exemption for Gore.  Now, Northern Trust also got what every company loves — lots of free press! And, it’s good press.

But the most important outcome is that a guy who is ranked 643 in the world and did not qualify for the PGA Tour this year got his wish thanks to his fans and twitter.