It is not too many years since LPGA players were complaining darkly about the proliferating number of Koreans on their tour. Their main grouse was that the newcomers’ English was not up to scratch and that they were failing to entertain their Pro-Am partners as they should. Instead of reading the putts and admiring the shots of these corporate clients, they were all too apt to concentrate on their own play.
How all that has changed.
Today, the Asian players’ English is improving all the time. They ‘get’ what is required of them in a Pro-Am context and revel in fulfilling the role to the best of their ability. Indeed, at the recent HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, they were waiting to greet their Wednesday partners with much the same eager anticipation as would have applied had they been about to play with Rory McIlroy (who seems to have taken over Adam Scott's mantle as every girl's favourite).
Going on from there, Asian golfers are dominating the rankings at the moment, with four in the top10 and 37 in the top 100 of the Rolex World Rankings. And another thing ... they are way out in front in the fashions takes.
Who says so? No less an authority than Paula Creamer, the player who has always set trends of her own. It was10 years ago that the then 15-year-old Creamer became the first junior to play golf in a tennis skirt before introducing the ‘golf dress’. Simultaneously, in a move which turned out to make the best of business sense, she made the colour pink her own.
On the subject of her sister professionals from the East, Creamer says that their influence on the fashion side of things has been huge. “The overall standard of appearance on Tour has improved a lot over the last few years and much of it is down to the Asian contingent.
They look amazing.
“We have a handful of big clothing names in the States but in Asia they have a never-ending supply of different lines to choose from.”
All of which presumably does away with the danger of players turning up for a tournament day in precisely the same outfits, as happened at the 2011 HSBC Women’s Champions. The Nike-sponsored Suzann Pettersen and Michelle Wie were the players in question as they found themselves setting out in the same trio in matching skirts and tops.
Creamer has found herself in Asian department stores where the equivalent of a whole floor of Harrods is devoted to women’s golfing wear. And in golf clubs in China where the floor space given over to women is entirely in keeping with that available to the men. “At home,” she explains, “we would have to make do with a corner.”
Creamer went on to talk of the accessories the Asian players have introduced to the women’s golfing scene: “Little things like fancy ball markers, nicely-styled bags for tee-pegs and visors with wide brims and glittery touches. The Japanese players, in particular, do not hold back on the glitter. There’s glitz and glamour in all their clothes," she says.
When Creamer brings out her own clothing range, she says she will want an Asian influence. Even now, she has introduced the odd flash of the East to the Adidas apparel she has been wearing for the last eight years. Take, for example, the shoes she has made to her own design. The pair she was wearing on the day of our meeting had silver ribbons serving as laces and matching silver bows on the heels.
Creamer and the Asian contingent are very much on the same wavelength in believing that wearing the right things and showing them off to best advantage is all part of the equation when it comes to playing top level golf.
“It’s actually a far bigger part than most people think,” says Creamer.
If, for instance, you were to tell the former US Open champion that she would be denied one of two things as she set out for the final round in her next major – her driver or her earrings – she would hand over her driver without a second thought. “I cannot,” she says – and she is being entirely serious – “play without my earrings.”
In which connection, there came a day when she set out in a long and dangling pair which kept getting painfully caught up in her pony-tail on the backswing. Mercifully, her mother was able to save the day by agreeing to a swap.
Along much the same lines, Japan’s Miki Saiki, the half-way leader at least year’s Evian Masters, detonated any amount of laughter when she explained to the assembled media that she travelled with 50 different pairs of earrings. Creamer would not have laughed. She would have understood.
“We love our clothes,” said Korea’s Hee Young Park, who agreed with the Creamer view that Asians have the best fashions of the moment. Park, the most engaging of girls, has entirely enough English at her disposal to be able to deliver a few home truths without hurting feelings.
“In the West,” she says, “the clothes are – how can I say? – very nice but a little basic. Ours are more fitted – a better fit – and we invent our own colour schemes. In America, they sell outfits that match. We look for clothes that don’t necessarily match.”
She drew attention to her own shirt in which three unlikely hues, pink, turquoise and yellow ran side by side, before describing her favourite colour-mix of the moment as blue and orange.
China’s Shanshan Feng, like Park, suggested that the emphasis had to be on colour. “You have to pick shades that will stand out against green grass,” she said, which is not something too many would us would have paused to consider.
As Feng was talking, so Jiyai Shin, the former No 1, passed by in a pink and blue spotted shirt with a prettily-raised collar, while Jenny Shin, no relative, arrived on the scene in a luminous yellow shirt with yellow and white matching patent shoes.
It would have been interesting to show pictures to this new breed of what sportswomen in the West would have worn nearly a century ago. In the 1920s, for example, there were no waterproofs, with one good lady having to ask the Ladies’ Golf Union’s permission to put her woollen skirt through a mangle before she went out and played the 19th. The 2010 US men’s Ryder Cup side, whose waterproofs leaked through the little holes where the players’ names had been embroidered across the backs, would have known how the good lady felt.
For the most part, though, today’s top players have garments which shrug off the rain and cold-weather outfits in which they stay warm without looking like Michelin men. Here again, you ask where the best fabrics originate, and the women are apt to chorus ‘Japan’.
In summing up appearances, Creamer describes the optimum look as “athletic and girly”.
There are, as she says, certain rules to which players on the LPGA Tour must adhere, but it is a bit like a school uniform. Insofar as it is possible, you push the rules to the limit rather than flout them – and make yourself stand out from the rest.
Hee Young Park was far too polite to say as much, but ‘basic’ means boring.
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