One canceled golf tournament might not, at first glance, seem like a huge deal, but a worrying trend of overreaching has dogged Alisports since its inception – and the cracks are starting to show.
Imagine it’s October 2016 and you’re the LPGA. You’ve just signed a ten-year deal with Alisports, giving them ownership rights of your most important tournament in China. All the usual cliches spring to mind – growing the game, millions of new fans, next generation of golfers etc – and you’re feeling pretty pleased with yourselves. It’s Alibaba – they’re one of the biggest companies in China, they know China, Jack Ma is basically Steve Jobs, they’ve got trillions of users etc. What could go possibly wrong?
The China Open tennis has long been in the books: the 10th anniversary of the tournament saw a dream men’s final between the top two seeds, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, in which Djokovic won, but Nadal regained the world number 1 ranking. But as the best male players in the world face off in London at the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals, it has emerged that this dream final came within a whisker of not happening at all. The reason? The pollution was so bad that Rafa Nadal almost refused to walk out on court.
It should have been a triumphant weekend of sports for Beijing: China’s female golfing star, Feng Shanshan, took the inaugural Reignwood LPGA Classic by a single shot thanks to an eagle on the very last hole, the dream men’s final in the China Open tennis tournament saw no. 1 seed Novak Djokovic beat no. 2 seed Rafael Nadal, while on the women’s side Serena Williams won the tenth title of what is arguably the best year of her career.
But instead, everyone was talking about the weather.
Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old kid who made the cut at the Masters, might be China’s most famous golfer, but Feng Shanshan is undoubtedly China’s best golfer right now (or ever, for that matter). She won the 2012 LPGA Championship to become the country’s first golfer – male or female – to win a major. More than a year later she is finally getting some recognition at home.
Next week, the golfing world will be squarely focused on Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods as they play in a dream Nike pairing for the first two rounds of the US Open, with Masters champion Adam Scott also along for the ride.
But this week the women play their second major of the year, the rain-delayed LPGA Championship, and the marquee group was the tournament’s last three winners: China’s Feng Shanshan, Taiwan’s Yani Tseng and American Christie Kerr.
I seem to have been writing lots about golf recently, but there is more big news this week, this time on the women’s side. Taiwan’s Yani Tseng has just re-signed with IMG, in what could be a huge step to getting her career back on track. She’s only 24, but has fallen a long way from the highs of 2011 when she won 12 times, including racking up a fifth major championship.