LPGA ahead of its time with globetrotting schedule

By Doug FergusonNovember 20, 2012, 9:23 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Alarm bells went off when the best golfers no longer were Americans, whether the measure was a ranking or simply who kept winning the majors.

That was the LPGA a generation ago.

It took awhile for the men to experience the same shift to a more global game, such as Europeans occupying the top four spots in the world ranking at the end of last year, or the Americans getting shut out of six straight majors. Or the time Lee Westwood, whose humor can be vastly underrated, was speaking at a dinner when he mentioned Steve Stricker winning the previous week at the John Deere Classic. Looking at PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, he said, ''Nice to see an American win on your Tour.''

The next cause for concern in women's golf was having to leave home to build a schedule.

It looks like the LPGA again was ahead of its time.

The women finished a whirlwind – not to mention worldwide – schedule over the last three months by going from Virginia to England to Alabama in consecutive weeks and then ended its season with three straight tournaments that took them from Japan to Mexico to Florida.

This might not have been what Karrie Webb had in mind when she moved halfway around the world for a Hall of Fame career in the LPGA. Her rookie season, there were 34 events on the LPGA schedule, all but four of them in the U.S. This year, 12 of the 27 official events were outside the country.

''I envisioned playing most of my career in the U.S.,'' she said. ''Even for me, coming from Australia, it was a bit of an adjustment. But I realized that's where the money is. It will take many years to get the economy back to where it was for us to have a luxurious schedule in the U.S. There's money in Asia and a lot of interest in golf. I was OK with it then. But learning more from being on the (LPGA) board, having Asian events helps the health of our tour.''

Cristie Kerr put it more bluntly, as she always does.

''We were definitely ahead of the curve,'' Kerr said. ''Without that, our tour might have gone away. We have a lot to be thankful for of the Asian countries.''

The LPGA's worldwide schedule used to be seen as a stigma. Now it is a way of life for the players.

And it's getting that way for others.

The European Tour had no choice but to follow the money when economies faltered. Just look at the last 10 years. About 65 percent of its tournaments in 2002 were played in Europe, including seven in England. This year, only 47 percent of the tournaments were held in Europe.

There were as many tournaments in China as there were in Scotland this year. There were as many tournaments in Dubai as there were in England. And the country that held the most official events on the European Tour? That would be the U.S. (with three majors and three ''World'' Golf Championships).

''It was clearly a stigma,'' LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said. ''But I said this to our players and our staff, 'Gang, I promise you the rest of our sport is going to follow.' Unfortunately, we're going to be the model. We're going to make all the silly mistakes. But you can't go back.''

By mistakes, he was alluding to former commissioner Carolyn Bivens' short-lived attempt to penalize players who didn't learn to speak English. Four years later, Kerr is starting to learn Korean, in part because one of her sponsors is the Korean Exchange Bank.

''Every business where I've worked went global,'' Whan said, mentioning Proctor & Gamble, TaylorMade and the hockey industry. ''And the end result is pretty cool. Your buffet is so much fuller. We believe we're the future of sport. That sounds pretty bold. But how much money has the NBA spent a year to power into an international program? Or the NFL or Major League Baseball? For us, we're there.''

Is it ideal? Maybe not.

''We have the best players from around the world. They move here, and they want to play here,'' Whan said. ''I've had more than our share of players ... you would think, 'Oh, they love your Korea event.' No. They want another Atlanta event.''

The PGA Tour is the strongest in the world. Thanks in large part to Tom Wade, the top executive in charge of marketing, the Tour has been able to renew sponsorships or find replacements for nearly every tournament domestically. Then again, that didn't keep the Tour from following the money. When it goes to a fall start for its 2013-14 season, two of the events will be in Asia. The Tour might have looked for other opportunities if it had not been a little late to the table.

The LPGA started going international even in healthier times. It was during the recession that domestic events started to go away – 24 domestic events at the start of 2008 compared with 13 last year – and international events slightly increased.

Whan is optimistic that the LPGA will add another event next year outside Beijing, and the ideal schedule would include four or five more American events, with about 60 percent of the tournaments at home. There is work left to get that done.

Players, meanwhile, found cause to embrace trips overseas. They get a business-class plane ticket and stay in five-star hotels in Singapore and Malaysia and just about everywhere else they go. There is no cut, so everyone makes money. They are treated like rock stars, compared with getting ignored at times in America.

''In Malaysia, our players stayed in a five-star hotel connected to a mall,'' Whan said. ''I'm sure we raised the gross national product that week.''

He said the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore had the atmosphere of the U.S. Women's Open, and its South Korean event attracted more coverage and bigger crowds than the K.J Choi Invitational held the same week.

The LPGA is off for nearly three months. Its new season will start an ocean or two away from home, which no longer seems all that far away.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.