LPGA, European Tour joining forces to help LET

By Randall MellAugust 20, 2017, 12:02 am

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The news emerging from back rooms at this Solheim Cup is potentially doubly good for the struggling Ladies European Tour.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan told GolfChannel.com that he is seriously interested in “helping” the LET and has already initiated discussions, with the tours coming together formally for the first time at the Aberdeen Asset Scottish Ladies Open three weeks ago when Whan met with LET board members.

Whan and his staff agreed to formulate a plan to present to LET board members before the year’s end in what could potentially bring the LET under the LPGA’s umbrella, though Whan said no specific plan is being worked through yet and he’s open to creative options.

The news gets better because the LPGA isn’t alone in wanting to come to the LET’s aid.

Whan told GolfChannel.com that the men’s European Tour is also stepping forward to join in discussions.

What makes this doubly good news is not that the LPGA and European Tour will make competing presentations. It’s that Whan and European Tour CEO Keith Pelley are coming together to formulate a joint plan.

“I have talked to Keith, and we both agreed that a bunch of different versions of how we could help as second or third parties is not helpful to anybody,” Whan said. “So, we are working together, Keith and I, to provide a suggestion as to what we think we could do together. “We are trying to create one vision.”

The LET is enduring hard times, with some members fearing the tour’s collapse with seven events having been canceled this season. The LET’s schedule has been pared to just 15 events, down 11 events from six years ago. Though it’s almost September, the LET has staged just six events this year, beyond major championships.

At the Ricoh Women’s British Open two weeks ago, respected European veteran Catriona Matthew called for a change in LET leadership. A week later, LET CEO Ivan Khodabakhsh was ousted, with the LET’s board chairman, Mark Lichtenhein, taking over day-to-day duties.

Whan said the health of the LET is important to him beyond that tour’s joint ownership of the Solheim Cup, which is being played this week. Whan says the tour is important to the continuing growth of women’s golf.

“I would be lying if I said I was concerned about the Solheim Cup,” Whan said. “The Solheim Cup is going to be fine, but I do want to make sure my partner in the Solheim Cup is as healthy as they can be.”

Whan was encouraged by the LPGA’s first meeting with LET board members.

“I was enthusiastic about our first chat,” Whan said. “There was clearly an interest from them in wanting us to tell them more.

“I don’t really have a timeline for this. I do hope that before the end of the year we can sit down with them and say, `Here is the way we see it. Is this something you think we can do together?’”

The LPGA and LET have a partnership beyond the Solheim Cup. They also co-sanction the Ladies Scottish Open, the Ricoh Women’s British Open and the Evian Championship.

Whan wasn’t prepared to lay out specifics of what kind of plan may be presented to the LET.

“I’m typically a guy who will start an idea, and if I surround myself with the right people, they will make my idea better,” Whan said. “I definitely have some ideas, but I don’t know if they are right. I may end up with 10 ideas, maybe four are right, but somebody has to tell me which four.”

Whan did say he would not mind seeing an agreement create some sort of bridge for LET members wanting to play their way on to the LPGA, though he did not detail any desire to insist upon turning the LET into some kind of satellite tour.

“But I really do believe, if we are working together, it would make sense to me that players over the course of a season could qualify for the LPGA, but I’m not hung up on that,” he said.

Whan said he doesn’t see the LPGA as a “U.S. tour,” but as a global tour. He said any LET proposal he supports would have a common theme, and it relates to what he sees as his primary mission as LPGA commissioner.

“The real question ought to be, `How can we provide members of the Ladies European Tour the most playing opportunities, the most business opportunities, the most opportunities to be the best golfers in the world,’” Whan said. “When you start with that premise, decisions become a lot easier.”

Whan has proven himself capable in hard times. The LPGA was floundering in hard economic times when he took over in 2010, with the tour shrinking to just 23 events with $40 million in total prize money in 2011. Whan rebuilt the tour to where this year’s schedule features 34 events with more than $67 million in total prize money.

Whan is pleased the men’s European Tour wants to partner.

“I am excited to know Keith is willing to pull on the rope with us and with the LET to get to the same finish line,” Whan said.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.