The State of Womens Golf - Part 1
As the 2001 season draws to a close, the question of where womens golf is today and where it is going must once again be addressed.
Great strides were made in the 1990s under the watchful eyes of former LPGA Tour Commissioners Charlie Mechem (1990-96) and Jim Ritts (1996-1998). It was during this time that the LPGA enjoyed unprecedented growth, record purses and growing media exposure.
Today, under the guidance of Commissioner Ty Votaw, the LPGA faces a new era in which there will be fewer events and jittery sponsors. These are powerful facts when arguing that the LPGA may be in trouble, yet they are undoubtedly symptoms of a weakening economy more than barometers of the LPGA Tours health.
In 2002, even though there could be as many as 10 fewer events on the schedule, the players will still be competing for the same amount of prize money as they did this season. Things are no different than they were when I was at the LPGA, former commissioner Mechem commented. The Tour is strong, growing and inevitably has its ups and downs.'
The LPGA Tour is unlike other sports organizations. It cannot be compared with its male counterpart ' the PGA Tour ' nor can it be compared with the WNBA, yet their success is constantly measured by making comparisons between the LPGA and these other sports organizations. When people would say to me how do you view the state of womens golf and then compare it with the PGA Tour, I would say thats not a fair comparison, Mechem said.
A great example of this came on April 26th of this year when USA Today had a feature article entitled Womens Soccer Roars Past LPGA. Its author, Christine Brennan, implied that a budding soccer league, still in its infancy, had in effect surpassed the LPGA Tour in popularity and recognition. Her remarks incited Tour players, but as the year wraps up, the same statements the articles author wrote are undeniably still true. In some cases, excluding avid followers, LGPA players are virtually unknown.
Marketing and image issues have always been Achilles heals for the LPGA, which now grapples with a precarious situation. Not since Nancy Lopez has an LPGA player captured the attention of the general public the way Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam did when they stormed the Tour in the mid-'90s. The LPGA had in its hands the answer to their marketing dreams.
Or so they thought.
Unlike Lopez, with her enigmatic smile that charmed virtually everyone, Annika and Karrie were reserved and thus far have failed to capture the hearts of the public leaving the LPGA with the equivalent of a marketing flat tire.
While the LPGA banks on the playing ability of its members, all the while keeping their fingers crossed for ever-elusive charismatic personalities to arise, the Ladies European Tour (LET) has taken a different tack.
The LET is buying into the idea of marketing their young, attractive and charismatic players as sexy.
There are some that do not see this as a positive trend for the LPGA to follow. My attitude is as follows, Mechem said in a recent interview. I do not believe that selling sex is a wise move in term of the long term growth and marketability of the tour. I do believe that selling the physical attractiveness is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. I always stressed that players should walk up to the first tee looking as attractive as they can.
33-year-old Swedish beauty Catrin Nilsmark competed in the WPGA Championship of Europe at Royal Portcawl this year - in hot pants in a move that even she considers daring in the stuffy environs of American golf.
I know that at the country clubs in Florida where I play, I couldn't get away with them, Nilsmark remarked. But it's all right on the (Euopean) Tour. I like them, other people seem to like them, they are a good cut and I can fit into them. Honestly, there's even enough room for a spare ball and my score card in the back pocket.
We need to be fun to look at ' whether its shorts, bandanas or jewelry or even just a positive attitude.
Spanish player Paula Marti has also used her good looks to promote the European circuit. Marti has done several photo shoots throughout the season and sees nothing wrong with promulgating her talent as well as her beauty.
As a fellow woman golfer, Martis view of exposing her talent and beauty is both very appealing and empowering.
The LPGA Tour has been reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. Still fresh in their minds are the repercussions of Jan Stephenson laying in a vat of golf balls in a photo shoot in the 1970s, and they continue to grapple with an image problem.
Never the less, the image of ladies golf, worldwide, is changing. Recent events make this an undeniable fact. And as much as the staid veterans refuse to accept this as fact, the arrival of a younger, hipper and certainly a more daring class of lady golfers are setting new boundaries in womens golf. And this progressive attitude is breathing new life into a tour (LET) that has notoriously lost its top players to the lucrative purses on the LPGA Tour.
The time has come for the LPGA Tour to put on a show ... on all levels.
Editor's Note: In part two this Friday we will take a look at the state of womens golf from the perspective of current LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw.
The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros
Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.
Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.
I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.
One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.
So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?
You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?
Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?
I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.
This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.
Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:
Once we give 'em a lesson, we are faced with:— Trackman Maestro (@TrackmanMaestro) January 16, 2018
A. Will they do what we asked them to do
B. Can they do what we asked them to do
C. Will they put in the practice time
D. The fact that golf is a hard game
We face multiple barriers as golf instructors.
On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.
The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:
“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”
Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.
Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.
Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.
Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field
Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.
Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.
Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.
After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth.
Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.
Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.
“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”
After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).
Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129.
The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.
Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder
LA QUINTA, Calif. –
Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.
Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.
''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''
Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.
''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''
Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.
Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.
''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''
Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.
''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''
The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.
''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''
Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.
''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.
The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.
''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.
He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.
Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.
''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''
Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.
''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''
Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.