Do-or-Die Week for LPGA

By Mercer BaggsNovember 12, 2006, 5:00 pm
2005 ADT ChampionshipThe LPGA Tour caps its season this week with the ADT Championship ' otherwise known as the LPGA Playoffs.
 
The ladies beat the men to the punch in installing a playoff system a year in advance; and unlike the FedEx Cup on the PGA TOUR, this actually is a REAL playoff.
 
Only 32 players ' including two wildcards via the money list ' are in the field. The first half of the field was finalized in mid-July. Points, which were based on top-20 finishes, were then erased and players who hadnt already qualified started anew in trying to earn a chance at the $1 million first-place prize.
 
Paula Creamer
Paula Creamer hasn't won this year, but her presence in Sunday's final would draw fans.
One-million dollars doesnt raise a Paula Creamer eyebrow on the PGA TOUR, but it will be nearly double the largest individual payout ($560,000 to Annika Sorenstam at the U.S. Womens Open) this year for the ladies ' in LPGA history, for that matter.
 
The ADT, which has an overall purse of $1.55 million, will play out like this: the field will be cut in half after the second round and once again after round 3, with all scores cumulative (any ties will be settled by sudden death at the conclusion of each round). Scores will then be wiped clean and the final eight players will slug it out over 18 holes like 35-year-old single women over a brides bouquet.
 
When LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens unveiled the plan during last years Tour Championship, reviews were mostly positive. The major concern was that someone could have one great week and claim the money title.
 
Sorenstam was one who had some reservations about the system. She noted at last years pre-tournament press conference that she had won nine times on the LPGA and, had the Playoffs been in affect in 05, still could have lost the money title.
 
Of course, Sorenstam went on to win the ADT for the second year in row, and the money title for the fifth straight time.
 
This year, the system can work to her advantage. She trails Lorena Ochoa by more than $400K. Only she, Webb and Cristie Kerr can overtake Ochoa.
 
Aside from some player criticisms ' Webb and Juli Inkster were other apprehensive notables ' the playoff concept garnered great public interest. Along with Sorenstams brilliance, global expansion, and a youth movement that featured both beauty and talent, the LPGA was poised to challenge the men on a weekly basis for public interest in 2006.
 
But entering the finale, it appears that the crescendo reached its climax somewhere in the middle months of the year.
 
Certainly, the LPGA has had its fair share of highs this year, most notably Webbs and Paks resurgence, and Ochoa's coming of age. But the season couldnt possibly have played out as well as Bivens would have hoped.
 
Sorenstam, the face of the LPGA, has won only three times. Thats a career season if your first name is Charlotta, but when its Annika, youre supposed to be more machine than mortal.
 
Those three wins are nearly one-third of her AVERAGE victory total over the last five years.
 
Not that anyone else on tour is feeling sorry for Annika. Especially not those who have yet to win even once this year.
 
Heralded youngsters Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Christina Kim, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lang and Ai Miyazato have combined to win one less event than 46-year-old Inkster.
 
Theyve won as much this year as has Michelle Wie. Wie came close in a few majors, but captured more headlines for her repeated failures in mens events than she did for her near-misses with the ladies.
 
Obviously, Bivens has no control over who wins and loses. But if the LPGA failed to capitalize on its early-season fervor, Mrs. Commish has mostly herself to blame:
 
  • Since she took office, seven high-ranking tour officials ' some of who she hired ' have left, including senior vice president of tournament operations Barb Trammell, the first to resign.
     
  • She got into a credential spat with the media over photo rights and article ownership, which resulted in some major outlets boycotting covering the tour.
     
  • She battled publicly with the Tournament Owners Association over sanctioning fees (she wanted to charge tournaments $100,000 for the privilege of holding an LPGA event).
     
  • And, she gave to Ginn Clubs and Resorts, a deep-pocketed newcomer in the sponsorship game, a coveted June date prior to next years McDonalds LPGA Championship. The date had been promised to Shoprite, according to company officials, leading to Shoprite ending its 21-year run with the tour.
     
    Year 1 has been a P.R. nightmare for Bivens. Even the inaugural Rolex Womens World Rankings fell under heavy criticism as Wie debuted at No. 3 despite having never won a tournament (the minimum number of tournaments to qualify for the rankings just happened to be the same number that Wie had played).
     
    And, as Golf Worlds Ron Sirak wrote in a June publication, in the most curious concern about the new commissioner, many players, caddies and media members feel the constant presence of her husband, retired auto executive Bill Bivens, is a form of intimidation and that he serves as the commissioner's eyes and ears to see who is talking to whom and about what.
     
    Her own players have even questioned her leadership. I am quite concerned about some of the decisions and changes I have seen lately. I just wonder where we are headed, Sorenstam told Golf World.
     
    Another curiosity is that the LPGA Playoffs havent registered a blip on the public radar screen. With all the talk of the PGA TOURs FedEx Cup next year, the current ladies system has gone pretty much unnoticed until this week.
     
    Little if any noise was made when the first half of the Playoffs came to a conclusion, and it wasnt as if you were just dying to see who rounded out the field after this past weeks final qualifying event.
     
    One year later and the LPGA seems to have lost all of the momentum that they were just starting to build up.
     
    The tour has a chance to help shift the tide this week if the Playoffs prove compelling. And thats a BIG if.
     
    This event is much like a match-play tournament, in that there is a good chance that some ' if not all ' of the more popular players will get knocked out before the final day.
     
    But, like how an average movie can leave an audience exiting with smiles on their collective faces if the ending is enjoyable, should Annika, Lorena, Karrie, Paula, etc., advance to the final 8, the finish might be the one thing fans most remember about the 2006 LPGA season.
     
    And that could carry over to 2007.
     
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