The changing state of the LPGA

By Randall MellDecember 14, 2010, 2:11 am

LPGA Tour _newAree Song, Jessica Kordaand Shasta Averyhardt were among the big winners emerging from LPGAQ-School’s finish Sunday in Daytona Beach.

Song, the former teen phenom who has struggled with injuries and burnout, will chase her dream anew.

Korda, the daughter of former Australian Opentennis champ Petr Korda, made it through as a 17-year-old amateur and immediately turned pro.

Averyhardt became just the fourth African-American to earn LPGA membership, the first since LaRee Sugg in 2001.

So what exactly did they win with tour membership? What opportunities await in 2011 for LPGA Q-School graduates?

The tour could feature more tournaments next year than it did in 2010, but there’s the possibility that even with more events there will be fewer opportunities for Q-School grads and rank-and-file members. That’s because while there will be more foreign and limited-field events next year, there’s likely to be fewer American and full-field events.

The tour’s new growth plate is in foreign limited-field events.

While there may be some surprises when the 2011 LPGA schedule is released, here’s what we know:

• In 2008, there were 34 official money events, 24 of those in the United States.

• In 2010, there were 24 official money events, 14 in the United States.

• In 2011, there are 24 events we can pencil in on the schedule, only 12 of those in the United States. Again, there could be some surprise additions.

• In ’08 there were 25 full-field events (100 or more players), just 17 this year. There could be as few as 15 next year.

Next season, the LPGA is losing the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge and the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic is taking a one-year hiatus. So that’s two less American events in ‘11. But, there are two new events being added in China and Taiwan.

“I think it’s the age we’re in,” two-time LPGA winner Christina Kim said of shrinking full-field events. “We have to cater to the top players. I’m not saying that is something we should or shouldn’t do. It just seems to be the way we’re going with sponsors wanting small-field events. Right now, we just have to follow the money.”

While you hear Americans lobbying for more U.S. events, Kim put her finger on the issue that crosses borders.

“It doesn’t matter what language it’s being spoken in, what you hear is that players want more opportunities,” Kim said.

Kim believes more American opportunities will come, but it makes sense to build where you can now.

“The money’s in Asia now,” says four-time LPGA winner Candie Kung.

American Cristie Kerr, a two-time major champion, wants a larger American schedule with more full-field events, but she understands the supply-and-demand equation.

“The top players, we make an amazing living, and the players that squeak by, it's hard,” Kerr said. “It's a hard economic background, because the companies that do want to invest right now, they want limited-field events. They want the top 50. It’s hard because the top-50 to -70 players on our tour sell the sponsorships. Those are the players fans want to come out and see. But at the same time, our tour was founded on principles of 120 to 140 players every week.”

Moira Dunn finished 81st on the LPGA money list this season, just outside the top 80, the LPGA’s equivalent of fully-exempt status. She made $80,449 in 14 starts. In ’08, Gloria Park finished 81st on the money list. She made $132,336 in 24 starts.

“The top players sell the sponsorships, but we still need to have 15 to 16 full-field events, or maybe even more, because those players can't make a living,” Kerr said.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan has been selling his tour’s global growth as a positive since he stepped into his office this year. While he says it’s important to have a good American foundation, he believes the tour’s international nature should be applauded.

“The difference between playing in Franceand New Jersey was significant 30 years ago,” Whan said earlier this year. “It's not today.”

That’s something that’s debated, even within the tour’s player ranks, who want the most exposure they can get. Whan says his ultimate goal is to rebuild a schedule of 30 or so events. He wants to fashion a schedule where American players who want to build a schedule at home have enough events to do that, and where international players who want to focus more overseas can build the brunt of their schedule there.

Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam met with Whan and the commissioner’s advisory council at the LPGA Tour Championship nearly two weeks ago. The American vs. international issues confronting the tour was a topic.

“The Tour has changed,” Sorenstam said. “Ten years ago, a lot of companies were 75 percent domestic, 25 percent international. Here we are, 10 years later, and companies are the opposite. They are 75 percent international, 25 percent domestic. The LPGA is not any different, as we all know.

It's becoming a global tour.

“So how do we adapt to that? How do we embrace that? How do we make the most out of that? I don't really think anybody has the answer. But Mike is working very hard to obviously create opportunities for the professionals. That's going to include all of these international tournaments.”

Ideally, players would like Whan to take advantage of the opportunities that are overseas today and then rebuild the American schedule when more robust economic times return. Still, there’s pressure. The LPGA Tour Championship still needs a title sponsor. The tour isn't on live TV as much as players would like. Young Q-School grads are limited in starts and money they need to make a living.

Whan understands, but he says he’s seeking to rebuild something with strong legs, and that takes time. He took over a tour hit hard by the economy and title sponsor backlash from his predecessor’s hard-line tactics.

“I get to nourish this thing four, five, six years,” Whan said. “My job is not to have a great couple of years. My job is to build this thing so it gets stronger and stronger.

“I’ve said to my staff, don’t rush events. Let’s bring in events that are thought out, so we can be in business with [title sponsors] as long as we’ve been in business with State Farm, Wegmans and Nabisco, because that’s what the LPGA deserves, that’s the legacy we need to leave.”

When it comes down to it, players want opportunities to play and make money. It’s any commissioner’s bottom line. It’s what Sunday’s Q-School grads need to survive.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.