Did Asians save the LPGA?

By Randall MellMay 4, 2016, 7:55 pm

Asians aren’t killing the tour, as a prominent LPGA player once harshly suggested.

On the contrary, they might have saved it.

For the sixth time in the last seven tournaments, a domestic LPGA event is being title sponsored by an Asian company.

This week’s Yokohama Tire Classic is an example of how the women’s tour has turned what was once perceived as one of its biggest problems into one of its greatest assets.

OK, if Asian dominance didn’t actually save the tour, it certainly played a large role in helping rebuild it.

In 2011, the LPGA withered through the aftereffects of an American recession to a bare-bones schedule of 23 events. There were seven Asian companies sponsoring events that year. Today, there are 33 official events on the LPGA schedule with 14 sponsored by Asian companies or organizations. Notably, one third of the title sponsors of U.S. events this year are Asian (6/18).

Yokohama, a Japanese tire company, is in the third and final year of its contract as title sponsor of this week’s event on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Prattville, Ala. The LPGA is in talks to renew the deal.

“As healthy as the LPGA is now, one of the hidden factors in our health is how diversified we are in our support,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said. “We have gone through a lot of regional recessions [around the world] in our seven years but none of them has brought us to our knees, where back in 2008 a regional recession really did.”

The aftershocks of the U.S. recession in 2008 and some hardline business tactics by Whan’s predecessor helped lead to the loss of a large number of domestic title sponsors. The LPGA went from 24 cash-paying domestic events in 2008 to just 12 in 2011. The LPGA’s ability to capitalize on its popularity in Asia helped right the foundering ship that Whan inherited.

“We are tremendously more stable now,” said Jon Podany, the LPGA’s chief marketing officer. “Our revenues are up 60 percent or more over that time frame. I don't have the exact percentage of what portion comes from international investments with me right now, but it has to be over half.”

Whan was asked if he believes enough Americans understand the strength Asian players have given the tour’s financial foundation.

“From a business perspective, it’s 100 percent understood,” Whan said. “Back in 2009, even businesses were saying there was way too much Asian influence on tour. You would hear, `I don’t know anyone, and I don’t know how to pronounce their names.’ Even sponsors were saying that, but now sponsors are saying there’s a huge competitive advantage being so international. We’re not there yet from a fan base perspective. There is still that stereotype.”

But Whan says Asian players are changing that with the way they’re connecting with American pro-am partners, media and fans. The work Inbee Park, Ai Miyazato, So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, Yani Tseng and others have done mastering English is making a difference.

“The good news is that with super overachieving athletes, you don’t have to force them to do much,” Whan said. “They know it’s in the best interests of both their games and their business.”

While the domination of international players in the LPGA ranks is still deemed a drawback by some American fans, the tour’s bottom line tells a different story. Podany said South Korean television agreements are still the LPGA’s top revenue source.

Lotte, JTBC, Kia, All Nippon Airways, Swinging Skirts and Yokohama are all Asian-based companies, but they’re all sponsoring LPGA events played in the United States. Lotte is a multinational conglomerate with headquarters in South Korea and Japan, JTBC is a South Korean television network, Kia is a South Korean-based car manufacturer, ANA is a Japanese airline and Swinging Skirts is a Taiwanese golf foundation.

Whan said the LPGA’s variety of international business support is like having a diversified portfolio. It has helped the LPGA survive economic issues in the United States, Canada and even in Asia.

“Now if the U.S. hiccups, it doesn’t stymie the LPGA like it did back in 2008 and ’09,” Whan said.

Whan said Yokohama is an example of how the LPGA’s growing popularity internationally has helped domestic growth, too.

“In the past, the LPGA might have looked at Yokohama as a good company to sponsor a Japanese tournament,” Whan said. “And now we look at Yokohama as a worldwide tire company that has multiple headquarter locations. So, let’s talk to Yokohama about where things work for their business, not the other way around.

“We met with Lotte not looking for Hawaii. We met with Lotte looking for Lotte. Hawaii turned out to be a good place to create something pretty significant on the schedule. Also, a lot of our international events, we don’t want to have more than one event in certain countries [where other nations have their tours]. We don’t want to show up and play on somebody else’s home turf 12 times.”

Podany said the global nature of the LPGA’s membership and the tour’s international television reach has changed sponsorship possibilities. With intense interest in the LPGA in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries, and with LPGA events broadcast there, the tour has become a vehicle for Asian companies to reach audiences no matter where the event is actually played.

“In some cases, companies are trying to make stronger inroads in North America, and so they are using the LPGA as a vehicle to help build their businesses here,” Podany said. “In other cases, they may not have had a big presence here before, and they are doing it because of how big the LPGA has become in Asia, because of how TV is distributed around the world and because we have such a strong digital following in Japan, Korea and other Asian countries.”

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.