LPGA Strengths and Weaknesses

By Tom AbbottOctober 13, 2010, 9:56 pm
LPGA Tour _newCristie Kerr no doubt cracked open a bottle of her own Curvature wine on Sunday evening and sat sipping with husband, Erik Stevens, thinking about what might have been. Kerr was five shots ahead on the back nine of Saturday’s third round at the Navistar LPGA Classic, but a wayward drive at the 15th hole was the beginning of her unraveling and led to high drama for the closing 18.

Kerr needed to tie for second or better to move back to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but instead of chipping in to force a playoff with eventual winner Katherine Hull on 18, Kerr bogeyed, fell to third in the tournament and only moved from third to second in the rankings.

The battle for the top spot in the world rankings has been an on-going theme since Lorena Ochoa stepped away in April. A big five of Jiyai Shin, Ai Miyazato, Yani Tseng, Suzann Pettersen and Kerr have emerged: five players, five countries and bucket loads of talent. By the end of this season, the five may have swelled to seven or eight, with Na Yeon Choi, Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer all within reach and showing signs of being ready to enter the race.

For someone new to the golf spectrum, this would seem like a sponsor and media dream. So why the lack of tournaments and why the lack of coverage in the mainstream golf media?

The stop-start schedule plays a big-role. This season, the tour began in the Far East, then halted for a few weeks before re-starting in March with a couple of great tournaments in California. The tour disappeared in April, stopping briefly for an event in Jamaica buried on CBS and Lorena’s swansong in Mexico, which wasn’t even televised in the U.S., before reappearing for two events in May, one in Mobile, Ala., the other in New Jersey.

This has been the trend all year:  good events, take a break, return with a couple of good events and so on. It's frustrating for all involved, especially the fans, who have had no-way of following story lines because as soon as they realized what was going on, the tour abruptly halted. This isn’t news to LPGA headquarters. Commissioner Mike Whan and his team are working around the clock to try and secure a better schedule, but bottom line, the tour must play when and where sponsors want them to and sometimes that simply doesn’t fit into making the tour flow. This doesn’t look likely to change next season.

A second factor surely has to do with Tiger Woods. For most of 2010, the golf media was all Tiger all the time and other stories simply got forgotten. At the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the season, a large number of golf writers departed on the eve of the final round; they had to be at Augusta National Golf Club in time for Tiger’s big comeback press conference. After a really close finish, where Pettersen barely missed a chip-in for a playoff with Tseng, an earthquake ensued, literally, during the champion’s press conference, but it barely registered on the media Richter scale.

Even the LPGA Tour Championship, one of two flagship events (the other being the LPGA Championship) owned and operated by the tour, is going up against Tiger’s event in California. Guess where all the media attention will be going. Thankfully for the tour, the event is in Orlando, a home-game for Golf Channel and some other publications, forcing the hand for news coverage. Thirdly, the tour has an abundance of foreign players, leaving many U.S. fans struggling to identify with the majority of leading players. This should not be an issue, and I hope it begins to dwindle in the future. Foreign players are not going anywhere. There are still great American players, three of which – Kerr, Creamer and Wie – could well be vying for No. 1 bragging rights for the foreseeable future.

Instead of worrying about the lack of Americans, the focus should be on the eight best players, almost half of which are American and the others, save one of maybe two, speak pretty good English. Other sports organizations have no shame in promoting just their top players. The burden rests partly on the shoulders of the LPGA but mostly on the player’s shoulders. Just get out there and be noticed.

Finally, television rights play a big role. I’m obviously a little biased in this view, but Golf Channel is a good partner for the tour. It’s a permanent home for the broadcasts with resources worldwide and a team of people who really enjoy the tour and care for the product. The problem is, not all the events are branded by Golf Channel. When the tour goes to Asia, Golf Channel simply airs a world feed without familiar commentators or the look of what you might expect from one of our broadcasts. With the Asian market bursting at the seams for LPGA events, the addition of tournaments in the Far East is a foregone conclusion for the next few seasons. A consistent look throughout the season breeds familiarity with the viewers. Sponsors are sometimes more concerned by hospitality rather than visibility. That’s great, but not for the long-term health of the overall product and certainly not for people like you and me who enjoy watching quality golf broadcasts on television.  

This week is the penultimate LPGA event of 2010 on U.S. soil, the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge, in Danville, Calif. It has already been announced that this particular sponsor is going to take their marketing dollars elsewhere next year. Tournament organizers will be looking for a new benefactor and I hope they find a good steady partner, but right now it would seem the odds are stacked against them. The overall product is strong. This is an unprecedented time for the tour; Judy Rankin and Beth Daniel, my colleagues in the both this season, say they cannot remember a time where this many players were vying to be the best on tour. The future is bright, but in order to reach those better times, much like the perfect golf shot, execution and a little luck is everything.
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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.