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LPGA to Decrease Events in 2004

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Less is more on the LPGA Tour, which will take January off in 2004 and will stage four or five fewer events than it did at the start of the decade.
 
In his State of the Tour address Thursday, commissioner Ty Votaw described an LPGA Tour that gained fans and sponsors this year thanks largely to Annika Sorenstam's popularity. Votaw announced plans for the World Congress of Women's Golf next May, where more than a dozen associations will meet to discuss the sport's future.
 
That could include a worldwide ranking system, a tournament that would look like the Solheim Cup but would include non-Europeans, and an increased focus on cultural diversity.
 
What it won't include, however, is a significantly bigger calendar for the LPGA Tour, which pared a 38-tournament schedule to 32 the last two years. Votaw figures it makes little sense to compete against the NFL playoffs and other sports in January.
 
'I think every sport has an offseason, every sport has a regular season, every sport has a playoff,' Votaw said. 'I think our schedule is a very solid and good schedule.'
 
The tour drew an average of seven of the top 10 and 23 of the top 30 players to each event this year and fan attendance was up 8 percent. TV viewership is, at worst, holding steady, according to Votaw's numbers, and hits on the tour's Web site are up. The commissioner cited a study from Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal stating that the LPGA was the most sponsor-friendly sport
in the business.
 
'This is not how the media perceives us,' he said. 'This is not how we perceive ourselves. This is how our customers, the industry, is feeling about us.'
 
Sorenstam's appearance in the PGA Tour's Colonial was a landmark event. Se Ri Pak, Suzy Whaley, Laura Davies and Michelle Wie played in men's events this year, as well.
 
'It doesn't marginalize the LPGA,' he said. 'In fact, we're helping some other men's events with the star power of our players playing in those events. We're happy to help them.'
 
Among the most important topics at the Congress of Women's Golf will be cultural diversity -- more specifically, how to help Asian players assimilate more
easily.
 
Talk of overprotective parents who sometimes cheat to help their Asian daughters permeated the LPGA toward the end of this year. Jan Stephenson's assertion that Asians were 'killing our tour' because of their supposed unwillingness to speak English and their uninterested behavior in pro-ams added to the image problem.
 
Stephenson later apologized for those statements.
 
Votaw held a pair of meetings with the growing Asian contingent, led by Pak, to address some of these issues earlier this year. The discussions will continue at the Congress.
 
The LPGA also will add Grace Park, a native of Korea who has lived in America, to its board of directors as a nonvoting member.
 
The 33-tournament schedule, which could go to 34, includes 24 full-field events, one unofficial event and eight limited-field tournaments, like the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship that began Thursday.
 
One prickly issue brought about by the recent scaling back is how to handle the awarding of the Vare Trophy, which goes to the player with the lowest scoring average. With an average of 68.91, more than a stroke better than Pak, Sorenstam would likely win the trophy this year, but she's ineligible because she hasn't played the minimum 70 rounds.
 
While the schedule was reduced in 2002, the 70-round minimum wasn't -- and Sorenstam isn't happy.
 
'We'll look at it,' Votaw said. 'I'm not sure we'll look at it very long, but we'll look at it.'
 
Related Links:
  • Complete 2004 LPGA Tour Schedule