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Solutions to LPGA Problems

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2006 ADT ChampionshipWEST PALM BEACH, Fla. ' Tough season-ending week for the LPGA. Some of the problems were of its own making. Others were outside the control of an organization that is, at best, star-crossed right now and, at worst, in deep trouble if the world economy doesnt rebound by 2010.
 
For starters, the shadow of ADTs departure as an LPGA title sponsor for its championship, cast a pall over the entire event.
 
Then there was the failure of the LPGAs two marquee players ' Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa ' to advance to the weekend.
 
There was nothing embattled commissioner Carolyn Bivens could do about that. But there were plenty of people who thought Bivens could, and should, have stepped in to prevent Sorenstam from undergoing the ignominy of drug-testing after her final round Friday.
 
Saturdays story revolved around the gritty struggles of rising star Paula Creamer. Creamer fought a stomach ailment throughout the third round and toughed her way into Sundays final eight. Then it was revealed that she had to spend the night in a nearby hospital.
 
She made it back Sunday. But Ji-Yai Shin won the golf tournament. And if you are of the myopic persuasion that golf is relevant only when it piques the interest of ESPNs SportsCenter, you werent impressed.
 
In the face of all of this, there actually are at least a couple of reasons for the LPGA to feel better about itself right now.
 
For starters, there was the report late last week in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that Donald Trump has begun talking again with ADT officials in an attempt to restore the popular ADT Championship, and its compelling format, to Trump International as early as 2010.
 
The LPGA, which is suffering across the board from decreased leverage at bargaining tables, should do its best to baby-sit any agreement reached by The Donald and ADT. The LPGAs harsh critics ' and they are legion ' will cynically regard this development by suggesting that the LPGA just stay out of the way: Allow Trump to do the deal and let him tell the LPGA if and when a renewal happens.
 
The other development that got lost in the shuffle of the controversy that surrounded Sorenstams drug test late Friday was the fierce integrity displayed by LPGA general counsel Jill Pilgrim in explaining the importance of maintaining her tours random drug-testing protocol.
 
Pilgrim was close to defiant when she met with reporters moments after Sorenstams test. Im busy, she said. The group of reporters, gathered to question her, fired right back, saying they, too, were busy.
 
But the more you listened to Pilgrim, the more you realized that the LPGA had little choice when Sorenstams name and number came up for drug-testing. The LPGAs legal liability, if it had caved to pressure to give Sorenstam a pass, would have been huge.
 
Any player who had previously tested positive ' only to later find out that another player had been let off the hook ' would have had a huge and potentially-crippling potential lawsuit against the LPGA.
 
Pilgrim, whose background includes drug testing administration in the high levels of track and field, was acutely aware of the potential for trouble here. And to hers, and the LPGAs credit, she wasnt about to breach the protocol even at the expense of angering Sorenstam, the justifiably miffed icon, playing in her last event before stepping away.
 
Sorenstam was upset and puzzled because she had been tested just last month. The results were negative; she was clean. Pilgrim, meanwhile, confirmed there had been players whose name and number for testing had come up two days in a row on more than one occasion in this, the first year of drug testing on the LPGA.
 
Australian Katherine Hull, who played in the final group Saturday, was detained for drug-testing Friday and didnt leave the grounds until 7:30 p.m. She was not able to hit practice balls after her Friday round. Given those circumstances, few were surprised when she bogeyed four of her first six holes Saturday and failed to advance to Sundays final round.
 
Clearly, something needs to be done about repeat testing. The concept of random-testing is sound. But there should be a provision exempting a player who has recently passed from being randomly selected again for a period of, say, four weeks.
 
Then theres the humiliating process of the testing itself. It was described, in detail, by a source who had spoken to one of the players. I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say, it is an extremely dehumanizing procedure.
 
Drug-testing should stay. The baby is OK. But the LPGA needs to throw out the bath water.
 
Finally, while were at the business of solving the LPGAs problems, especially as they relate to ADT, the million-dollar first prize, as official money, has got to go. The amount is fine. But the fact that all of it counts as official money skews the money list. Give the winner the million bucks but make half of it official money and the other half a bonus.
 
The FedEx Cup first-place money doesnt count as official money, nor will all the money earned by the winner of the first Race to Dubai. The LPGA needs to take a cue from the men, in the future, when large, season-ending sums are being doled out to its players.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
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