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Whan defends fifth major 'risk,' new Slam definition

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LPGA commissioner Mike Whan says his designation that the Evian Championship would become the fifth major in women’s golf was good for the sport, and that there was a noble risk in making it a major, a risk that necessarily required that his tour create definitions for a Grand Slam and a Super Grand Slam.

Whan made an appearance on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive on Tuesday to defend the tour’s declaration that Inbee Park won the career Grand Slam by claiming the Ricoh Women’s British Open title on Sunday, giving her four of the five existing major titles in women’s golf. Golf Channel and the Associated Press recognizes a Grand Slam as a “sweep” of existing majors. Park has yet to win the Evian Championship as a major.

Whan says the LPGA recognizes winning four of five majors as a Grand Slam and will recognize winning all five as a Super Grand Slam. He defended the new designation saying all major sports make controversial changes that may meet initial resistance but make games better, like the designated hitter in baseball, the 3-point line and shot clock in basketball and moving the goalposts back in football.

“Sports can be paralyzed by the fear of change, because a lot of sports don’t change because, A –The backlash they’ll get in being able to make historical comparisons; And B – How will we be able to compare Babe Ruth to a player of today?” Whan said. “The reality of today is if you get paralyzed by that [fear] and don’t change, shame on you, because sports that get better are willing to take risks.”

Whan says breaking the tradition of four majors and declaring Evian a fifth major was designed to give women another big stage.

“At the end of the day, I don’t love the fact that the LPGA only gets all your attention a few big weeks a year,” Whan said. “I wish that wasn’t the case. I’m not crying foul. I get it. I understand viewership . . . We added a fifth major to make sure the 150 best female golfers on the planet got that kind of exposure. Was it going to make comparisons a little messier? Of course it was. Do other sports do that? Of course they do. We needed to make sure the world continued to watch.”

Whan said only winners of Evian after it was designated a major in 2013 will be recognized as having won it as a major. Park won it in 2012.

Whan said this new five-major dynamic requires changing historical context.

“We at the LPGA needed to create some definitions for achievement where we could make comparisons, historically, over the course of a career,” Whan said. “We realize it got weirder with five, and I realize a lot of fans have a different debate about five or not. When I was a fan before I was a commissioner, I would have said stay with four. I get it. It’s understandable. When you become a commissioner, your responsibility changes. My responsibility is to give these women the greatest possible stages I can.

“What happens with a fifth major? One more time a week, the entire world pays attention to women’s golf. It’s true, and as a result we have created this four versus five, but I think it’s a pretty simple answer.”

The simple answer, he said, is the LPGA will consider winning four majors still to be a Grand Slam and five to be a Super Grand Slam.

The LPGA’s definition of Grand Slam means a player could win the Grand Slam without winning the oldest and most prestigious championship in women’s golf, the U.S. Women’s Open. What does Whan think of that?

“I respect how people feel about the U.S. Women’s Open,” Whan said. “I share that feeling. It is an unbelievable event.

“I can’t believe other people believe that raising that trophy at Turnberry was somehow easier than raising the trophy at [Sebonack] when Inbee Park won the U.S. Women’s Open there? For me to say somebody wins four majors but she doesn’t win the U.S. Women’s Open, that she somehow has an asterisk on her major career? I find that, offensive is the wrong word, but I find that unfair.”