The State of Womens Golf - Part 1
As the 2001 season draws to a close, the question of where womens golf is today and where it is going must once again be addressed.
Great strides were made in the 1990s under the watchful eyes of former LPGA Tour Commissioners Charlie Mechem (1990-96) and Jim Ritts (1996-1998). It was during this time that the LPGA enjoyed unprecedented growth, record purses and growing media exposure.
Today, under the guidance of Commissioner Ty Votaw, the LPGA faces a new era in which there will be fewer events and jittery sponsors. These are powerful facts when arguing that the LPGA may be in trouble, yet they are undoubtedly symptoms of a weakening economy more than barometers of the LPGA Tours health.
In 2002, even though there could be as many as 10 fewer events on the schedule, the players will still be competing for the same amount of prize money as they did this season. Things are no different than they were when I was at the LPGA, former commissioner Mechem commented. The Tour is strong, growing and inevitably has its ups and downs.'
The LPGA Tour is unlike other sports organizations. It cannot be compared with its male counterpart ' the PGA Tour ' nor can it be compared with the WNBA, yet their success is constantly measured by making comparisons between the LPGA and these other sports organizations. When people would say to me how do you view the state of womens golf and then compare it with the PGA Tour, I would say thats not a fair comparison, Mechem said.
A great example of this came on April 26th of this year when USA Today had a feature article entitled Womens Soccer Roars Past LPGA. Its author, Christine Brennan, implied that a budding soccer league, still in its infancy, had in effect surpassed the LPGA Tour in popularity and recognition. Her remarks incited Tour players, but as the year wraps up, the same statements the articles author wrote are undeniably still true. In some cases, excluding avid followers, LGPA players are virtually unknown.
Marketing and image issues have always been Achilles heals for the LPGA, which now grapples with a precarious situation. Not since Nancy Lopez has an LPGA player captured the attention of the general public the way Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam did when they stormed the Tour in the mid-'90s. The LPGA had in its hands the answer to their marketing dreams.
Or so they thought.
Unlike Lopez, with her enigmatic smile that charmed virtually everyone, Annika and Karrie were reserved and thus far have failed to capture the hearts of the public leaving the LPGA with the equivalent of a marketing flat tire.
While the LPGA banks on the playing ability of its members, all the while keeping their fingers crossed for ever-elusive charismatic personalities to arise, the Ladies European Tour (LET) has taken a different tack.
The LET is buying into the idea of marketing their young, attractive and charismatic players as sexy.
There are some that do not see this as a positive trend for the LPGA to follow. My attitude is as follows, Mechem said in a recent interview. I do not believe that selling sex is a wise move in term of the long term growth and marketability of the tour. I do believe that selling the physical attractiveness is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. I always stressed that players should walk up to the first tee looking as attractive as they can.
33-year-old Swedish beauty Catrin Nilsmark competed in the WPGA Championship of Europe at Royal Portcawl this year - in hot pants in a move that even she considers daring in the stuffy environs of American golf.
I know that at the country clubs in Florida where I play, I couldn't get away with them, Nilsmark remarked. But it's all right on the (Euopean) Tour. I like them, other people seem to like them, they are a good cut and I can fit into them. Honestly, there's even enough room for a spare ball and my score card in the back pocket.
We need to be fun to look at ' whether its shorts, bandanas or jewelry or even just a positive attitude.
Spanish player Paula Marti has also used her good looks to promote the European circuit. Marti has done several photo shoots throughout the season and sees nothing wrong with promulgating her talent as well as her beauty.
As a fellow woman golfer, Martis view of exposing her talent and beauty is both very appealing and empowering.
The LPGA Tour has been reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. Still fresh in their minds are the repercussions of Jan Stephenson laying in a vat of golf balls in a photo shoot in the 1970s, and they continue to grapple with an image problem.
Never the less, the image of ladies golf, worldwide, is changing. Recent events make this an undeniable fact. And as much as the staid veterans refuse to accept this as fact, the arrival of a younger, hipper and certainly a more daring class of lady golfers are setting new boundaries in womens golf. And this progressive attitude is breathing new life into a tour (LET) that has notoriously lost its top players to the lucrative purses on the LPGA Tour.
The time has come for the LPGA Tour to put on a show ... on all levels.
Editor's Note: In part two this Friday we will take a look at the state of womens golf from the perspective of current LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw.
Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol
Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.
Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET
Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.
“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.
Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros
Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.
She wondered if there would be resentment.
She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.
“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”
PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.
Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.
She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.
Fans have been stopping her for autographs.
“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”
Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.
He waved Lincicome over.
“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”
Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.
“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.
Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.
Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.
“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.
Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.
Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.
Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.
What are Lincicome’s expectations?
She would love to make the cut, but . . .
“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.
“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”
Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.
Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.
As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.
“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”
Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.
The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.
“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”
Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown
There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.
Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.
She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.
It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.
Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.
"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”
Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.
Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.
Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.
“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”
Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.
“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”
The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.
“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”