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Does Evian deserve major status?

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The Evian Championship wins just by being at the root of this uproar over what constitutes a Grand Slam in the women’s game. 

This debate over whether the Grand Slam should be defined by winning four major championships on the LPGA schedule or sweeping all five is brilliant misdirection.

The fact that we’re debating what is legitimately a Grand Slam is a massive triumph for LPGA commissioner Mike Whan. It means in our passionate lurch to debate we’ve acquiesced on a larger point. We’ve officially bestowed legitimacy to Evian as a fifth major.

David Copperfield would be proud.

Like a magician turning our attention to his alluring assistant – one provocatively named “Grand Slam" - Whan went on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" on Tuesday and pulled Evian out of his hat as a bona fide major championship.

While we are all in a huff over what constitutes a Grand Slam, we’re validating the Evian Championship as worthy of its elevated status.

But if we’re really intent on debating the sacrosanct principles of major championship golf, we probably ought to back up and take a harder look at Evian. That’s where this Grand Slam question should begin again.

Is winning Evian a measure of greatness worthy of keeping Inbee Park from being declared a Grand Slam champion?

OK, I was having some fun with the idea of Whan as a magician, because he didn’t impressively rebuild the LPGA by misdirecting people. He’s a true believer dedicated to a noble cause. He believes the women’s game deserves better, that the women deserve another large stage to display their gifts. That’s what he’s fighting for. It’s why he went all in when Evian started pushing to become a major.

No matter Whan’s motives, the Grand Slam debate serves to cloud a more important question about the LPGA’s major championship lineup.

Does Evian really deserve major championship status?

Whan took a calculated risk “declaring” it a major. His gamble comes with a price. Actually, it comes with a bill that will eventually come due. He asked us all, including his elite players, to believe Evian is a legitimate examination that rewards the greatness required to win a major. He owes it to all of us to deliver that examination.

Majors are way too important to the game’s greatest players and their legacies to diminish the meaning of winning one.

If Evian doesn’t measure up, it’s not fair to Annika Sorenstam, Inbee Park, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster, Lorena Ochoa, Yani Tseng, Laura Davies, Stacy Lewis and a host of other major championship winners in this era who poured their hearts and souls into winning them.

If Evian isn’t a legitimate major championship test, then equating the historic meaning of winning Evian to Park’s victory Sunday at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry isn’t fair to Park. It isn’t fair to Sorenstam, Webb, Inkster ... 

Whan defends Evian saying most of the LPGA’s majors got their starts as regular events. He cites the Colgate-Dinah Shore as an example of a regular tour event that dedicated itself to becoming a major and then became one. That’s not exactly how it happened. The Colgate-Dinah Shore became a great event first, and then its new title sponsor pushed for it to become a major. It was a regular LPGA event for 11 years before the tour granted Nabisco’s wish and adopted it as a major in 1983.

“We believed it was a major from about the second year,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “It put us on the map, from Dinah Shore’s involvement to the commercial success. It was an easy decision.”

Notably, the LPGA and its players had no problem granting Nabisco’s desire to be a major its second year of title sponsorship because the event felt like a major anyway.

Like Nabisco, Evian pushed the LPGA to elevate its status, too, but Evian didn’t feel like a major before it was officially designated one, even with its giant purses. It feels like Whan declared it a major with the intent of helping Evian’s Franck Riboud build it into a great event. The fact that Evian Resort Golf Club underwent an $8 million redesign the year leading into its debut as a major underscores that assessment.

Evian Resort Golf Club was definitely not a major championship test in 2013, that first year, even with the major redesign.

Evian’s debut as a major was just short of a disaster with the course pock-marked with bare patches of turf, and with giant portions of the course marked as ground under repair. Yes, a hard winter and a wet summer were factors on a course built on a mountainside, but it was a huge mistake to play it as a major the first year of a redesign. Rain caused the event to be shortened to 54 holes, another challenge to its credibility as a major. Played the month after the Women’s British Open was staged at St. Andrews, Evian’s fifth-major designation seemed to have riled the golf gods.

Evian Resort Golf Club looked a lot better last year, but Hyo Joo Kim made a statement torching it with a 61 in the first round, the lowest score ever shot in a men’s or women’s major. You don’t shoot 61s in majors. You especially don’t shoot them in the first round of the first major you’ve ever played, as Kim did. Somewhere, Johnny Miller must have been shaking his head. It was yet more evidence Evian hasn’t earned its elevated status.

Here’s the deal, though. Ultimately, it won’t matter how Evian was designated a major. What will matter is if Whan’s vision of young girls dreaming of “going to the mountain” to play a major rivals their dream to leap into Poppi’s Pond at Mission Hills. If that happens, the LPGA’s created something special.

In Evian’s Riboud, Whan hitched his hopes to a benefactor with an ambitious vision and indefatigable will. Riboud has the resources to make Evian feel like a major. It’s just that the cart seems to have gone before the horse in making Evian a Grand Slam event. Riboud and Whan are trying to build a great event after designating it a major.

If Evian evolves as a real major, then the Grand Slam debate will have real legs.