LPGA's Olympic-style event could strike gold
If this works, and bless Patty Berg's skirt tails it just might, the LPGA will get what this risk deserves: admiration, interest, respect. All of the things women's golf recently has struggled to retain as it longs for past glory years.
According to a report by Golf Channel, the LPGA tentatively has scheduled an Olympic-style competition for next summer, seeking to capitalize on the tour's Far East muscle and interest level.
The Solheim Cup, the biennial meeting between the United States and Europe, was held in September at Ireland's Killeen Castle, and despite a heated and entertaining battle won by the Euros, the week's hottest topic centered around the golfers who were not playing. In a format that excludes Asian players, 19 of the top 30 women in the world rankings were left home, including top-ranked Yani Tseng of Taiwan.
LPGA commissioner Michael Whan hinted then that something was in the works.
"Regarding an event or format that can/will showcase our incredible international LPGA superstars, I would tell you to 'stay tuned,'" Whan said. "We agree that the time is right to create something that puts Golf's Global Tour in head-to-head competition."
This could be the result: USA vs. South Korea. Japan vs. Norway. Australia vs. Spain.
When in doubt, always bet on patriotism and national pride.
According to the report, plans call for at least eight nations competing with four-women teams in an undetermined match-play type of format. Most likely, the Rolex World rankings at the end of 2011 will be used to determine which countries qualify. Once the teams are determined, respective players would earn their way on either through the rankings or the LPGA money list.
Rich Harvest Farms in suburban Chicago is said to be the likely site for the July competition, with current tour-event sponsor Navistar a potential backer.
Golf Channel's report said the International and the Continental Cup are potential titles for the biennial competition, which would be played in non-Solheim Cup years.
By any name, the idea is an indication that Whan, in his second season as commissioner, and the LPGA are not sitting around waiting for an Occupy Golf movement to demand equal opportunity. They're trying to do something.
Women's golf has been in a slump, battling an indifferent fan base, and there's been little indication that a new spark would appear. The only alternative was to start banging rocks together.
Naturally, there are potential pitfalls. The LPGA finds itself in a malaise partly because there is no captivating American star. What if a world competition only underscores the USA's inferiority in the game?
That's not likely. Teen dream Lexi Thompson will be generating tons of interest next year when she plays on the tour full time, and four of five Americans in the world top 15 are in their mid-20s.
Paula Creamer (25), Stacy Lewis (26), Brittany Lincicome (26) and Morgan Pressel (23) all have won majors. They are the current bedrock of women's golf in the United States and will be for years to come. American women's golf may not be at its all-time peak, but perhaps a stage with the world paying attention will be just the elixir it needs to jolt into gear. >
Another potential problem for any new specialty event is it could be viewed as a lame sequel. The PGA Tour's Presidents Cup is forever going to pale when compared with the Ryder Cup because it lacks about 100 years of history and because of the unmistakable feeling that it was manufactured to fill in between Ryder Cup years.
The LPGA's We Are the World, however, can be bigger and better than the Solheim Cup. The best players make for the best competitions.
Imagine feisty American Cristie Kerr taking on Tseng with personal and national pride on the line. Australian Hall of Famer Karrie Webb will finally get to test her skills at golf as a team game. Japan's Ai Miyazato will be carrying a country on her shoulders. South Korea's self-proclaimed "Seoul Sisters" will play like Sister Sledge.
If the Olympics can make the world stop to root with national passion for synchronized swimming every four years, then surely that same passion will transfer to a golf course.
Maybe it will even save a professional tour.
For one week, the LPGA can own the world. Imagine the reaction in Japan, South Korea or even Australia as their countrywomen knock out favored opponents on the way to a surprise title. Think March Madness, only in 16 dialects.
What's not to like?