WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been an enormous year for the LPGA. Or so LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens would have the media believe as she rattled off what felt like one million reasons it’s been a “year of transformations and triumphs for the LPGA.”
Whether or not this was a knock-your-socks-off year is up for debate, but there’s no question it was a quieter sophomore campaign for Bivens. The Michelle Wie “88 Gate” debacle caused a bit of a stir along with the shortened event in Arkansas and Samsung’s last-minute criteria change. But the media didn’t boycott, tour officials stayed on the payroll and the LPGA proved it can survive life without Annika. Things are looking up.
A few observations from this year’s State of the Tour address and season-ending event, the all-or-nothing ADT Championship.
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You pick’ em: This live draw concept this week at the ADT isn’t a bad idea. It’s the LPGA’s idea of creating another “first” for the tour and hopefully some made-for-TV drama.
Three players and one caddie interviewed Tuesday didn’t have a clue about the new live draw format (seems they aren’t reading their locker room literature). All, however, seemed to think it was a good idea. Players will have the opportunity to pick their final-round tee time Saturday evening on the clubhouse patio. The selection order is based on third-round scores and players have the opportunity to swap spots with each other before the selection begins.
Karrie Webb said she didn’t want the pressure of being in the first or last group and would pick a middle pairing if given the chance.
It will be interesting to see if players base their strategies on a preferred time or a preferred playing partner. Not everyone in this field gets along famously.
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Challenging trip: Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis won the Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge Tuesday in Henderson, Nev., and were scheduled to fly on a private jet to West Palm Beach later that evening. Problems with the plane, however, prevented them from taking off until Wednesday, causing the trio to miss the entire pro-am and any practice rounds.
“Oh, it’s been a bit hectic,” said Pressel as she prepared to hit balls on the range before heading out to test the speed of the greens. “I don’t really know how it’s going to impact my week.”
And how about those pro-am participants who forked over $5,000 to schmooze with the best on tour and got nothing but a forecaddie? Tough break.
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Three strikes, you’re out: The LPGA released its drug testing protocol for the 2008 season. Overall the policies and procedures seem straightforward. The tour is keeping mum about how often it will test and who it will test, but the penalties are stiff. First offense, one year. Second, two years. Third, lifetime ban.
An area that stands out as particularly harsh involves seeking a medical waiver. Players are asked to submit their request 45 days prior to participation. If a player chooses to compete prior to being a granted a waiver and is found guilty of a doping offense, she will still suffer the consequences. So, if a player falls ill in the middle of the season and starts taking a medicine after merely submitting the request, she will not be protected from the penalties even if the waiver is ultimately approved.
“They would be basically playing a Russian roulette with their career if they went into competition without a medical waiver,” said Jill Pilgrim, the LPGA’s general counsel.
In other words, stay home for six weeks and wait for the results rather than risk losing an entire year.
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Why is she here?: Not hearing that phrase much this week with the top 30 players on the money list in the field of 32. Which begs the question, why not use the money list to begin with? Seems the quirky, drama-filled event format is intriguing enough.
Honestly, can the tour expect fans to follow the ADT qualifying race if Annika Sorenstam isn’t interested enough to figure it out? Obviously, Sorenstam usually doesn’t have to bother with such things. But given her injury-riddled season, the top-notch Swede wasn’t a lock this time around. Still, that doesn’t mean she pulled out an abacus to calculate her playoff standing.
“To be honest, I really don't know how you qualify for this event, other than just playing, and my goal was to play,” Sorenstam said.
LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens touted the playoff system as “universally viewed as a model of success.”
That’s a bit of an overstatement. People like this event because of the million-dollar payout, not the intricate qualifying criteria.
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Really, three events in Mexico?: The tour released the 2008 schedule at today’s press conference. Well, sort of. There were still a number of TBA’s on the list. The March 14-16 slot likely will filled by the MasterCard Classic in Mexico City. Another hole on the schedule is April 24-27, slated for South Florida. Sources say that new event will be held in Miami and will feature a pro-am format.
The Tournament of Champions in Mobile, Ala., has been replaced by the Lorena Ochoa Invitational Nov. 13-16. LPGA chief operations officer Chris Higgs said the tour is working to bring the tour back to the RTJ Golf Trail. It makes sense then that the tour would have back-to-back weeks in Alabama, with Mobile filling the third TBA slot Sept. 11-14.
Kudos to the tour for breaking up the Asian swing into two parts. It’s safe to say the LPGA dropped off the map for many stateside fans in the fall with three consecutive events in Asia not broadcast in the U.S. Going forward the tour hopes to have back-to-back tournaments in Asia in the spring as well as the fall.
But, even with the understanding that this is an international tour, 12 events outside the 48 mainland states seems extreme. Don’t people watch golf in Texas?