by Jeff Skinner
This week the LPGA Tour comes out of hibernation as the ladies tee it up at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup on Friday. We see the LPGA about as often as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster but this week we will even get to see some live golf as compared to the tape delay programming they are usually relegated to on The Golf Channel. Commissioner Michael Whan has come up with a novel idea at the Founders Cup: the entire purse will go to charity and no player will pocket any cash from the tournament. While they have a good field now, the original announcement was met with some resistance. After listening to some of the bigger names on the tour Whan adjusted the format to allow the “winner” and the top ten finishers to designate a charity of their choice and half the purse, $500,000 will go to those charities. The other half of the purse will go to the LPGA Foundation.
Some players still have opted out of the tournament, the most notable being a vocal Suzann Pettersen. The world number four player didn’t like the idea of playing for free and the tweaking by Whan couldn’t convince her to play. Michelle Wie won’t be there either but it’s her schedule at Stanford that his keeping her from playing this week.
The field of 134 players includes the most accomplished golfer of 2011, Yani Tseng. She has had a start to this year that most players can only dream about. She has won her first four world-wide starts of the season including the LPGA’s opening event in Thailand. Her last start and the last time the LPGA was in action was a month ago at The HSBC Women’s Champions where Tseng finished third. Tseng will be facing pressure from world number two, Jiyai Shin and Cristie Kerr (5) as well as Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Laura Davies.
The Founders Cup is the LPGA’s way of remembering the 13 original women that started the LPGA 61 years ago. Founders Louise Suggs, Marilynn Smith and Shirley Spork will attend and be honored at the event. The tour today has plenty more in common with the tour back then when the original 13 started the tour.
The 13 original golfers had a difficult time in establishing the tour 61 years ago. Money was tight and it was difficult to get enough tournaments so the women could make a living playing professional golf. That sounds just like the LPGA today. There are only 24 tournaments on the schedule this year, the fewest since 1971. Four times in the last five years there have been less than 24 tournaments on the LPGA. Also, not including the major championships, there are only 10 full field events (including the no-pay Founders) on the schedule this year. How are rookies and younger golfers supposed to be able to survive and earn a living if they can’t play?
The return of the LPGA this week is a welcome sight. These women play an extraordinary brand of golf but this is a tour in need of CPR. Michael Whan has his work cut out for him in trying to rebuild the status of the LPGA and this week, with live coverage on The Golf Channel, an exciting tournament with some big names at the top could be a good start.