Saturday, November 21, 2009

Paging Bill Huffman...and Geoff Shackelford

Bill Huffman is a very angry man right now. And it's hard for me to blame him. If it were the Wegmans in Rochester that had bitten the dust and not the Phoenix event in his neck of the, uh, desert, I'd be far madder than he is. But with Geoff Shackelford egging him on, the twin targets of Huffman's rant are likely to be lost, with the spotlight likely to be on the "LPGA leaving Phoenix," as Shackelford puts it, and not on Huffman's more accurate "we will rue the day we let this tournament get away" line.

What Huffman inconsistently acknowledges is that it takes 2 to tango (see my 4th and 5th points in my own hitchhiker's guide to the 2010 schedule). If there's no LPGA tournament in Phoenix next season, they have only themselves to blame. Check the following lines from his piece where he as much as acknowledges this:

After all, it wasn’t that long ago--2005--that the LPGA left Tucson after a similar run ended with no corporate sponsor.

In fact, with no real group in charge of pushing to bring the women's tour back to the Valley any time soon, there was not even anyone to call locally for a reaction. I did try the Portland-based Tournament Golf Foundation, which had managed the event for the past six years, but its spokesperson failed to call back....

[W]hen the LPGA's shrunken 2010 sked was released Wednesday, there really were no surprises as far as Phoenix was concerned. Most people had expected Arizona to be left off the master plan chiefly because corporate sponsorship for golf in the Valley has been nil since the economy went belly up. Or did you forget that the Champions and Nationwide tours met a similar demise here, and that the FBR Open is desperately searching for a title sponsor?

So just who should Huffman be pissed off at here? Michael Whan for recognizing that the women's game has gone global? Uh, Bill, it was Marty Evans and Zayra Calderon who were in charge of salvaging the 2010 schedule after Bivens left town with 9 tournaments set in stone. How about the LPGA leadership for taking the tour where the most committed fans, sponsors, and tv entities are based? So they're supposed to pass up opportunities abroad out of, what, patriotism? OK, how about the tour for not having the financial resources to float the Phoenix event for the 2nd-straight year? Ah, now we're on to something! Huffman is mad because the LPGA wouldn't provide Phoenix with another year of corporate welfare. Let's see, they're losing revenues, laying people off, on the hook for the LPGA Tour Championship (which is riddled with TBAs and TBDs), and they should make their #1 priority doing for Phoenix what Phoenix can't do for itself?

Look, Bill, this is no time to wax nostalgic:

What's hard to believe is the LPGA in Phoenix died without a whimper despite it being so successful, annually drawing over 100,000 fans for the week. A truly amazing downward spiral considering all that’s happened here since one-time superstar Jan Stephenson captured the original event in Sun City way back in 1980.

I mean who can forget Annika Sorenstam's one-and-only 59 recorded here in 2001, one of her three victories in Phoenix? Or Laura Davies' record-breaking four in row at Moon Valley from 1994 to 1997? Or the fact that Lorena Ochoa helped propel herself to No. 1 in the world thanks in part to her back-to-back victories at Superstition Mountain in 2007-08, a stunning feat that thrilled her Hispanic following and created a truly rare moment in the lily-white sport of golf?

Don't mourn: organize! If Huffman would take a chill pill, stop, and think, he'd realize he should be talking to everyone in Phoenix (and, I suppose, some people in Portland) about putting in a bid to host the LPGA Tour Championship next season in Arizona. If the LPGA is going to lose domestic events in the short run, far better to upgrade the tournaments that have shown the most loyalty and support to the tour than to let them die. With the LPGA Championship coming to Rochester, NY--masking, as Hound Dog pointed out, a net loss of 1 tournament from the 2008 schedule--why doesn't Phoenix follow suit and put up some serious money to host the tour's season-ending event?

For the longer term, the issue is not globalization or the success of golfers of Asian descent. I'm a fan of both trends, but even I don't see all that much room for the LPGA to expand in the Asian Pacific. Let's say Whan follows my advice and seeks co-sponsorships with the tours in that region, so that, say, by 2012--following the return of the ADT Championship to Florida and the upgrading of the unofficial event in Rio to the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship in late January--the LPGA goes from Korea (with the KLPGA) to Thailand (with the JLPGA) to Taiwan (and now I'm really dreaming here, with the CLPGA) to Australia (with the LET and ALPG) to Singapore (with everyone) for 6 events in February and March--all regular full-field tournaments, with cuts. Wouldn't taking the risk on that kind of international travel be a better deal for the LPGA's rank-and-file than tuning up on the Cactus Tour and the SunCoast Series? After all, the top players can miss cuts just like everyone else. That's kind of how they stop being top players.

Not only could such globalization benefit American players, but so would moving the later Asian swing to follow fairly directly upon the European swing, as Happy Fan has suggested over at Seoul, and upgrading them to full-field events with cuts. The weather would be better in late August and early September than late October and early November in China, Korea, and Japan (and perhaps 1 or 2 more Asian countries, but more likely India than Malaysia or the Philippines, as Huffman snarks at the end of his piece), plus it would be a great follow-up to the annual mid-August synchronized Solheim/Kyoraku-Pinx Cup global showdown I've been calling for for awhile now. And best of all, doing this would allow the LPGA to concentrate its North American events--including the ones in Canada and Mexico, which almost everyone not named Bill Jempty is counting toward the international total when they're played in the same time zones as American ones--in a stretch run in the fall that could capitalize on the momentum from the late summer abroad and drum up more interest in what are just as likely to be tight pennant races then as now.

So even a globalization booster like myself can't envision more than 10-12 LPGA events in the Asian Pacific and South America in the medium term--and just about all of them would be co-sponsored with other women's tours, if I had my way. That puts the ball squarely in the court of the LPGA's North American sponsors. If they would step up and commit to doubling the number of events outside North America, the LPGA would have a minimum of 30-36 events by 2012 and globalization would end up being a win-win for everyone. I don't see why this scenario is any less realistic than Huffman's Chicken Little act.

In the meantime, there's nothing stopping American players from trying to get dual membership on the KLPGA (or, more likely) the JLPGA starting in 2011. Let's say you're a LPGA player or hopeful who doesn't finish in the top 100 on the money list or the top 20 in Q-School at the end of 2010. Why supplement your limited LPGA schedule in 2011 by playing the Futures Tour for peanuts when you could be making a half-million dollars on a minimal schedule on the JLPGA? Sure, the competition is tougher over there than on the FT, but the rewards are much much greater. And if you're tanking against LPGA competition, struggling to make $125K and keep your card for the following season by finishing in the top 80 on the money list, why not play more events and give yourself a fighting chance for the top 50 on the JLPGA (where you'll be making the equivalent of $150K or more)? Language barriers? Culture shock? Fear of the unknown? Ah, so you must really believe the Asian players who come over here are a lot better than you, eh?

The bottom line is, American sponsors and players are going to have to step up their games if they want to compete on a planetary scale. Enough ranting and joking, already! It's time to get serious!

[Update 1 (9:00 am): Are my eyes deceiving me? Is Sal Johnson making more sense than Bill Huffman? Well, Huffman remains the better writer, that's for sure. But Johnson is showing himself to be the better thinker, on the schedule and on Whan, in particular.]

[Update 2 (2:15 pm): Wonder if John Paul Newport has been drinking the Mostly Harmless koolaid, as well?]

[Update 3 (2:25 pm): Hmm, unofficial talks with ADT for 2011? The only change I'd want to see in the format is start with 64, get it down to 32 with a stroke-play cut, then do 2 rounds of match play, and have the final 8 play 18 for $1M.]

[Update 4 (2:30 pm): Nice job by Randall Mell on the players and Whan. And Wie's ankle.]

[Update 5 (11/23/09, 12:53 pm): Karen Crouse looks at how one bad season has affected Reilley Rankin's finances and how the 2010 schedule puts extra pressure on her to perform in her final events this season. Too bad for her she's +6 over her last 18 holes at the LPGA Tour Championship after putting herself in contention over the 1st 25....]

[Update 6 (3:12 pm): Just noticed Bill Jempty's critique of Huffman. Check his link to Dave Seanor's piece, too.]

[Update 7 (7:34 pm): Just got a chance to actually read Seanor's piece. Turns out it's literally SF. And Seanor makes the mistake of many bad SF writers of extrapolating from blips. His look at the "International LPGA" in 2019 is basically calling for all women's tours to merge (saving their national tours as developmental paths to the planetary circuit) and then to merge with the PGA Tour. I don't see it happening in this half of the 21st century. As anyone who paid attention to the globalization bust after the '90s bubble popped knows, there's nothing inevitable about it. Competitive nationalism, particularly among the Asian tours, will only increase with the run-up to the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Barring a serious economic crisis in Asia, there's no way the fast-growing CLPGA and KLPGA would agree to merge with the JLPGA, much less the LPGA. Furthermore, Seanor's scenario is predicated on the LPGA continuing to decline domestically. I just don't see that happening.]

[Update 8 (1/4/09, 6:41 am): Don't know how I missed Jeff Skinner's mid-October call for the LPGA to embrace globalization.]


The Florida Masochist said...


Randall's post has been removed. I wonder what the story is behind that. If I had Randall's email(I only have his old Sun-Sentinel account)I'd drop him a line.


The Constructivist said...

Bill, which one? The ones I linked to are still up....