Don't get me wrong: it's a great thing for women's golf that the LPGA's veterans have a league of their own--someday it should have all the appeal of the men's Champions Tour and more. This is the tour for golf fans who harken back to the good ol' days when women golfers were as well-known and respected as their male counterparts, when all the golfers were white, and when Americans were brave. Let the LPGA reach out to new fans in this country and around the world--who cares about that "global youth" demographic anyway? As living legend Nancy Scranton knows,
[T]he people who grew up watching us are the ones who go to golf tournaments anyway. It's not the 20-somethings. It's the mid-40s and older. And they are like, "wow, I can get right up next to Pat Bradley or Patty Sheehan or Jan Stephenson and everybody is happy to chat."
....I don't want to bad-mouth the LPGA. But we are more recognizable. And fans can relate to us more.
Wait, you've never heard of Nancy Scranton? Shame on you! You know, she's the player who won 3 times over a celebrated 23-year career in which she finished in the top 20 on the money list twice? The player whose last good seasons on the LPGA were in 2000 and 2001, when she helped hold the line against the barbarian invasion lead by the likes of Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, and Grace Park? If this isn't jogging your memory, than you're probably going to find it hard to relate to the players on the Legends Tour. Going from quotes like this, it's almost as if Elliott is trying to make it sound like the Legend Tour's target market is limited to those who believe the LPGA has been on a steady decline since the beginning of the Sorenstam Era in the mid-1990s. Why else would he throw in a gratuitous swipe at LPGA Tour Championship winner and Annika disciple Anna Nordqvist early in his piece?
Obviously there are many impressive players on the Legends Tour. Even lesser-known golfers like breast cancer survivor Colleen Walker, a 9-time champion on the LPGA, Vare Trophy winner in 1988, and winner of the du Maurier Classic, a major in 1997, would be a blast to watch, 27 years after her rookie season. But why set the LPGA and the Legends Tour against each other? Surely it's beneath Walker to concern-troll the LPGA for Golf Fanhouse, but there she is, quoted as saying, "It's kind of sad, all the work we did as players and to see it kind of tumble. I remember when we had 45 events. Now they're going to have 24 and most aren't even full field." Maybe if Walker's career had started a decade earlier, she'd have a better perspective on the possibility of the LPGA bouncing back from the depths. If the LPGA could recover from an American economy in the early '70s rocked by disputes over civil rights, desegregation, Vietnam, and Watergate, and roiled by the oil crisis, it can certainly bounce back by the 20-teens from a global financial meltdown.
The bottom line is, there's no need to bash the LPGA to promote the Legends Tour. With Sherri Steinhauer kicking off her return to competitive golf from 2 hip surgeries with a win at Innisbrook in the tour's 1st major this past Sunday, it's clear the tour can provide opportunities for the LPGA's mid-40-somethings to tune up their games and prepare for comebacks. As Tom Watson's near-miss at the '09 Open Championship shows, not to mention the collective successes of the PGA's own 40-somethings this decade, age does not have to be a barrier to success on the top tours in the world. Still, as Hall of Famers Juli Inkster, Sorenstam, and Webb approach the age requirement for entry into the Legends Tour, I'm hoping that these players known for nurturing young talent and supporting the LPGA take on leadership roles in it and help put a stop to the friendly fire.
If the Legends Tour were to provide a bridge between generations of LPGA fans by seeking partnerships and synchronizing schedules with the Futures Tour, both tours would benefit. Imagine if tomorrow's stars were doing pro-ams with today's legends early in the week, followed by the legends' competition in the middle of the week, and leading up to the Futures Tour event itself on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Both tours could yield expanded schedules, bigger crowds, increased purses, and more charitable giving from such an investment. Working together, they'd strengthen the LPGA and help grow the game. What's not to like about that?
Here's hoping for more 1st-time winners in 2010!
It won't be long before this year's crop are as well-known as anyone in golf not named Tiger Woods:
[Update 1 (4:36 am): Ouch, now Steve Elling, in his year-end Up & Down column, piles on the "LPGA spending too much time abroad next season" meme. What Elling fails to get is that 4 of the international events are in North America and that playing in Asia actually gives you the jump on getting your scores in the morning paper in the U.S. He's absolutely right, though, that in a schedule with so many gaps in it already, there's little reason to put the majority of the LPGA's majors in the shadow of the PGA's majors. At least with the golfy media the way they have been acting. Now, if Michelle Wie keeps being the biggest story in American golf the way Ji-Yai Shin even overshadowed figure skater Yu Na Kim last week in Korea--Elling points out the tape-delayed (?) Ochoa Invitational doubled the fall series PGA event's ratings the week before--things might change. But Elling needs to realize what it means that the LPGA has so many players who are among the biggest names in their countries' sports pantheons: Karrie Webb in Australia, Lorena Ochoa in Mexico, Suzanne Pettersen in Norway, Ai Miyazato in Japan, Ya Ni Tseng in Taiwan, Shanshan Feng in China, and so on. The LPGA would be foolish not to capitalize on one of its greatest strengths. Once more, with feeling: globalization is not the problem; the solution is for U.S. and North American sponsors to step up!]
[Update 2 (4:45 am): It's really saying something when Mark Reason, who earlier this season called on the LPGA to enact protectionist measures and limit the number of foreign players on tour, is more optimistic about the LPGA's embrace of globalization than most any American reporter. It took Michelle Wie winning to get him to go there, but hey, I'll take what I can get at this point. Not that I'm giving him a pass for his passing along the "lack of relateability" meme and dissing Western NY as the host site of an LPGA major--not to mention his lack of understanding of the complex relations between nationalisms and globalization--but if someone who recently saw the LPGA's only hope as pushing the barbarians back outside the gates now sees hope in Wie leading an American global resurgence, that's progress in my book.]
[Update 3 (12/4/09, 6:18 am): LPGA.com should be featuring the photo of Na Yeon Choi featured in this Seoul Sisters.com thread. Not bad for someone who's never owned a skirt and heels before!]