On the bright side, there's something the LPGA can do about this troubling trend almost immediately. And there are longer-term strategies they can pursue, as well. Let's break it down.
First, I'd revise the LPGA's priority status list--which establishes criteria for membership on tour--as follows:
- Reduce Category #1 from the top 80 on the previous season's money list to the top 70.
- Change Category #7 so that any non-member who wins--amateur or pro, older or younger than 18--is eligible for full membership immediately or in the following season. [Updated 12/25/10 in light of comments.]
- Expand Category #8 from the top 40 on the current season's money list to the top 50--as calculated after every 6 events rather than using the current 7-event interval.
- Expand Category #9 from the top 5 on the previous season's Futures Tour money list to the top 10.
- Change Category #10 from non-members who would have made the top 80 on the previous season's money list via their maximum 6 sponsor exemptions into domestic full-field non-major events into non-members who would have made the top 70 on the previous season's money list in their maximum 4 sponsor exemptions into domestic full-field non-major events and maximum 2 sponsor exemptions into international limited-field non-major events. Any non-member who qualifies via this category is waived from having to meet the LPGA's minimum age requirement for membership.
- Expand Category #11 to #71 to #90 on the previous season's money list and the top 30 players from the previous season's Q-School using the same shuffling system as already exists, except that the last 10 qualifiers from the Final Qualifying Tournament are listed after the top 20 have been shuffled in.
- Adjust Categories #15 (from #101 to #125 to #91 to #120 on the previous season's money list), #16 (from #21 to #30 to #31 to #40 from the previous season's Final Qualifying Tournament), #17 (from #6 to #10 to #11 to #15 on the previous season's Futures Tour money list), and #20 accordingly (from #31 to #40 to #41 to #50 from the previous season's Final Qualifying Tournament).
And yes, that last comment is directed at Lexi Thompson's ridiculous proposal to be allowed 12 sponsor exemptions in the 2011 season and Ryan Ballengee's equally ridiculous call for Thompson to be granted full membership on tour via Commissioner fiat. It's not that I'm against Lexi playing her way onto tour via my
So far, by encouraging more turnover, my proposals would make it easier for the best younger players to get into the LPGA. But that alone won't do the trick. To make sure the LPGA keeps attracting the world's finest female golfers, the LPGA has to offer more paths into its own Q-School. Here are a few proposals that would help the tour accomplish just that:
- Allow not only those who finished #11 to #20 on the current season's Futures Tour money list direct entry into the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament, but also anyone who finished on the top 5 in the previous season's money lists on the JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET or who is in the top 5 on their current money lists as of 2 weeks before the start of the Final Qualifying Tournament.
- Offer anyone who finishes in the top 10 in the U.S. Women's Open or the Women's British Open direct entry into the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament.
- Offer anyone who finishes in the top 5 in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Championship, the HSBC Women's Champions, or the Evian Masters direct entry into the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament.
- Players who get into the Final Qualifying Tournament via any of these routes and who finish in its top 30 would be waived from the LPGA's minimum age requirement.
- Change entry criteria for the majors the LPGA controls and lobby those who control other majors to extend invitations to anyone in the top 50 of the Rolex Rankings as of 2 weeks before the start of the major into it, provided she has not already qualified by some other criterion.
One nice benefit of releasing the LPGA schedule weeks after the JLPGA and LET have announced theirs is that the LPGA leadership still has a little time left to do the following things:
- Make sure its Final Qualifying Tournament doesn't conflict with other Q-Schools and major season-ending events on other tours.
- Do some last-minute negotiating with sponsors whose events conflict with majors and high-status events on other tours.
- Aim for 2 co-sponsored events--1 early-season and 1 mid-to-late season--with each of the major women's tours: JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, and CLPGA.
- Offer discounts to smaller-market/smaller-population venues in the United States to shore up the spring through summer segment of the schedule, with a focus on places that have been spurned by the PGA Tour or Champions Tour recently.
- Put the entire weight of the LPGA behind Lorena Ochoa's attempt to get an event started in San Antonio (preferably at Oak Hills) and Annika Sorenstam one in Orlando. Get Michelle Wie and Kimberly Kim doing for Hawaii what Ya Ni Tseng just accomplished for Taiwan.
- Schedule off-weeks to coincide with majors and high-status events on other tours that dual members might want to compete in.
If the LPGA were to work with the JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, and CLPGA in this way across the entire schedule (here are my ideas for the late summer and fall), each tour would have room to expand domestically, each tour's top players would have motivation to maintain dual memberships, and there'd be more opportunities for mid- and lower-level players who were willing to play their way onto the LPGA from other tours.