Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Major News Out of LPGA and USGA

By now you've probably already read about the Kraft Nabisco Championship losing its title sponsor after this April's major is contested and the USGA opening up international sectional qualifying sites for the U.S. Women's Open in England, Japan, Korea, and China.  I see a link between the changes in 2 of the LPGA's biggest majors:  the effect of globalization on the women's professional golf world.

The globalization connection is pretty obvious when it comes to the U.S. Women's Open.  Se Ri Pak's victory there has been legendary in Korea almost since the moment she took off her golf shoes and socks, so I'm curious to see how many entries the Korea site gets.  Golf is growing quickly in China and the number of entries per year will be one good index of its acceleration.  I'm thinking that more Japanese golfers will be willing to give the USWO a try if they don't have to travel to Hawaii or California to do it.  Like the KLPGA, the JLPGA has events on either side of the May 19th qualifier, so it'll be interesting to see how many members of both tours adjust their schedules--and who!  In Europe, there's an LET event in Amsterdam a few days after the USWO qualifier, so it shouldn't interfere with qualifying attempts by more of its members.

But what does the KNC have to do with globalization?  Mike Whan has publicly committed to keeping the KNC at Mission Hills and perpetuating the tradition of the winner's leap into Poppie's Pond, goals I fully endorse (I'd add a 3rd goal of bringing back "Dinah Shore" into the official title of the event, as well).  Perhaps there will be a big-time global sponsor from outside the U.S. who will want to make it happen, either a former LPGA partner like Samsung or Toyota or a new sponsor that wants to be associated with the tournament's LGBTQ-friendly history and traditions (like maybe Subaru?).  But if no international or domestic sponsor (calling State Farm! calling ADT!) steps up to the plate, I'm hoping the LPGA can get creative.  The HSBC Women's Champions event is near-major quality and worthy of an Evian-like upgrade, so there's always the option of convincing HSBC to alternate the LPGA's 1st major of the season between Singapore and Mission Hills.  Another possibility is to hook up with the LET's World Ladies Championship at Mission Hills in China and either alternate sites or link the two events (perhaps by sending better American teams to China and opening up more spots in the LPGA event to LETers).  Or the LPGA could bypass the LET entirely and create a separate relationship with the CGA or CLPGA to alternate Mission Hills sites.  The chance to keep the KNC at Mission Hills while also making it the LPGA's 1st Asian major would be almost as good an outcome as replacing Kraft-Nabisco with a different title sponsor.  Call its the LPGA's 1st transnational major and run with it!

Under Mike Whan, the LPGA has embraced its identity as a truly global golf tour.  The latest major news underscores that identity and gives the tour opportunities to take it to the next level.  Let's see what comes of it!

[Update 1 (3/20/14, 8:15 am): Ruthless Mike has some interesting observations on the KNC and other challenges/opportunities facing Mike Whan and his team!]

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