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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thoughts on Williams & Evian

Wednesday gave us a couple of news stories that have everybody buzzing... so I thought I'd add my own two cents!

The one getting the most airplay is the split between Tiger and Steve Williams. Tiger's announcement sounded very businesslike while Steve's response sounded somewhat hurt. Here's what I've put together from various sources:
  • Tiger told Steve about this in person back at the AT&T National, so it's only us mere mortals getting the news late. This announcement didn't surprise Steve, so the comment that he was "shocked" is probably a reference to his initial reaction at Aronimink, not to Wednesday's announcement.
  • Tim Rosaforte talked to Steve and he indicated that Steve believes his request to caddie for Adam Scott at the U.S. Open was what caused Tiger to drop him.
  • Who will be Steve's replacement?
    • In the past it has been rumored that Billy Foster (Lee Westwood's caddie) might get the job if Steve left, but Lee's probably playing too well now for that to happen.
    • Some are speculating that Tiger might go after Tony Navarro, who's currently working for Angel Cabrera.
    • But the word is that Tiger would like to get Joe Lacava, Fred Couple's caddie who's now working for Dustin Johnson. If that one's true, this could get messy.
  • The only things that everybody seems to agree on are that Tiger clearly already has someone in mind and that Steve (who is now officially Adam's caddie) will probably have a much more peaceful life and may even help Adam get over the hump and start winning.majors. He certainly knows how to do it!
The other bit of news concerns the Evian Masters. Michael Whan, commissioner of the LPGA, announced that it will be renamed as simply "the Evian" and become the 5th LPGA major in 2013. The course is going to be completely redesigned, with stadium seating for the final four holes, and receive both increased funding and increased TV coverage.

Ironically, this bit of news has been controversial. Why? Because it's going to be a 5th major. I understand that some people have a problem with the concept, although I've heard way too many people simply complain because it isn't traditional. Sometimes tradition is over-rated, people -- there's nothing sacred about the number 4. As long as they're spaced out and not run together, 5 majors isn't worse than 4, anymore than 4 is better than 3 or even 2... and if you know your LPGA history, you know that the number of majors each year has varied between 2 and 4. In fact, 7 different tournaments have been majors at one time or another.

But there is one objection that I think is valid and deserves a response -- namely, the idea that too many majors diminish their importance applies here. I don't think so -- in fact, I think this may be a stroke of genius -- and I'll tell you why.

The men's majors are officially recognized by both the PGA and the ET, although technically only 3 majors are PGA events and 1 is a European Tour event. Every major you play in counts toward your required tournament count on both tours.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the LPGA and the LET. Up until 2000 the LPGA had 4 majors:
  • The Kraft Nabisco Championship (aka "the Dinah Shore")
  • The LPGA Championship
  • The U.S. Women's Open
  • The du Maurier Classic
The LET had two majors:
  • The Evian Masters
  • The Women's Open Championship
And neither tour recognized the other tour's majors.

When the du Maurier Classic lost its sponsorship (it was originally sponsored by a tobacco company), it ceased to be a major and became the Canadian Women's Open. The LPGA decided to replace it in 2000 with the LET's Women's Open Championship, which is now recognized by both tours. In the same year the LPGA began to co-sanction the Evian Masters. However, the LET still has only 2 majors, since they don't recognize the other 3 LPGA majors.

By making the Evian a recognized LPGA major, the LPGA has now recognized both LET majors. The fact is, many if not most LPGA players played the Evian Masters and even referred to it as "the 5th major." (Sound familiar, TPC fans?) It would do no good to place an LPGA event opposite the Evian Masters, since the best players would go to France anyway.

And this is something I believe is on Michael Whan's mind in making this decision. This deal not only recognizes both LET majors -- which helps players with dual membership more easily fulfill their obligations -- but helps raise the profile of both the LPGA and the LET with increased TV coverage, etc. The LET already deals with a problem similar to that the LPGA had -- namely, their players come play in the LPGA majors even though the LET doesn't recognize them. By making this decision, I think Whan is setting the stage for the LET to reciprocate and recognize the 3 LPGA majors. It will benefit both tours by giving them 5 huge co-sponsored events that might appeal beyond the hardcore golfing public to casual sports viewers worldwide.

In other words, I think Whan is looking beyond just the LPGA to women's golf in general. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say, and Whan is positioning the LPGA for increased visibility by making it a global property that doesn't mind helping others as well -- even if those others could be viewed as competitors for the same market. It's thinking so far out of the box that you're guaranteed to either fail horribly or look like a genius.

I think Whan will look like a genius before it's all over. After all, everybody wants to be friends with the rich guy who's willing to share the wealth.

And that's my two cents for today.

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