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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Not-So-Quickie Evian Preview

I intended this to be a quickie because, as a newly-majorized event, there's not a lot I can say about the past and others more knowledgeable than me have written good preview posts -- which I'll link to in this post, of course. But the Constructivist has a good post that got me thinking (I've linked to it below) so this post got loooonger.

As usual, Tony Jesselli has done a preview of the Evian that hits on most of the important things you should know before it starts. Of primary importance is the fact that GC plans to cover it LIVE... which means coverage begins at 7:30am ET on Thursday and Friday, then at 6:30am ET on Saturday and 8:30am ET on Sunday. Adjust your alarm clock accordingly!

The event formerly known as the Evian Masters has been the subject of much debate since its promotion to LPGA major. The LET has considered the Evian as one of its two majors (the RICOH Women's British Open being the other) for many many years, long before the LPGA granted either event official major status. This fact has been largely ignored in the discussions I've heard. And with the buzz over Inbee Park's major run having ended, much of the excitement about the event has been tempered.

As a result, you would expect the Evian Championship to get less-than-enthusiastic support from the powers-that-be. The Constructivist posted four questions he has about the Evian's status as a major over at Mostly Harmless -- good questions, I think -- and I thought I'd take a moment to drop my opinion on them.

The first concerns the depth of field, which is pretty much limited to LPGA and LET members, plus Lydia Ko. TC asks if the organizers should make a greater effort to get the top players from the KLPGA and JLPGA, or is the current setup good enough?

I think his second question -- concerning the JLPGA and KLPGA majors that are scheduled opposite this event -- has to be considered in conjunction with the first question. It seems clear that the LPGA and LET have decided to make their schedules work together as best they can. It seems equally clear that "the growth of golf in Asia" still isn't important enough to bring ALL the tours together for that purpose. I don't know if this lack of coordination originates in the East or the West but, until some agreement is reached, I don't know that depth of field or scheduling conflicts matter. Winning an LPGA or LET major may not carry a lot of weight with players who see their tour as a competitor with them.

TC's third question concerns the redesign of the Evian course -- primarily, changing the 18th from a quirky par-5 to a tough par-4. The redesign also creates an amphitheater setting, hopefully to increase the drama of the finishing hole.

While I like the amphitheater, I have to say that this aspect of the redesign troubles me. Part of the excitement of Evian has been the possibility of an eagle at 18 -- a possibility that has figured prominently into a number of finishes there. This redesign seems to accept the idea that a "tough" course, which usually means that something close to par is a good score, is necessary for a major tournament... and I disagree. I'm not saying that you have to make the course a pushover, but we have a US Open (male and female versions) for when we want a tough test. A good risk/reward par-5 at 18 is the best way to challenge players to step up and make a shot to win. I hope I'm wrong but I'm afraid we'll see a lot of safe par-4s at Evian going forward.

Final question: Are you treating it as a major if you only give it 1.5 hours of network TV coverage? NBC plans to carry the last 90 minutes of Evian on Sunday from noon till 1:30pm ET.

That depends on what you compare it to. What coverage do the other women's majors get? Only the US Women's Open got NBC coverage, and I suspect that had more to do with the USGA connection than the LPGA. In fact, NBC made a big deal out of the Sunday Scottish Open coverage they carried -- the first time they'd covered an ET event.

Personally, I regard the fact that GC intends to provide live coverage all four days, along with rebroadcast during prime time, as a major commitment. (And remember that NBC owns GC now. In an age of specialized cable networks, they probably consider that the same as a network commitment.)

Does the Evian feel like a major yet? No... but you don't create a major just by declaring it one. It has to be embraced by the players and fans, gain some history (preferably in the form of some dramatic finishes), and end up with a who's-who of the game engraved on the trophy. (Right now they've got 2.5 out of 3. Will the fans embrace it? That's the question.)

But I'm still not convinced that Kraft-Nabisco will continue their support of the KNC. If they don't, I suspect the Evian will very quickly gain that necessary major aura.

And with that I'll end my not-so-quickie Evian preview. Nothing happens quickly anymore, does it?

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