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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Thoughts About 5 LPGA Majors

Last week I did a post about the Evian becoming the 5th LPGA major, Since the announcement some people have taken exception with the announcement -- for example, Stacy Lewis commented over the weekend thatshe didn't care for the change, and John Feinstein has also been less than enthused. Because of this, I thought I'd take a deeper look at how this brave new world might work.

Stacy had two problems with the change:
  • Personally she's more of a traditionalist and believes there should only be 4 majors.
  • More importantly, how do you say no when other countries want a major?
I won't reprint everything I said in that other post here because you can just click the link and read it, but let me summarize:

There's nothing sacred about the number 4. In its history the LPGA has had as few as 2 majors, and at least 7 different tournaments have been majors at one time or another. The idea that 4 majors is somehow an "ideal" number probably originated with the "Impregnable Quadrilateral" of Bobby Jones, aka the Grand Slam. That was little more than journalist O.B. Keeler creating a catchy hook to describe Jones's feat -- nothing wrong with that -- but somewhere along the line it became gospel. It's not traditional... just old.

I should also point out that those 4 majors encompassed 2 professional and 2 amateur majors, which is what made the Jones accomplishment so amazing, If any number of majors is traditional, it's 2.

As an aside, in case you didn't know, when tournaments become (or cease to be) majors, the changes are not retroactive. That means that players who won, say, the Women's British Open Championship (which didn't become a major until 2001 and is being played this week at Carnoustie) in 2000 or before did not suddenly get credited with another major. Likewise, players who won the Women's Western Open (a major from 1930 to1967) didn't lose that major from their records in 1968.

One thing I didn't mention in that other article is Karrie Webb's unique position as the only player to win the "Super Slam." She has won the Kraft-Nabisco, the U.S. Women's Open, the LPGA Championship, the Women's British Open Championship, and the now-defunct du Maurier Classic when it was a major. (She won the Women's British twice three times, both as a major in 2002 and a non-major in 1995 and 1997. Only one counts in her major total.) Should she manage to win the Evian in 2013 or after, what will they call the only player with a 6-major career slam?

Anyway, the point is that no existing records will change here. Ai Miyazato will not suddenly be credited with 2 Evian majors, nor will players like Paula Creamer, Jiyai Shin, Karrie Webb, or Juli Inkster suddenly add majors as a result of this change.

Stacy's second objection is a valid one. However, I think the LPGA had already set a precedent in this case. All the LPGA is doing is recognizing a major that already existed as a major on the LET. I covered this at some length in the other post. I also said in that post that I thought the LPGA may be clearing the way for the LET to recognize the other 3 LPGA majors without having to merge the LPGA and LET.

How could this help the LPGA deal with requests from other countries for their own majors? Let's look at the setup of the soon-to-be 5 majors.
  • The Kraft-Nabisco deal runs out soon. Michael Whan has already said he intends to find a way to keep it going; but it's a logical assumption that if he can't find a way to keep it going as a major, the Evian would take its place as the 4th major. There is already a precedent for this, since the du Maurier Classic was "downgraded" to a regular tournament -- it's now the CN Canadian Women's Open -- and replaced by the Women's British Open. But assuming Whan can keep the KN as a major, it's centered on a single course in California and is frequently considered the LPGA's version of the Masters.
  • The U.S. Women's Open moves to different courses around the continental U.S.
  • The new Evian is centered on a single course in France, like the Kraft-Nabisco.
  • The Women's British Open moves to different courses around continental Europe, like the U.S. Women's Open.
  • That leaves the LPGA Championship...
Suppose the LPGA decided to take their organization's second-oldest event international? One year it's held in America, one year in Europe, one year in Asia, one year in Australia. Maybe they use a specific course on each continent, or perhaps they move it around like the Ryder and Solheim Cups, but once every four years your continent gets a major. It could be renamed as the LPGA World Championship or -- if the LET wants to recognize and co-sponsor it -- as the LPGA-LET World Championship.

The beauty of this is the flexibility the tour would gain with this setup. Africa and South America could be added to the rota as more players come from those continents without any further change to the schedule. And it's fair to assume that this could become far and away the biggest of the majors in terms of money and TV coverage, since we're talking about giving this event a World Cup feel.

In effect, you create 4 majors and a super major.

It would probably be overkill for a purely U.S.-based tour but given the global growth that Whan seems to be targeting, this is a workable plan. And because his first move in this direction is the recognition and improvement of an existing LET event, it's a clear invitation to the LET to team up with the LPGA -- as equal partners but not a merged tour, which is important -- in making this move. As I said in the other post, a rising tide lifts all boats, and both sides stand to gain big from this. The more resources that women's golf can pull together, the better their chances of breaking into the casual sports fan's consciousness... and that may be the key to the recognition they want.

So yeah, the more I think about it, the better the 5 major concept sounds. In time even Stacy Lewis may come to like it.

As for John Feinstein... he remarked in one of his Golf Central commentaries that a major is a major because of tradition. I was particularly interested because he cited the Kraft-Nabisco (originally the "Dinah Shore") as a shining example of this self-evident tradition argument. In doing so, John actually supports my belief that a major is a major because somebody with influence said so. Here are the facts:
  • The Dinah was created in 1972 with the intention of making it an event -- Michael Whan referred to this, for those of you who care to go back and review his comments about David Foster (you can read more at this link about Whan's Evian announcement.)
  • The Dinah was declared a major in 1983. That means it had a massively huge "tradition" of 11 years when it became a major.
  • It had a huge sponsor with the money to invest -- Colgate-Palmolive -- and an immensely popular figurehead for the tournament -- Dinah Shore.
  • It has had a single course since its inception -- the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.
  • The players were treated extremely well and they enjoyed playing there.
So how does the Evian compare to this "self-evident tradition"?
  • The Evian Masters was created in 1994... and apparently Evian has made no secret that they wanted their tournament to be an event.
  • It will become a major in 2013. That's 20 years -- OMG! That's even longer than the Dinah! (Oh yeah, it will have only been recognized by the LPGA for 13 years when it becomes a major -- OMG! That's still longer than the Dinah!)
  • Evian has a huge sponsor with the money to invest -- namely Evian, owned by Danone Group in France. I'll grant you that there is no immensely popular figurehead for the tournament -- unless you count the Evian babies -- but most other majors don't have one either.
  • It has had a single course since its inception -- the Evian Masters Golf Club in √Čvian-les-Bains, France. In fact, Evian is putting up between $5M and $7M to get the course up to the LPGA's standards.
  • The players are treated extremely well and they enjoy playing there.
  • And here's one extra point that the Dinah could never claim: The Evian Masters was already a major on the LET. This tournament was a recognized major before Whan declared it for the LPGA.
You know, it sounds as if the Evian has as good a claim to being a major as the Dinah... and maybe better. John has gone back to the argument that the value of anything in golf is a measure of how old it is. According to this way of thinking, neither the U.S. Open nor the Open Championship would have ever become majors because -- I can't bear to even think it -- they were once young tournaments. UGH!

To be honest, in this economy I'm not so sure the Kraft-Nabisco will survive as a major. If KN can't see the value of what they have -- a well-defined sports icon in a competitive advertising marketplace -- they probably don't have the vision to stay in and capitalize on it. I'd be surprised if Whan hasn't weighed that into his decision. In another few years this whole debate may prove useless as we find ourselves still playing only 4 majors, with the Evian replacing the KN and Michael Whan being hailed as the man who kept the majors intact.

But John's obvious distaste for Karrie Webb getting credit for winning 5 different majors -- despite there never being more than 4 at one time -- makes me doubt that even that outcome would appease him. He bolstered his argument about age and tradition by saying that the U.S. and British Opens are recognized on every tour -- thereby making them "legitimate" majors -- while ignoring the fact that the LPGA didn't recognize the British as a major until 2001 and that the tournament itself didn't even exist before 1976! That hardly classifies as being "steeped in tradition." It seems clear that John simply doesn't like the way majors are chosen or reckoned. The LPGA is fortunate that he isn't in charge, as the record books would probably need to be rewritten every few years -- assuming the LPGA survived his tenure. ;-)

In any case, 5 majors isn't the end of the world either, as those pessimistic naysayers would have you believe. Our world has changed in the last 40 years, and this move offers the LPGA possibilities not even imaginable 40 years ago. And just for the record, in 1971 the LPGA had only 2 majors -- the U.S. Women's Open and the LPGA Championship, both begun in the 1950s. The Women's Western Open (started 1930) had been dead since 1967; the Titleholders Championship (sporadic since its start in 1937) had been MIA since 1966 and would be played only once more, in 1972; and the other 3 majors hadn't even been "born" yet. Welcome to the 21st Century and the economics of tournament golf, my friends.

And I didn't forget them -- here are the Evian babies in their most notorious commercial spot:

Those kids look pretty major to me. I rest my case. Smiley

I have to credit Wikipedia for the dates of the various LPGA and LET majors.


  1. One little correction. The WBO gets played around the United Kingdom not around Continental Europe. Old Tom Morris would roll over in his grave if the British Open was played in Denmark or Italy.

  2. I stand corrected. Thanks, Bill.