HSBC Women’s Champions 2017

Golf: Strategic growth the key

Justin Thomas of the United States playing a drop shot on the 15th hole during the first round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on Feb 23, 2017, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Justin Thomas of the United States playing a drop shot on the 15th hole during the first round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on Feb 23, 2017, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. PHOTO: AFP

Defining path with men's Tour creates new paths, greater benefits, says LPGA Tour boss

More is not necessarily better for LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan, who believes the elite women's golf circuit has reached its tipping point this season with the number of tournaments.

The United States-based tour will hold 35 events with a record total purse of US$67.35 million (S$95.20 million) this year, with 16 events offering at least US$2 million, but Whan ruled out further expansion of the schedule.

The 1997 LPGA season peaked with 43 events, but this figure fell to 25 in 2010 (with about US$41 million prize money on offer), the same year he was appointed to revive the struggling Tour.

"The magic number I had was 32 when I joined," he told The Straits Times. "So this is probably the maximum, especially if you take in a two-month off-season, which I think is important for the players, and the weeks off before and after going to Asia."

With his players typically opting to play 28 to 30 events a year and sponsors wanting the big names at their tournaments, it was better to focus his efforts in other areas of growth, said Whan.

The strategic alliance signed last year with their counterparts on the PGA Tour, for instance, has opened exciting possibilities.

  • LEADERBOARD


    2ND ROUND (SELECTED)

    134 Park In Bee (Kor)

    135 Michelle Wie (USA), Ariya Jutanugarn (Tha), Hur Mi Jung (Kor)

    136 Suzann Pettersen (Nor), Park Sung Hyun (Kor)

    137 Lydia Ko (Nzl), Charley Hull (Eng), Brooke Henderson (Can), Anna Nordqvist (Swe), Kim Sei Young, Jang Ha Na (Kor)

    138 Feng Shanshan (Chn), Paula Creamer, Mo Martin (USA)

    TEE TIMES


    3RD ROUND (SELECTED)

    Tee 1

    8.32am: Morgan Pressel, Stacy Lewis

    8.44am: Karine Icher (Fra), Moriya Jutanugarn

    Tee 10

    8.25am: Amy Yang, Chun In Gee

    9.37am: Lexi Thompson, Christina Kim (USA), Choi Na Yeon (Kor)

    9.49am: Karrie Webb (Aus)

SHAPING THE FUTURE

Our players know something like this would create greater media, television exposure and offer great purse opportunities. I don't have to sell it to them.

MIKE WHAN, LPGA Tour commissioner, on the alliance with the PGA Tour.

Both parties are exploring mixed-gender competitions in the future, starting as soon as the 2018 PGA's Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

Whan said: "We and the PGA Tour feel it's exciting, different and fun - things we want to bring to grow the game... Our players know something like this would create greater media, television exposure and offer great purse opportunities. I don't have to sell it to them."

Sponsors are intrigued by the proposal. Giles Morgan, HSBC's global head of sponsorship and events, said the bank, which has backed the Women's Champions event since 2008, is "always open to new ideas".

He added: "If the tours think there's a way to have men and women play together, they're going to come to us and tell us why that might matter and we'll look at it."

Both he and Whan were adamant that women's golf has never been stronger thanks to its diversity, a far cry from the Tour's short-lived and controversial policy in 2008 that required its members to be able to speak English or face possible suspension.

There are 33 nationalities represented on the LPGA while the world's top five players come from five different countries - New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea, China and the US.

Of greater concern for Whan was the divide that still existed between men's and women's sports.

"Look at Jordan (Spieth) and Lexi's (Thompson) records, they're almost identical but no one talks about her like they do Jordan," said Whan. "It is the challenge women's golf has faced for 67 years, and for women's sports in general.

"It's a lot better than 10 years ago but do we still have a few more decades to go to catch up? Yes."

Golf's return to the Olympic Games last year was crucial in raising its profile. Park In Bee's victory in Rio captured 23.9 per cent of South Korean viewership in her home country, about 10 times the ratings for an average LPGA event.

In 2011, the Tour had 220 hours of global TV coverage. That increased to more than 410 hours in 2016.

Whan said: "What Serena Williams and women's tennis benefit from is a wide global audience during many of their events. That's what we need to do, create the stage for our players to showcase themselves to the world."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Strategic growth the key'. Print Edition | Subscribe