In a few days, the LPGA is holding an event at Pete Dye’s French Lick. It started in 2017 as a solitary major on the Legends Tour before being joined by the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. This tournament is not anything approaching an “Awe, ain’t that sweet?” competition. The Senior Women of the LPGA still play golf. Does anyone believe that the sum of Julie Inkster’s life is coaching Solheim? Not if they’re keeping up, they don’t. Has anyone observed Laura Davies playing lately? Well, they should, and she does. In fact, she won the LPGA’s Seniors Championship last year by four strokes. Trish Johnson won the first one, and champions of other seniors events will be on hand. They will join a field of 75 ‘forty-fives and older’ for a shot at the $100,000 first prize.
When interviewed about the LPGA entering its third year of a championship for professional seniors, Jan Stephenson hearkened back one or two decades to the last time it was attempted. In Stephenson’s words, it sort of “fizzled out.” I have a theory about why that was the case back then. The LPGA had a lot of game in terms of fine golfers. Now, it has a lot of game as an industry as well. Some stutter steps with erratic leadership, and the epic task of pulling an audience stuck on something else out to see the LPGA brought it along slowly, but it’s here. The LPGA Commissioner has things moving at a real clip these days. Maybe he’s made mistakes along the way, but I’d be hard-pressed to count them on the available fingers.
Whan seems to understand two things. The first is that great young golfers bring pzazz to the industry. With the rapid increase in television coverage, match play tournament and charity events, and the enhanced biographies and human interest stories on the players themselves, it’s all running very well. On the other end of the spectrum, he also understands that the veteran pros, some in retirement and others nearing it, create a completely different kind of pzazz, a body of legends, milestones in the tour’s history – and what a history it’s been.
An awful lot of weekend golfers and couch potato tournament watchers would crawl almost anywhere on their hands and knees for one more chance to see Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer tee it up together. That goes for quite a few of their colleagues as well. The Big Three set the hook deeply into the American golf consciousness, and the same potential has arrived for the women. I actually believe they had it after the fist generation, the pioneers who both played and administered the new LPGA. Going out to watch a group of Wright, Didrikson and Berg would have been a precious ticket, an expensive one. For the next age group, Sorenstam, Ochoa and ‘fill in the blank’ would have been a good one, too. I would work hard and pay much to get a spot in the gallery to see Laura Davies and her class play.
There is our two-pronged strategy to guarantee that the women’s game grows – it starts with the people, who play the game, young and old, it’s the coverage, and its the sponsors, such as Ryan Child Care, a participant in the third-year event. Get out to that tournament, or at least find the right channel, and I believe don’t believe you couldn’t be the slightest bit sorry. You won’t believe how many golfers will suddenly evoke memories of yesteryear. But remember, they’re not retiring, and they’re not being ceremonial – they’re still playing golf, competitively golf