Another year, another distraction with LPGA’s 5th major
ATLANTA (AP) — In the five years since the LPGA Tour decided that the Evian Championship would be a major, the debate over its status has received as much attention as the winners.
The latest edition raised even more questions.
The first round was washed out by rain and raging wind, meaning Sung Hyun Park effectively got a really big mulligan. She was 6 over when the round was scrapped and started over with a 63 the next day. That’s not worthy of an asterisk. It has happened before and it was the most equitable decision.
More disturbing was a “major” contested over 54 holes, a decision the LPGA reached with alarming swiftness. The LPGA Tour is off this week before going to New Zealand, so it’s not as though another tournament had to be considered.
Heather Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA’s communications and operations officer, said rain was in the forecast through Tuesday. Workers had to use squeegees on the 18th green during the playoff on Sunday.
“Monday was never taken off the table,” she said from France. “We really anticipated we might need Monday to complete 54 holes. It gave us the best chance for a compelling championship.”
Only three majors have been contested over 54 holes dating to 1892 (the first year the British Open went to 72 holes). All of them were on the LPGA Tour.
The first was at the LPGA Championship in 1996 when rain turned already soggy DuPont Country Club into a swamp and they were lucky to get in 54 holes. Tournament organizers wanted a Sunday finish in 1996 because it was on network TV (CBS), and because the hundreds of volunteers needed to stage the tournament might not have been available on Monday.
The other 54-hole major also was at Evian in 2013, its first year as a major, when the soil on a rebuilt course couldn’t handle the hard rain.
More of a “major” issue that year was the very idea that the LPGA could declare a regular tournament a Grand Slam event. Evian had been on the schedule since 2000. That became a problem when Inbee Park headed to the Women’s British Open at St. Andrews trying to sweep the year’s majors. No one ever had won a calendar Grand Slam of professional majors. But would it be a Grand Slam if there were five majors?
Park never contended at St. Andrews, but the Evian issue took away from her bid for a Grand Slam.
At some point, the LPGA Tour has to ask itself if the decision to create a fifth major is worth the trouble.
PAYBACK: Marc Leishman figured it was the least he could do.
Go back to the 18th hole at TPC Boston where Leishman was trying to play a shot from below the green in a ragged lie. The shot came out at a 45-degree angle, headed right for NBC cameraman Murrill Boney. If it hit him — and it looked as though it couldn’t miss — the ball likely would have caromed into the hazard.
“I’m making 7 at least,” Leishman said.
Keeping his calm and his camera steady, Boney moved his leg to avoid the golf ball, and it rolled into the rough. Leishman finished alone in third. If the ball had hit Boney, Leishman figures at best he would have fallen into a three-way tie for third. That’s a difference of $140,000.
So on Saturday night at the BMW Championship, Leishman sent over pizza and beer to the camera crew as a tiny token of his appreciation.
Boney, who quietly goes about his profession, would prefer for his 15 minutes of fame to end.
“It’s like it’s at 14 minutes and 59 seconds,” he said. “And that last second is taking forever.”
AN EYE ON GAMBLING: The PGA Tour will start an “Integrity Program” next year to protect its tournaments from potential gambling influences.
The tour has hired Genius Sports, which will develop a monitoring system that tracks real-time betting activity and use algorithms to identify potentially suspicious patterns in global betting parlors. Genius Sports also will develop an educational program for players, caddies and officials to make them aware of potential corruption.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said he is not aware of any gambling issues but that “no sport is fully immune from the potential influence of gambling.”
“We established this program not because we think there’s a problem, it’s just the world is dynamic, gaming is a reality in every sport,” Monahan said Tuesday. “You look at every other major sport, they have similar programs in place and we just wanted to be proactive and we want to know what the activity is in the international marketplace in markets where gaming is legal.”
He said he is not aware of any specific incidents in golf. He also said the tour did not start the program with fantasy leagues in mind. That said, the tour is intrigued by daily fantasy games.
“Fan engagement, I think, is important for any sport. You look at the activity in other sports and you look at the activity in golf, it’s significant,” he said. “So if we could play a role, that’s something that we would be interested in in the future.”
NEW SCHEDULE: The PGA Tour released next season’s schedule Tuesday with no surprises, but with two tournaments lacking title sponsors — The National in the Washington, D.C., area and the Houston Open.
Otherwise, everything is roughly in the same order as last year, and two additional tournaments are on the schedule. One is the CJ Cup in South Korea on Oct. 19-22, and the other is the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic, to be held the same week as the Match Play in late March.
That gives the tour 49 tournaments on its schedule for prize money at a record $363 million.
The first tee shot will be struck Oct. 5 at the Safeway Open. The last day of the Tour Championship is Sept. 23.
As for the longtime chatter about an offseason? PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan made it clear that if the PGA Tour isn’t playing events, then its members can go somewhere else. One example might be Matt Kuchar, who plans to be at the Turkish Airlines Open the first week of November.
Meanwhile, Monahan said all 50 players required to add a tournament they had not played in the last four years complied this season, and 53 players are candidates for the new policy next season. Rickie Fowler announced he will be playing the OHL Classic in Mexico this fall.
DIVOTS: The RSM Classic is the last official PGA Tour event on the 2017 calendar, and that’s particularly helpful this year because of the damage left behind by the remnants of Hurricane Irma. Mark Love, the tournament director, said Sea Island should be in good shape for the Nov. 16-19 event. There was a fair amount of debris scattered about the two courses but no physical damage to either Seaside or Plantation. Both courses are expected to open on Wednesday. ... So Yeon Ryu won the Annika Major Award for having the best record in the five LPGA majors this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open. ... The PGA Tour is working with Intel to produce and distribute live virtual reality and live 360 video at six tournaments in 2017 and 2018, starting with the next two weeks at the Tour Championship and the Presidents Cup.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Ten players have won the last 10 LPGA majors, the longest streak of parity since there were 10 different winners from Birdie Kim at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open through Lorena Ochoa at the 2007 Women’s British Open.
FINAL WORD: “I don’t expect to win a major in 2018 — I expect myself to be in position. But I’ve proven to myself and to everybody else that it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to win.” — Jordan Spieth.