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Don't Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

The fact that the LPGA is struggling isn’t even a “worst-kept” secret anymore. And, no, this is not a case where misery loves company. 

The best women golfers in the world take no solace from the news that the greedy NFL may suffer a work stoppage; that the floundering Tiger Woods may be washed up; that the bumptious Keith Olbermann is “out” at MSNBC or that the insufferable Sarah Palin doesn’t have friends left in Arizona.

The experts on Wall Street tell us the “recovery” has finally arrived. But the smart guys in the golf industry are quietly resigned to the realization that the business end of our game will continue to lag behind the overall economic bounceback. So this is not a good time for schadenfreude, which is a fancy word for taking perverse please at the misfortune of others.
All of which brings us to LPGA commissioner Michael Whan and one of the two or three best ideas anybody in golf has come up with in the monetarily-challenged 21st century.
Actually, it brings us to the resistance among certain prominent LPGA players to Whan’s idea.

I’m talking about you, Morgan Pressel. And you, Paula Creamer. And you, Suzann Pettersen. And you, Cristie Kerr.

You don’t get it. You don’t even sense it. And you are threatening to undermine the most brilliant PR opportunity the LPGA has been afforded in decades. 

You are so wrong on this that you will get what you deserve if, some day soon, Whan throws up his arms in frustration, walks out of the commissioner’s office and into a job where his energy, prescience and dedication to the tasks at hand are appreciated.

Here’s the quick background:
Not long ago, Whan hatched a plan whereby the first 2011 LPGA event in the States would be different. The players would earn $1.3 million in official money and world ranking points at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in March in Phoenix. But there would be no actual paychecks, just $500,000 turned over to the LPGA Foundation and its LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program, which impacted more than 6,600 young girls in 2010.
This was a no-brainer and it gained immediate support from the LPGA’s rank and file – i.e. the players who aren’t yet independently wealthy. Corporate America loved the notion that an association of professional athletes would be signing over their paychecks rather than depositing them into numbered bank accounts. Sports bosses all over the world sat up and took notice. Many of them privately wished they had thought of Whan’s idea first. The positive spin currency that flowed from his Founders concept was powerful and impossible to measure in dollars.
Then came the blowback. Pettersen, ranked No. 3 in the world, said she was skipping the Founders. Kerr, ranked No. 2, said she wasn’t sure the plan had been well thought out. Pressel, ranked No. 8, issued a statement in which she said: “I feel that the event belittles all other events that donate similar numbers to charity and still provide a full purse.”
So, all of a sudden there was an odor. And the best guess here is the stench from the bad breath of the advisors who were effectively telling Pettersen, Kerr, No. 11 Creamer and No. 17 Pressel that this couldn’t be a good idea – probably because it hadn’t come from them.

The LPGA, in good faith, acknowledged the RR Donnelley was getting its title sponsorship at a discount and offered an additional $200,000 in purse money for the top five finishers at the Founders Cup to donate to the charities of their choice. Yani Tseng, Angela Stanford, Kristy McPherson, Brittany Lincicome and Natalie Gulbis, among others, quickly committed to play in Phoenix.

Creamer said Founders was a “great cause” but added she was struggling with the “structure and format.” She said she would be more on board if Donnelley was on the hook for $1.3 million.

If Whan didn’t bite his lip, he should have. Maybe Donnelley doesn’t have room on its budget for $1.3 million. Many former golf-friendly corporations have slashed golf from their spending agendae altogether.

This much is clear: Now was not the time or the place for any LPGA players or their agents to go against the grain of a solution that will engender the kind of momemtun-producing goodwill that could eventually re-stock the bare LPGA schedule back up to the 30-35 events that used to be the norm.
Kerr told, “It’s a great idea, but went from concept to an event on the schedule too quickly without enough input from the players.”
Of course, Kerr is entitled to her opinion. But she’s missing the point by about three fairways. This is a generational opportunity, not a time to pick nits or endanger solidarity. 
The women of the LPGA, as a group, are hard-working and deserving of better than they have gotten compared to other sports leagues. The Whan solution here is the golf equivalent of a home run with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series. 
It’s an eagle on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Women’s Open to win by a shot.


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