EVIAN-LES-BAINS, FRANCE l When confirmation came last Wednesday that the Evian Masters would become the LPGA’s fifth major as of 2013, there were those who suspected that the Asian players had to be a little miffed. True, the Evian is one of the most impressive tournaments of them all but, with the Koreans having 36 players in the world’s top 100 and the Japanese 22, how come that the fifth major did not have an Asian destination?
The Asian women golfers are far too mannerly to make a fuss even when something does strike them as being not quite right. In this instance, though, the mere suggestion that they might be frustrated was well wide of the mark. They could not have cared less.
According to Eiko Ouzumi, from Japan’s (ital) Golf Today (end ital), the players are looking only at the positives. They are thrilled to have five majors rather than four. “They say that they will have a better chance of winning one,” said Ouzumi.
Alex Armas, CEO of the Ladies’ European Tour, admitted that if she were a well-heeled Asian sponsor, she would be asking questions. “It wouldn’t surprise me if one or two have already been in touch with the LPGA,” she said. “Now that they have seen that the major scene can change, they will want one for themselves.”
Mike Whan, the commissioner of the LPGA, made it plain that there was no question of the Kraft Nabisco disappearing to make way for the newcomer. In other words, five majors it is.
Since it would be all wrong were the Asians to be kept out of the picture for too much longer, should we expect that number to go up to six and then seven? Probably not. A more likely scenario – not that there was any indication of this from on high – would be for the LPGA to ship the LPGA championship out East.
In the meantime, it is impossible to speak too highly of the Evian. Any tournament based in a little town and embraced by its residents – St Andrews, Crans-sur-Sierre, Pinehurst and Nairn, home of next year’s Curtis Cup, are four more like it – is almost always going to work. You see the same people on the streets as on the fairways and, in Evian last week, there were handsome pink banners draped around greens and lampposts alike. The atmosphere was as good as it gets.
The discussions among Whan, Franck Riboud, the Evian Masters’ chairman and Jacques Bungert, the tournament director, had been going on for two years. The Evian pair had told Whan that they were prepared to do anything that was asked of them – including making sweeping changes to the course – if they could have major status.
Money obviously makes for a fifth major, but the sponsors’ love of the women’s game would seem to have played its part. Riboud will almost certainly have been accused by his wife of loving his tournament rather more than he loves her. Indeed, his stories of how the Evian Masters started were far the most compelling part of the relevant press conference.
Initially, his father had sponsored a music festival in the town. Riboud Sr. decided to switch to golf 20 years ago and started out with a men’s pro-am. When the men did not hit the mark, he swapped them for the women – and the company has stayed with them ever since.
“We prefer the women,” said Riboud unashamedly.
His audience were amused that he would say something so politically incorrect, but he was quick to explain that this was France and he could say precisely what he pleased.
Evian does its best by everyone, including the caddies, who for a long time were treated downright badly at some of the women’s events on the European Tour. The Evian chairman remembers a week when he was caddying for France’s Sandrine Mendiburu in the UK. At the end of a hard day, he had felt in need of a drink and headed for the clubhouse. To his irritation, the officials took one look at this pillar of French society’s caddie-bib and sent him packing.
Since then, he has dreamed up something new for the caddies in Evian each year, a departure which kicked off with a football match in 1998. Would you believe that the caddies who walked on to the pitch that year found themselves playing against a side taking in Zinedine Zindane, a member of that year’s winning French World Cup side.
Past winners of the Evian will be the only losers as run-of-the-mill-becomes major in that they cannot suddenly boast of having a major in their locker. In which connection, Laura Davies will feel it more than most. Apart from having won two Evians too soon, she also captured the British before that championship was promoted.
Out of deference to the Masters, The Evian will become “The Evian” as opposed to the “Evian Masters” – not next year but as from 2013.
There was a problem here but only in the matter of arranging an appointment with the men of Augusta. “We struggled to explain that we exist in Evian,” chuckled Riboud.