The LPGA Tour begins its season this week and the big news? There is no news.
Sure, World No. 1 and all-around lovable star Lydia Ko is passing because she’s launching 2016 in her native New Zealand. But even her absence speaks to the stability that is the LPGA Tour.
In a golf world focused too often on getting bigger, grander and cooler, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan conveys a sense of vision that knows his tour’s strengths and limitations, something longtime PGA Tour tournament directors grumble about privately when hearing Tim Finchem’s constant growth mantra.
Whan’s confidence and restrained ambition heading into the season is admirable on so many levels. Speaking to GolfDigest.com, the sixth-year commissioner expressed his usual optimism and determination to make the women of the LPGA a bigger part of our golf viewing lives.
“We just have a bunch of great players, many of them with a presence on the course and on social media,” Whan said. “It’s also the first time we can focus on events we have instead of trying to get new ones off the ground.”
Instead of shifting attention to all of the grand new events his tour will be introducing in 2016 after many years of struggling to present a full schedule, this is a year of letting the dust settle. Whan wants to the tour to enjoy the exciting class of sophomore talent that will pursue the game's current elite who consistently bring high-level golf and intensity.
Now, like fine wine, it’s time to let it all age and hope that fans embrace Whan’s fifth major designation for the Evian Championship. With his players already asked to cover the globe more than the PGA Tour, Whan sounds content to let the newish events now move beyond first and second-year status, building deeper ties with fans and players.
Regarding those players? They’re young. Really, really young.
Eleven of 32 winners in 2015 were under 23. The LPGA’s budding stars even make the PGA Tour’s kids look virtually ancient. Whan has contemplated why we are seeing so many young players and offers many fascinating insights. But most admirably, he doesn’t “need to lead the rush” to celebrate all things youth.
Aided by the combination of better instruction, fitness and even access to seeing the world’s best on television, Whan says the combination of science has met with a confidence level the game has never seen before.
“A lot of good has come from telling 16-year-olds to heighten your goals, giving them the tools and then they see there is no barrier that says you have to wait until 28 to play your best.”
Whan emphasizes the fitness role, noting how much his players work each week on strength and cardio. But regarding his players, the father of three boys doesn’t shy away the gender argument: “Girls mature faster.”
As for the usual questions about his tour, Whan answered those and a few more rapid fire style:
Index? "Six handicap."
Last round of golf you played? "Aviara Resort (he was in Carlsbad for his son’s high school basketball tournament)"
Best golf course you’ve played? "Cypress Point."
Most famous course you haven’t played but want to play? "Fishers Island."
Will we see the LPGA finish on days other than Sunday to help get the tour more attention? “We’ve never really resisted the idea, but I have a customer--the check writer--and my job has to keep in mind what they’re paying for and to get them to come back year after year. So we play with that customer in mind as well their customers, the fans and community. A really good Wednesday finish is still going to be worse than a bad Sunday in so many ways. I say to Mike McCarley [President of Golf Channel] that I sell the idea to everyone but push it on no one.”
Last movie you watched? "Southpaw (on the plane flight home from San Diego)."
Will we ever see a mixed event featuring PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players like the old JC Penney Classic: “Yes, I believe we will. When we first started discussing with Tim Finchem, he pulled out his 2016 schedule from his jacket pocket and there wasn’t a whole lot of space on it. I said, ‘We don’t even have next year’s schedule.’ So it’s a matter of date challenges, finding open windows, but it’d be good for game, there would be a chance to bring together young and old players and I know they’d enjoy it. And we know fans have genuine interest in it, so hopefully things will align.”
Live coverage of the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic will air on Golf Channel Thursday and Friday from 11:30 am-2:30 p.m. ET, and will continue on Saturday and Sunday from 3-5 p.m. ET. Eventual 2015 Rookie of the Year Sei Young Kim captured the 2015 event in a playoff for her first of three LPGA wins in 2015.
The Show Is Back!
One of golf’s eternal mysteries was solved the last two years by Golf Channel’s extensive PGA Merchandise Show coverage. For years this annual promotional event was held in private, accessible to only golf industry insiders. As pro shop buyers have become less important, the secret society vibe became even more surreal as manufacturers spent silly amounts of money to make splash presentations.
Some of those movie-premiere style theatrics will reportedly be visible during Golf Channel’s 25 hours of coverage from the Orange County Convention Center. There will no shortage of product peddling and mentions of delivering value to the consumer. Oh, and distance and accuracy, too!
But at least the entire thing will actually be serving the purpose of spreading the gospel of golf consumerism instead of keeping the news a big secret.
Golf Channel’s coverage begins with “Demo Day” on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 7 a.m. ET, with Morning Drive on-site to highlight the latest in equipment. Beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET, a live ceremonial tribute will be held to honor the PGA’s Centennial highlighted by 82 tee shots from 41 PGA Professionals representing each of the PGA Sections from around the country, along with 41 junior golfers from the PGA Junior League team.
Morning Drive coverage of the Show transitions to the warm and fuzzy confines of the Orange County Convention Center Wednesday-Friday, starting at 7 am each day. Full wrap-up coverage will be featured Tuesday and Wednesday on special one-hour editions of Golf Central.
Jason Day Returns To Torrey Pines
His 2015 Farmers Insurance Open win kicked off the Aussie’s epic season and he returns along with Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose for the annual San Diego tour stop. Day beat three others -- J.B. Holmes, Scott Stallings and Harris English -- in a sudden death playoff en route to the first of five wins, including the PGA Championship.
Coverage begins at 3 pm ET Thursday and Friday on Golf Channel, before moving to CBS for the weekend with starts at 3 pm ET scheduled each day, pending the on-time completion of college basketball games each day. An unlikely event.
Dottie Pepper makes her CBS debut this week, replacing David Feherty as an on-course reporter.
Highlights from last year:
"Tired" Spieth Goes From Abu Dhabi To Singapore
The World No. 1 said his schedule will be changing down the road after too much globetrotting left him making poor decisions at last week’s HSBC.
So what better way to shake off the fatigue than to fly from Abu Dhabi to Singapore for more golf!
Don’t worry, he’s collecting a nice appearance fee and facing a weak field headlined by Darren Clarke and Korea’s An Byeong-hun, who tied for fifth with Spieth in Abu Dhabi. The SMBC Singapore Open is open to the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour’s top 60 (each) as well as various invitees. Contain your enthusiasm.
Golf Channel coverage begins Wednesday at 8 pm. ET, continues Thursday at the same time, then airs at 11 pm ET Friday and Saturday night.
Maybe this primer on the city and course will get you excited: