StregeMarch 23, 2010

Remember Us?

The LPGA finally opens its season in the U.S.

The Kia Classic will feature 49 of the top 50 players in the world, including Michelle Wie.

The Kia Classic will feature 49 of the top 50 players in the world, including Michelle Wie.

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Call off the search party. The missing tour has been located, turning up in this seaside community north of San Diego at a resort fortuitously featuring the Deepak Chopra Center. The path to wellness begins here, its slogan says.

The LPGA has not been particularly well of late, evidence of which is that nearly three months into the new year it is only now playing its first domestic tournament (and first event anywhere in a month). The issue, as one might expect in an anemic economy, has been lack of sponsors, though it must be some kind of omen that this tournament has two of them.

The path to wellness begins with the inaugural Kia Classic Presented by J Golf at the La Costa Resort and Spa, a place more familiar to followers of PGA Tour golf. The Mercedes Championship (also previously known as the Tournament of Champions) was played here, as was the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

J Golf is a Korean television entity, which is not a trivial matter on a tour dominated by Koreans, as Christina Kim, a Korean American, notes in her new book, "Swinging From My Heels: Confessions of an LPGA Star."

"The LPGA's biggest revenue stream is from Korean TV networks paying for the rights to broadcast our tournaments in Korea," she wrote. "So the next time a fan grouses that the Koreans are killing the LPGA, I hope someone will point out that, in this economy, it is Korean money that is keeping the tour afloat."

Kia, as if to punctuate her point, is a Korean automobile company.

The LPGA schedule is down to 26 events, only 14 of them located in the U.S. The upshot is represented by this part of a news release headline that could serve as a standing head, given the dearth of playing opportunities for LPGA members: "Major championship-caliber field."

Forty-nine of the top 50 players from the 2009 money list are entered. Only Paula Creamer is missing, the result of a thumb injury. Forty of the top 50 from the Rolex Rankings are playing.

Mexico's Lorena Ochoa, ranked first, is the tournament's marquee player, particularly in a county that shares a border with Mexico. Japan's Ai Miyazato is playing as well and bidding to win her third straight tournament on the LPGA. Miyazato won the Honda PTT LPGA Thailand and the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore to open the season.

Another formidable attraction is Michelle Wie, who is required to be here. She works for Kia, by virtue of an endorsement contract she signed with the company recently.

Wie, incidentally, also announced this week that she has signed an endorsement contract with McDonald's. Her meal of choice there?

"I'm 20 years old and I'm proud to say I still eat Happy Meals," she said here on Tuesday.

Happy Meals and the path to wellness. Better days are surely on the horizon.