Why reducing the Evian Championship to 54 holes was the right call
By Ron Sirak
EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France -- There are things for which the LPGA and the Evian Championship can be second guessed, but cutting this year's tournament to 54 holes is not one of them.
Yes, it was a shame to do so in its first year as a major, but weather left no other alternative. And that's the fact, Jack. Beginning late Saturday, there is no indication when we will see sun again.
How bad is the forecast? The superintendent tells me they are going to cover the greens and tees with plastic tarps Saturday night to try to make them playable during a window of OK weather Sunday afternoon.
I've never heard of that. But extreme situations require extreme measures. Sometimes the best alternative is not pleasant.
And once again, when faced with adversity, the LPGA specifically and women's golf in general comes under attack. It is almost as if there are those who want the tour to fail, and in the age of Twitter they have a platform on which to express their desire.
What the LPGA and the LET did here was try to protect the best interest of the players. One option considered was to reduce the cut number from low 70 and ties to low 50 and try to play 72 holes.
But that would have been unfair to those currently outside the top-60 on the LPGA money list who are trying to qualify for the five-event Asia swing. At $3.25 million, there is no larger purse on tour, offering a great opportunity for a player to improve her status.
Also, the weather forecast for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday is such that there was no way to guarantee when 72 holes might be completed. Worse would be starting the fourth round then washing it out and declaring the 54-hole leader the winner.
"The golf course has really reached its saturation point," LPGA senior VP of tour operations Heather Daly-Donofrio said Saturday, adding there had been four inches of rain since Saturday.
"And we are to receive five times as much rain Sunday as we received Thursday" when the course became unplayable, Daly-Donofrio said.
"We haven't ruled out Tuesday," she said about how long they would stay in an effort to complete 54 holes.
Credit the tour for making the decision as early as it did and allowing players time to adjust to the new conditions of competition.
"Our mission was to do what's right for the players and let them know that decision as early as possible," commissioner Mike Whan said Saturday.
"What if we are wrong [about the weather forecast]?" Whan asked himself. "That would be a dream for me if we are wrong. If it is sunny tomorrow, I would love to apologize for that."
On Thursday, the LPGA emailed its players and said it was considering changing the cut number. But it listened to feedback and acted on the will of the players. Friday night, players received this email from the tour:
"Given the amount of rain predicted over the course of the next 72 hour . . . we have decided to reduce the tournament to 54-holes with a cut of top 70 and ties."
There is a precedent for a 54-hole major -- the 1996 LPGA Championship. To say they should stay here until they finish 72 holes because it is a major championship simply ignores the realities of women's golf.
The women's majors do not have the deep pockets of the men's, but because the women's game doesn't generate the same revenue as the men doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken as seriously.
Look at who bankrolls the men's majors. The Masters has Augusta National Golf Club. The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club run the U.S. Open and British Open. And the PGA of American has the PGA championship.
Think those four organizations don't have a little money in the bank? The Augusta National folks ran the Masters without sponsors and no TV commercials during the Martha Burk controversy. That's money.
The USGA just signed a $1.1 billion 12-year TV deal with FOX. That's money.
Of those four organizations, the USGA is the only one that runs a women's major, and if this were the U.S. Women's Open we'd likely stay here well into next week.
But the check signers for the other four LPGA majors are corporations -- the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Wegmans LPGA Championship, the Ricoh Women's British Open and the Evian Championship.
The business of women's golf is an entirely different animal than the men's game, but that doesn't mean it is an animal that need be put out to pasture because it can't afford to behave in the same manner as the men.
Growing the game is the central issue facing golf right now -- at least in the United States. For 15 years golf has grown as a spectator sport but remained flat as a participatory sport.
And here is one of the most important numbers in the game: Women play only 18 percent of rounds in the United States. More than half the population is playing fewer than one in five of the rounds.
The potential for growth there is enormous. Want to raise real questions? Here's one: How do we get more women playing golf?
Women will bring the children into the game. And that's the future of the game.
Want to raise real questions about the Evian Championship? There are certainly valid areas of discussion.
Should there have been a fifth major? Maybe not. That's a worthy debate. Does adding the Evian disrupt the record book and further confuse the already muddled history of women's majors? Let's talk about that.
Was moving the Evian from late July to mid September a wise move? We are at 1,600 feet here on the shores of Lac Leman and in the foothills of the French Alps. Will the weather be like this every year? They say this rain is an aberration, but only time will tell.
Should they have skipped a year of the Evian and allowed the renovated course more time to grow in so that it could be aerated and hold water better? The Evian Resort Golf Club puddled up astonishingly quick on Thursday.
And there are questions about the design itself. The fact few players have spoken publicly about it says a lot. They appreciate how well the Evian folks have treated them over the years and don't want to embarrass them, but many players think the course --- especially the radically enlarged and severely contoured greens -- has been overcooked.
Yes, there are important issues worthy of discussion concerning the Evian Championship, the LPGA and women's golf. Mistakes have been made. But reducing this year's event to 54 holes is not one of them. There was simply no other choice.