Jane Blalock doesn't hesitate to call herself the watchdog of the LPGA.
She has made news more than once by doing something other than winning a tournament, which she's done 28 times in 16 years.
In 1972, she was the tour's hot topic when the LPGA issued her a one-year suspension for "unethical conduct" for moving a ball-marker on the green. Blalock subsequently brought suit against the tour, was reinstated and won a $4,500 settlement. In 1976, she testified for the LPGA in a suit against a sponsor trying to start a women's Masters tournament. In 1981, she was critical of LPGA promotional material featuring Jan Stephenson posing in shorts and bathing suits.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm always running around putting fires out," said Blalock, who conducted a clinic and played a round yesterday in the Lombardi Memorial Golf and Tennis Tournament at Indian Spring Country Club.
Blalock's watch over the tour has eased in the past few years, but so has her golf game. From midway through 1969, when she was rookie of the year, until the last tournament of 1980, she made the cut at 299 straight tournaments. Then, troubled by a herniated disc, Blalock failed to win a tournament for five years, ending in March with a victory in the Women's Kemper Open in Hawaii.
With three other top-three finishes this year, Blalock has resumed her role as a self-proclaimed constructive critic of the tour.
One question on Blalock's mind concerns the women's tennis tour. In the 1970s, it seemed that women's tennis and the LPGA had equivalent goals, trying to gain a status perhaps not equal to, but at least comparable to, the men's. Women's tennis largely has succeeded. The LPGA has not.
As they watched the Women's Tennis Association succeed, the LPGA leadership decided that the tour needed to promote what publicity coordinator Kevin Plate calls "the glamor side." That marketing strategy has manifested itself in an annual photo release featuring two-part composites of five or six golfers. Part One is an action shot. Part Two is delicately termed by the LPGA office as "the other." The "other" poses this year include Kathy Baker in a strapless gown with her arms lifted in an impersonation of Evita, and Chris Johnson as Mame in a skirt slit thigh-high.
"We feel very strongly that there is nothing wrong with it," said Plate. "It's part of a continuing strategy. The players enjoy it."
Blalock disagrees, estimating that over half of the players object to the strategy. "Rather than promoting golf as it is, they're a little backward, trying to promote sex as part of it. That's passe."
But the "glamour" marketing strategy, disputed as it may be, does not seem to have been the separating factor between the two women's sports. The WTA last year marketed a calendar that featured Chris Evert Lloyd, Martina Navratilova, Carling Bassett, Andrea Temesvari and Kathy Rinaldi in bathing suits and evening wear.
If promotion strategies have not made the difference, Blalock said the dominating personalities of Evert and Navratilova and the fact that they win the majority of the tennis tournaments, while a larger group takes turns winning LPGA events, accounts for part of the reason why the WTA has succeeded and the LPGA has lagged behind.
"I think more steady growth will come," said Blalock, who almost retired a few years ago during that winless streak. Instead, she changed her game to accommodate her back ailment.
"I changed as much as you can change and be the same golfer," she said.