A locator map for the LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club in Sunday's editions incorrectly showed the main entrance to the tournament to be located between the sixth and seventh holes. There is no entrance to the grounds other than the club entrance off Bradley Boulevard. Also, tournament officials stress that there is no public parking on site, and that police will tow improperly parked vehicles in the area. (Published 7/23/90)
No one will leave the LPGA alone.
It's not the PGA Tour, critics correctly charge. It's not the senior tour. Women tennis players make the cover of the newsmagazines. But what of the LPGA? Where do we see its superstars? Better yet, who are its superstars? Some want to know, what's wrong with this tour?
Nothing, says Bill Blue, the commissioner of the LPGA, which makes a historic stop in town this week for the LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club, the tour's first $1 million tournament. The four-day, 72-hole event, the tour's final major of the year, begins Thursday. It's the first time this tournament will be held in the Washington area.
"We constantly run up against comparisons," Blue said in a recent interview. "I guess over my first 18 months in this job, I spent about a quarter of the time reducing or mitigating the comparison aspect between other tours or other sports and ourselves. We're not competing with anybody but ourselves. And we're doing quite well."
For the LPGA, it's the classic quandary of whether the glass is half full or half empty.
Prize money never has been better, up from $1.2 million in 1975 to $18 million this year. Judy Rankin was the first player to earn more than $100,000 in a single season, in 1976. Last year a record 34 players did that. Mazda put up a cool million for the LPGA Championship. Phar-Mor drugstores put up another million as a bonus for any woman who won both its tournaments, one in Florida in February, the other in Ohio that ends today. They did that, executives said, because they wanted to reach out to their predominantly female clientele through a sport that is attracting an increasing number as participants and spectators.
Sponsors are ready and waiting. Endorsements are available to players well down the money list. Players are getting rich playing this game.
But, if perceptions count, the LPGA still is struggling.
"We hear about distance and men's sponsors and the senior tour and I say that doesn't bother us," said Blue, a former executive with The Kahlua Group who was found by a headhunter "out of the blue" and took over in December 1988. "We have our own group that follows us. We have our own cadre of sponsors. Our positioning is unique. There are no other women professional golfers. And we want to be the role models for young women."
The thinking on the LPGA Tour goes like this: If you want to watch golf to be in awe of monster drives and crushing iron play, go see the PGA. If you want to watch for nostalgic reasons, follow the seniors. But if you want to learn about the game of golf, watch the LPGA.
"The fan can get more out of watching our pros," Blue said. "By watching the swing mechanics and the tempo with which they play, the amateur will be able to align more closely with our players than with players of either of the other two tours. That is a real benefit."
As women athletes, LPGA players must deal with other issues. The so-called "image problem" is a constant concern. Translated, it is the never-ending whispers that a segment of the tour, perhaps a large segment, is gay.
Blue is so aware of it -- and seemingly unbothered by it -- that he brought up the topic during a recent interview.
"It's a non-issue with us," he said. "The attitude about women professional athletes and their social preferences has virtually disappeared in a matter of six months. Major questions. Disappeared. One of our goals is to make sure the image is right. We know we're a microcosm of society. But we've gone out and been very proactive in saying, 'These are professional women. They are golfers. . . . You can attend any of our pro-ams, you can be with them socially and find out they are well-educated. They are alert, they are outgoing, they're great entertainers and they're taking tremendous pride in what they do.' "
Women's tennis has had to deal with the same issues, particularly with two of its superstars, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. But tennis is lucky. It nurtures pixies. Just when the sport was lamenting the retirement of Chris Evert, along came Jennifer Capriati.
The LPGA will never have a pixie.
"We have longevity," Blue said. "It isn't the quick in and out as tennis is."
Women golfers peak in their late 20s. No 13-year-old would ever stand a chance on the LPGA Tour. It's too demanding mentally and confining emotionally. You can't run, you can't hide and you can't grunt.
The LPGA also has many more potential stars than women's tennis. On any given week, any of 50 or 60 players could win a golf tournament. In women's tennis, there are a handful of likely winners, which creates a more concentrated group of names and stars for the fans and the media.
The LPGA always has sought a balance between small and big towns in its tour stops, something Blue plans to continue, with some arm-twisting. The Cornings, Hersheys and Atlantic Citys always will have a place on the tour, Blue said, but they'll have to ante up. All had purses of less than $400,000 this year; Blue expects every tournament to offer at least $400,000 next year.
He hopes for more television coverage too, and he expects he'll get it.
"We'll sell the tour," Blue said. "That was a foregone conclusion when I walked in."