Anyone who pays attention to the LPGA Tour knows it was on tenuous footing a few years back. The economy coupled with ill-timed and poor leadership decisions had the women’s pro game teetering on something of a brink.
Of course, the “anyone who pays attention” part was a slice of the problem. It was more than mere dollars and sense.
The LPGA also took a 1-2 body punch when its two best and best-known golfers dropped off the tour in a 17-month period.
Annika Sorenstam “stepped away from competitive golf” in December, 2008, maybe no longer at the zenith of her game, but still a three-time winner that season. In May, 2010, Lorena Ochoa, the top-ranked player in the world, abruptly retired just five months after being married. She was 28 years old at the time.
Imagine Arnie walking away and Jack following his lead at the height of their careers and their popularity.
For the LPGA, this wasn’t much different. In the several years that have followed, as the tour fought to reestablish itself among tournament sponsors and advertisers, especially domestically, perhaps the biggest problem it faced was the perception that without its two brightest stars not too many people were indeed paying attention.
Now, finally, there is a headline grabber playing on the LPGA Tour. Also, there is a head-scratching coincidence that is also drawing notice.
Inbee Park has won the first three women’s major championships of 2013. You might think that all standing between her and modern golf’s first Grand Slam, regardless of gender, is the Women’s British Open in early August.
You may or may not be correct. The LPGA, ironically, picked this year to designate a fifth major, the Evian Championship in France in mid-September. Go figure.
So, let’s put it this way. Park can become the first LPGA golfer to win four major championships consecutively in the same calendar year. Whether that would be a Grand Slam or whether she would need to win both the British and the Evian to accomplish such a thing is a matter of semantics, I guess.
In 1930, the great Bobby Jones won all four men’s majors of that era — the Open and Amateur championships of both the U.S. and Great Britain — and a New York City writer, obviously a bit full of himself, called it the “impregnable quadrilateral.”
Fortunately, another writer, Jones’ close friend O.B. Keeler from Atlanta, allowed us to forget that mouthful of silliness by calling it the Grand Slam.
Many folks figure there is a tie-in there with baseball, where a grand slam drives in the maximum four runs. Jones won the maximum four majors. Get it?
Keeler later explained that his Grand Slam reference was influenced by contract bridge, where it is the term used for taking all 13 tricks. So apparently the number has nothing to do with it.
Of course, it still deals with the maximum, which is five this year when it comes to LPGA majors. So it would seem Park, who is afraid of the dark but still putts the lights out, still has a ways to go.
The good news for the LPGA is that people are paying attention and talking about it. We’ll certainly be doing both here in Toledo when Park competes in the Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows on July 18-21, which is expected to be her final competitive tuneup for the Women’s British on the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.
When Sorenstam walked away shortly after her 38th birthday with 72 LPGA titles and 10 majors and more money than any tour player had ever won, the equally popular Ochoa was already positioned as No. 1 in the world rankings and figured to carry the tour for many more years. She was gone after playing just six events in 2010.
Yani Tseng of Taiwan burned brightly, winning four majors in 2010 and ’11, but then perhaps burned out. She hasn’t won anything, major or minor, in 15 months. Stacy Lewis was the tour’s top talent a year ago, the first American to take Player of the Year honors since 1994, which was nice for us Yanks.
Neither necessarily put the LPGA on the front pages of sports sections from coast to coast.
Inbee Park did that with her U.S. Women’s Open victory last weekend on the heels of wins in the Kraft Nabisco and LPGA championships. Those are the highlights of a rather amazing eight wins and five runner-up finishes in her last 24 starts.
She is history in the making for a tour that would surely revel in something historic.
Contact Blade sports columnist
Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.