Singapore (September 1): More than a few eyebrows were raised across Asia following the LPGA Tour’s announcement that it is to add a fifth Major championship to its schedule.
To suggest that incredulity greeted Mike Whan’s confirmation that The Evian in France will be added to the LPGA’s roster of Majors in 2013 may be stretching the matter a little far. But the LPGA Tour’s Commissioner would do well to understand that there are those in Asia who will, inevitably, feel aggrieved and slighted.
And with a certain degree of justification, it must be said. After all, Asia and Asian players have become increasingly prominent and dominant on the LPGA Tour in recent years. In the past 18 months, three Asians have been ranked as the world’s number one – Japan’s Ai Miyazato, Korean Shin Ji-yai and, most recently and impressively, Chinese Taipei’s Tseng Ya-ni.
Meanwhile, consider also that events in Asia make up almost one-third of this year’s 24-tournament LPGA Tour schedule in the shape of the Honda Thailand LPGA, HSBC Women’s Champions (Singapore), Imperial Springs LPGA (China), LPGA Hana Bank Championship (Korea), Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship and Mizuno Classic (Japan).
So quite how, on the basis of the above, the LPGA Tour can overlook Asia’s claims for staging a Major at the expense of Europe is both hard to fathom and a rather painful slap in the face for the region that could conceivably be said to be propping up the self-proclaimed number one women’s circuit.
This is not the place to get bogged down with semantics as to whether it’s right or proper to increase the number of Majors, which from 2013 will comprise roughly 20 per cent of all LPGA Tour events – three in America and two in Europe. But as golfing historians will tell you, the LPGA Tour has not always restricted itself to four Majors in the past. With the addition of The Evian, though, it begs the following questions:
• Does it dilute the importance and prestige of the four existing Majors?
• Does it leave the door open to adding further Majors in the future?
All of this debate, it must be highlighted, is no reflection on the Evian Masters, as it has been called until now. Now into its second decade, clearly it’s been a wonderfully-run tournament with a significant prize purse and played at a stunning location on a course that will undergo sweeping renovations ahead of its Major debut.
Some mischievous sceptics have intimated that it was the fear of losing such an established – and rich – tournament from its schedule that prompted the LPGA to elevate it to Major status. Be that as it may, it’s Asia that is the loser, along with the sponsors that have backed million-dollar plus events here while the LPGA’s schedule in America has shrunk.
It’s instructive perhaps to turn the clock back to last year when The R&A’s Chief Executive Peter Dawson suggested that if a fifth Major were to be added to the men’s schedule (although he was not specifically advocating such a drastic move at that point in time) then it would certainly have to be staged in Asia.
Whan, it is only fair to point out, has made an excellent impression since assuming a role described by some as a poisoned chalice. In the nearly 24 months in which he has been in the post, his smooth media manner, genuine enthusiasm and ability to interact with his members and sponsors have seemingly endeared him to all – and brought positive results.
Yet this latest development may prove to be one of the biggest tests of his diplomatic skills given the damage that would ensue should he and the LPGA Tour alienate its ever-growing Asian membership and family of sponsors.