The good news for LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan is that his sport is dominating the golf conversation, which is rare.
It seems like every time Whan turns on TV is he hearing about Inbee Park, and that’s how it should be. When she completed a masterful week of putting and precision at Sebonack Golf Club, the 24-year-old South Korean had won the U.S. Women’s Open for her third consecutive major this year.
Next up is a chance for Park to do what no golfer has done in the history of the royal and ancient game – win four professional majors in a single season. Adding to the moment is the venue – the Women’s British Open will be at St. Andrews, the home of golf. Any other year, the golf world would be buzzing over the prospect of a Grand Slam.
But not this one. There is way too much confusion.
It was Whan who decided in 2010 to elevate The Evian Championship in France to major championship status starting in 2013, giving the LPGA Tour five majors for the first time in its 63-year history. Just his luck, it turned out to be the year one of his players had a shot at the Grand Slam.
Except that winning four majors is not really a Grand Slam when there are five on the schedule. Is it?
“If you would have asked me as a golf nut about five majors, I would have said, ‘It doesn’t feel right to me,’” Whan said Tuesday morning. “Then you become commissioner of the LPGA Tour. Do you or don’t you? If you don’t ... your job here is to grow the opportunities for women in the game worldwide. We don’t get the exposure anywhere near the men’s game except for three or four times a year, and those are around the majors.
“Jump forward to 2013,” he said. “The fact I can turn on the TV every night and the discussion is on the LPGA and five majors and what does this mean ... the world views this as frustrating. In my own silly world, this is the most attention we’ve had in a long time.”
Golf always has been about four majors, at least it seems that way.
It dates to 1930 when Bobby Jones swept the biggest championships of his era – the British Open, British Amateur, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur. O.B. Keeler, of the Atlanta Journal, called it a Grand Slam, a term from contract bridge that meant winning all 13 tricks.
The spirit of that term is a clean sweep, whether it’s four, five or 13.
Arnold Palmer gets credit for creating the modern version of the Grand Slam in 1960 when he won the Masters Tournament and U.S. Open and was on his way to play the British Open for the first time. He was traveling with Pittsburgh sports writer Bob Drum, who was lamenting that professional golf had led to the demise of what Jones had achieved in 1930. That’s when Palmer suggested a new Grand Slam by winning the four professional majors.
Comparisons between men’s and women’s golf are never easy, especially in the majors.
The LPGA Tour now has eight majors in its official history, including the du Maurier Classic, the Titleholders and the Western Open.
And now there are five?
“If Inbee wins the British Open and it’s 2011, the media writes a bunch of stories and for the next seven months, ‘See you guys next season.’ Now if she wins, there will be more attention on The Evian Championship than even Evian could ever have fathomed,” Whan said. “It could be good or it could be bad.”
But at least they’re talking. And for women’s golf, that’s never a bad thing.