Greason: LPGA Tour deserves more attention
Elizabeth Greason | Friday, March 31, 2017
The first major of the year is underway. I know what you’re thinking: Hold on, the Masters doesn’t start until next week. And you’re correct. But I’m not talking about the Masters.
The first LPGA major — the ANA Inspiration — began Thursday. And while I have been looking forward to finding out who will be making the leap into Poppie’s Pond on Sunday for some time now, I have no doubt that I am in the minority of golf fans who feels that way. And that is not because the ANA Inspiration is a bad event — in fact, it is probably one of the more popular events on the LPGA Tour. It is because it is an LPGA event.
The LPGA, like many of the professional women’s sports leagues, is one of the most underrated and underappreciated entities in the world of sports. Aside from the fact that the purse for the ANA Inspiration is $2.7 million — compared to the $10 million up for grabs in next week’s Masters — the LPGA’s television ratings pale in comparison to those of the PGA Tour. The 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship — which became the ANA Inspiration in 2015 — had 670,000 viewers tune in for the final round, the largest audience for a women’s golf event since the 2013 Solheim Cup. By comparison, the 2014 Masters drew 8.6 million views — which had CBS in a panic, as it was the tournament’s worst weekend since 1993.
Maybe the ANA Inspiration and the Masters are not a fair comparison because the Masters are, well, the Masters. But the ratings difference of millions of viewers continues throughout the season, both in majors and normal Tour events.
You may think I’m about to go on a sports feminism rant, and trust me, I could. But I’ll refrain myself and instead focus on the reasons the LPGA deserves more credit and attention than it gets.
The LPGA is the tour the vast majority of people should be watching. There is no doubt that the men play a different game than the women do. They hit the ball farther and they put enough spin on their wedges to make them zip back like yo-yos. But the average golfer — even the average scratch golfer — plays a game more similar to that of the female professionals. That’s not to say that the men are better players than the women — the two groups simply play the game differently.
The ladies of the LPGA Tour are the best in the world at what they do, and that is something that deserves recognition. Watching Lexi Thompson or Brittany Lincicome blasts a ball off the tee gives the viewer the same pleasure as watching Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson stripe one down the middle of the fairway. Paula Creamer’s now-famous 75-foot putt for eagle to win the HSBC Women’s Champions in a playoff is just as impressive as Jon Rahm’s 60-foot eagle putt to win at Torrey Pines in January.
The women play golf that is just as good and just as fun to watch as the men, and yet the interest level in the LPGA is next to none. The fact that the first women’s major comes a week before the Masters should be a plus for the Tour. People can prepare for the heart of golf season by watching the pinnacles of women’s golf play their hearts out for a chance to cannonball into Poppie’s Pond. People should care about that fact that teenage phenom Lydia Ko might lose her No. 1 world ranking after spending 75 consecutive weeks in the top spot. But people would rather watch the same predictions and analysis of what will happen at Augusta next week than the real, live golf currently taking place.
The drama and excitement surrounding this year’s ANA Inspiration is palpable. It brings everything you could want in a golf tournament to the table. And yet, no one cares. Or at least, not enough people care. And that’s a shame. The LPGA deserves better from golf fans.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.