During the eight-year run of the LPGA here in St. Louis, I was part of the team staging the event and my responsibilities centered on public and media relations. I worked with the same team in Chicago on another LPGA tourney after St. Louis folded.
In St. Louis, Annika Sorenstam won half of the events and added another win in Chicago. Promoting coverage with Annika not only in the field annually, but reigning champion, half the time was a piece of cake. The future Hall of Famer guaranteed coverage.
During those years I would from time to time get into conversations with my bosses as well as LPGA officials about the long-term risk of so totally investing in the face of the Tour in only one player. It was easy and sensible for the LPGA to ride the Annika express but it left open the question where would they turn when Annika pulled the plug.
As it turned out the Tour got a brief rescue from Lorena Ochoa, although the scale of interest in Ochoa paled by comparison.
I also would engage at that time in the same conversation with national writers when I was on the road covering the men’s majors, not about Sorenstam but about Woods. In the cases of both Woods and Sorenstam their impact on their tours extended beyond their own successes to the amount of conversation they created about professional golf. They both made the game chic.
I bring this up now on the doorstep of the Open Championship because I have a sense that both Tours are lacking the kind of star power Woods and Sorenstam provided in their earlier years. For the LPGA there is hope that Inbee Park will make it four consecutive major wins by capturing the Women’s British Open in a few weeks. But even that accomplishment will likely be a short spike in attention for a Tour that will remain faceless.
In the case of the PGA Tour, Woods is back and winning (four times in 2013) but his last win was before the Masters, and he is in his fifth year without a major win. Tiger is still the biggest name in men’s golf, but he is no longer the Reggie Jackson straw that stirs the drink.
The British bookmakers have solidly installed Woods at the top of the odds for this week’s Open at Muirfield, but that may be as much by default as by belief. This may be a major without an actual favorite.
Rory McIlroy is the only player in the last eighteen majors to collect more than one title, but the young Irishman has underperformed through the first half of 2013 and admits to waning confidence.
Justin Rose and Adam Scott were nice stories when they won at Merion and Augusta in the first two majors of this year, but does a breakthrough major win today carry the seal of approval it once did? In the last nineteen majors seventeen different players have crossed the finish line first – fifteen of them winning their first major.
If Rose should capture both Opens in the same year he would join Tiger Woods, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino as the most recent players to accomplish the double. Is anyone confident enough to move Rose into that company in advance of play this week?
The truth is favorites in golf are generally meaningless, especially now that it appears that Woods no longer has the key to his major ignition and can only hope to win like every other mortal in the game, when the week works out well for him.
That last couple of weeks on Sports on a Sunday Morning host Ron Jacober and I have talked about weak leaderboards at the PGA Tour stops. We could have that same conversation this week with Daniel Summerhays over Zach Johnson at John Deere. More than ever it appears in any given week anyone in the field of a PGA Tour event can emerge the winner, and although that list may be shorter, the same is probably true of the majors.
If Tiger reverses course and picks up another claret jug this week and roars into Rochester for the PGA in restored pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ eighteen career majors, the PGA Tour may have, for the moment, a semblance of the buzz of the last decade. But even if that would play out, the game of golf on the professional level is in need of what Major League baseball is showcasing this week – an All Star team.