The Trouble with Tigermania Don't tell the LPGA that Tiger Woods has been great for golf

March 06, 2000

Need I tell you that Tigermania is sweeping the country?
Final-round coverage of last month's Buick Invitational, with
Woods going for his seventh straight win, got a higher rating
than any U.S. or British Open in 15 years. To avoid the huge
crowds that dog his every step these days, Woods plays practice
rounds at 6 a.m. Tournament directors have been swamped with
requests for media credentials. The progress of Tiger's recent
winning streak was noted on the nightly network news. Even when
he lost, Woods's picture made the front page of The New York
Times.

The question is, What kind of impact are his heroics having on
the other U.S. tours? You'll hear no complaints from the seniors,
whose own merry band has been bolstered by the arrival of Tom
Kite, Lanny Wadkins and Tom Watson, or from the newly renamed
Buy.com tour. Both tours are camped under one large umbrella with
the PGA Tour (same headquarters, same commissioner), with obvious
benefits. For instance, telecasts of Senior tour events don't go
head-to-head with regular Tour events. Also, the Senior and the
Buy.com tours benefit from trickle-down economics.

Where does this leave the women? Many believe that a rising tide
lifts all boats, but sad to say, the LPGA's boat is up on the
beach. Four weeks ago the women played in Los Angeles to a
gallery of mostly friends and relatives. With Tiger teeing it up
about 100 miles south in La Jolla and CBS's weekend telecasts
going on at noon Pacific time, who wanted to be at Wood Ranch
Golf Club in Simi Valley? Yes, the LPGA event was televised, but
on the Golf Channel, which only junkies get. As one former
network executive said, "Who in the hell would want to be
televising an LPGA event when you're going up against Tiger
Woods?"

Although the women's purses have risen steadily, they have not
grown like the men's. Since 1996, the year Woods turned pro, the
PGA Tour's total prize money has gone from $69 million to $157
million. By contrast, the LPGA's purses over those years have
increased only from $22.5 million to $34.2 million. That's
roughly $20 million less than this year's Senior tour prize
money.

The reasons for this shortfall go beyond Tiger. The greatest is
the absence of an exciting personality who happens to play better
golf than anybody else. Oh, what the LPGA would give to have
another 21-year-old Nancy Lopez step up to the 1st tee. Or maybe
Venus and Serena Williams with golf clubs instead of tennis
rackets. Last year's player of the year, Australia's Karrie Webb,
has already won three times this year, including last week's
Australian Ladies Masters, but unlike so many Aussies,
effervescence is not part of her equipment. Se Ri Pak has
difficulty speaking English. Annika Sorenstam is a Swede, as was
Greta Garbo, and the two share some of the same stolid
characteristics. Sorenstam was scheduled to make her 2000 debut
in Los Angeles, and the tournament promoted her heavily, but at
the last minute it was discovered that she had not officially
entered, and she was declared ineligible. The LPGA can ill afford
such clerical errors.

The tournament schedule is another liability. It's a hodge-podge,
lacking the consistency of the PGA Tour's three-month opening,
with its nine-tournament West Coast swing followed by four
Florida events and then the Masters. Who knows where, when or
even if the women are playing from week to week? This year's tour
began in West Palm Beach, Fla. Last year's began in Orlando. In
1997 it started in Fort Lauderdale, in 1994 in Lake Worth, Fla.
You get the idea.

After this year's first two events the LPGA lost whatever
momentum it had by taking a two-week siesta. Then after its
cross-country trip to the Los Angeles Women's Championship, it
headed to the other side of the world, Australia (with stop-offs
in Hawaii on either side), virtually guaranteeing zero coverage.
Even its first marquee event gets lost. The Nabisco Championship
(nee Dinah Shore) is played opposite the Players Championship
because that's the weekend ABC can televise it. What is ABC doing
the week before the Masters? It's televising a Senior tour event,
the Tradition.

In a joint interview with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED a year ago, LPGA
commissioner Ty Votaw and his counterpart at the PGA Tour, Tim
Finchem, were asked how they would feel about joining forces
under one even larger umbrella. Finchem was intrigued with the
idea. Now might be a good time for Votaw to pursue it.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK When Tiger teed it up in La Jolla, who wanted to be 100 miles away at the LPGA tournament?
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
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