AT THE START ofone of its most important seasons the LPGA is 2 for 2: two tournaments, twocontroversies. Last week's Fields Open in Hawaii was won by relative unknownMeena Lee, but it will be remembered for a gaffe by the LPGA that compelledsome news agencies to boycott the first round--even though Michelle Wie wasplaying her first tour event in Hawaii as a pro. This, a week after the SBSOpen in Hawaii was overshadowed by protests over the Women's World GolfRankings.
These growingpains are indicative of a tour straining for a higher profile under first-yearcommissioner Carolyn Bivens (above right, with Annika Sorenstam). To be sure,the product has never been better. Now the LPGA needs to figure out how to stayout of its own way.
The problems atthe Fields began with a new LPGA media credentialing policy that takes theunique position in sports that the tour essentially owns stories andphotographs generated at its events. When the Associated Press, the HonoluluStar-Bulletin and The Honolulu Advertiser refused to submit, they were deniedcredentials, even though the two dailies were event sponsors. Thus, on the dayafter the first round the Star-Bulletin ran only a story explaining why itdidn't have any stories about the tournament. "The LPGA would require us tolet them use our photos forever, for free," said Star-Bulletin editor FrankBridgewater, "and we would have to ask its permission if we wanted to useour own photos in the future. We will not ... allow others to have any controlover our stories."
After somebackroom politicking the credential language was finessed, and the AP and bothpapers covered the final two rounds. But for Bivens, a former USA Todaypublisher who came in with a rep as a marketing whiz, it was an embarrassingstart to her tenure. The credential flap drowned out the complaints of playersafter Wie was third in the inaugural world rankings, even though she has neverwon as a pro and played only 15 events over the past two years. Wie, however,finished third at the Fields, shooting a final-round 66 that left her one shotout of a playoff between Meena Lee and Seon Hwa Lee (no relation). Wie's starpower highlighted a leader board full of glamour (Natalie Gulbis, 23, tied forfourth), charisma (Paula Creamer, 20, tied for 11th) and fire (17-year-oldrookie Morgan Pressel, tied for 11th). The LPGA catches its breath this weekwith a bye, then begins the run-up to its first major, the Kraft NabiscoChampionship, which begins on March 30. By then the quality of the golf and theappeal of the golfers should be the only story. --Alan Shipnuck