The IX: Golf Thursday with Carly Grenfell, July 23, 2020
LPGA season preview — Interview with Christina Kim — Must-click links in women's golf
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LPGA Season Preview (Let’s Try This Again)
I never anticipated writing a season preview for the LPGA in late July, but here we are! The four events that actually did happen in 2020 seem like so long ago, so let’s take a deeper dive into everything that’s 1) happened up to this point since the season was put to a halt and 2) everything that’s in the pipeline for the remainder of the year.
It has been no easy task for LPGA leadership and key stakeholders to get to this point. We know from the PGA Tour resumption that in many ways, the COVID-19 environment creates a logistical nightmare. I commend everyone involved for getting us this far—and can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store.
The most-asked question to LPGA players these last four months has probably been: how are you spending your time in quarantine? We have seen a lot of different answers to this question—from playing in mini-tour events, making music videos, raising money for charity, working on the COVID-19 front lines, spending more time with family and the list continues. As Beth Ann Nichols talks about in one of her recent articles for Golfweek, some players will be pretty untouched and refreshed, and other players might be questioning their future in the sport.
Time off is always a good thing. But too much time off can be detrimental for some. Think about it. Golf is their livelihood. They depend on it for money, for purpose, for enjoyment. Without golf, what does life look like? How does it make them feel? I am sure emotions across the board fall into all areas of the spectrum. I don’t even play a professional sport, and it has been a rollercoaster of emotions and uncertainty; I can’t imagine the pressure that might be arising for some, or the freedom that has come out of all of this for others.
“For someone like me to take a step back and say, how much do I still want to do this? How much is that sacrifice of traveling? If I’m asking myself those questions, I have to believe that every player is asking themselves these questions, too.” – Angela Stanford
We can’t undermine the mental toll that COVID-19 has probably taken on players. They’ve been faced with filling their time in ways they haven’t had to before. They’ve had to find other hobbies and things to do. They’ve been faced with months not on the road—a rarity in an LPGA player’s typical schedule. Whether they’ve felt bored or renewed as a result of that, everyone is different. But it’s something to consider as the season gets underway. While some might be thinking players should be sharp and energized, in reality, it might take a few events to shake the rust off.
I’ll start off by stating the obvious: life on the road won’t look anything like it was before. Here’s a look at what LPGA players will be facing as play begins. The first is having to take an at-home saliva test a week before traveling to the event. If that test comes back negative, they remain in the field and can travel to Ohio. If that test comes back positive, they are immediately taken out of the field. If a player arrives onsite and happens to test positive in Ohio, they’ll obviously be pulled from the event, but receive a $5,000 stipend while caddies will also receive a stipend for $2,500.
The LPGA has a couple dedicated hotels for players to stay at. In a normal environment, players are free to do whatever they want and often go the Airbnb route and stay with other players to cut back on costs. It’s also more convenient staying at a house as opposed to a hotel—because there’s a full kitchen, fridge, multiple bathrooms, outside space, etc. The weeks are long, and hotels don’t often accommodate in ways that a house does. If a player chooses to stay elsewhere, they are not eligible for any COVID-19 stipends. So needless to stay, I would imagine most (if not all) will stay in the hotels.
It is not totally clear how often players will be tested at the events themselves. From my understanding, it just depends on the event. Once the Ohio events wrap up, the LPGA coordinated a charter flight to Scotland, and also returning from the British Open, which is right after the Ladies Scottish Open. I would be shocked if both charters aren’t full. Although it’s more expensive then a regular commercial flight, it’s at least more dependable and you’re traveling with only people you know and have been around.
I often ask myself—how did the LPGA even know what to do and where to begin when things started to get serious? Not only is player health and safety a top priority for them, but they don’t have the money that the PGA Tour does. Events without fans is arguably a bigger hit on the LPGA than the PGA. So while dealing with the stress of COVID-19 and all the logistics that come with it, they also have to lean on partners and take a good hard look at where else they can cut costs.
Upcoming Ohio Events
Let’s start with the inaugural LPGA Drive on Championship, being held July 31-Aug 2 at Inverness Country Club (home of the 2021 Solheim Cup) in Toledo, Ohio. This was one of the events that planned to have fans attend, is addition to a pro-am, but that is no longer the case. As you’ll find out in the links section, a lot of the top Korean players are choosing not to play these first few events. I don’t really blame them. They can play in KLPGA events and earn money without risking their health through travel.
But the field for the Drive On Championship is a thing of beauty! World No. 2 Nelly Korda, No. 5 Danielle Kang, No. 8 Minjee Lee, No. 9 Lexi Thompson, No. 15 Carlota Ciganda, No. 16 Jessica Korda and No. 19 Lizette Salas are currently slated to tee off at Inverness. Not to mention the four lone winners of 2020 in the field: Gaby Lopez, Madelene Sagstrom and Hee Young Park.
From Inverness, players will head to Sylvania, Ohio for the Marathon Classic, which takes place August 6-9. No fans, just golf and plenty of nasal swabs! The Marathon Classic is faced with what nearly every other golf tournament is these days: a tighter budget with no ticket and hospitality revenue. Executive Director Judd Silverman has cut back on pro-ams (five to two) and the purse was slashed from $2 million to $1.7 million. Whatever it takes, the LPGA is finding a way. Chances are—they’ll have to do this a few other times this year.
“I fully believe we’ll lose another event or two or three along the way. I couldn’t really tell you which ones, but it would be probable naïve of me to think we are just going to roll through our season and roll through different countries and be able to play exactly as we have slated, but I’m excited about what we have. — Mike Whan
Next Stops on Tour
After Ohio, come the Ladies Scottish Open and the British Open. Yet again, players from all over the globe face the decision of playing in these events (while risking getting sick during travel/commercial flights) or skipping them. There are also strict protocols in place at this events, requiring players to stay in hotels and not being allowed to really do anything. As Whan hints at, the chances of another event getting canceled or postponed are likely. But hey, golf and the LPGA is nearly back. Let’s get excited about what we have in front of us!
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This Week in Women’s Golf
Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! email@example.com
Players face mental demons during LGPA Tour’s long break. (via Golfweek)
There are some changes to the Rolex World Ranking’s given this unique season. Take a look at how the rankings will resume. (via LPGA.com)
The LPGA is readying it’s return—FINALLY! (via LPGA.com)
Women’s British extends sponsorship until 2025. (via Golfweek)
Michelle Wie was just announced as a 2021 Solheim Cup Captain. (via LPGA.com)
Check out my conversation with retired LPGA phenom Jane Blalock. She taught herself how to play golf and had an incredible career. (via PGA.com)
The LPGA event in Arkansas is the latest tournament to proceed without fans. (via MSN)
In a final tune-up, Lexi Thompson almost won a men’s mini-tour event. (via Golf Digest)
Danielle Kang, Nelly Korda headline American-dominant field at the Drive On Championship. (via Golf Channel)
A couple of LPGA rookies graduated from Stanford during the pandemic and LPGA break. (via MSN)
The top eight South Korean golfers are reportedly not playing in the LPGA’s first event back. (via ESPN)
The game’s newest international star will make her return at the Ladies Scottish Open. (via Golf Channel)
Both Ohio LPGA events will now be held without fans. (via ESPN)
Lydia Ko pens a powerful letter to her 15-year-old self. (via LPGA.com)
Christina Kim is making some noise in the golf commentating space. Check out this feature on how this came about. (via LPGA.com)
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Christina Kim
It’s awesome when an LPGA player shines inside the ropes, but one of the coolest stories to come out of this quarantine has to do with Christina Kim shining outside the ropes. That is, discovering her knack for golf commentary. You might even say she stumbled upon this career. But either way, she has certainly gained the attention and respect of many golf fans and consumers far and wide. Quotes courtesy of Golf Digest and LPGA.com.
I. Kim was invited by PGA Tour Entertainment executive producer Greg Hopfe to make her commentating debut on PGA TOUR Live. She worked both the RBC Heritage and most recently, The Memorial Tournament: I was completely floored. It took me completely by surprise, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I would love to give that a go.’ I love this game. I’m passionate about the game. I’m excited that golf is back on. I told them I’d love to sit around and watch the guys play.
II. She also had a whole lot to balance between preparing for the start of the LPGA season, but also getting ready to commentate. I did do a little bit of prep work. I took some notes, found out who our featured groups were, so I did do a little bit of prep work that way. That being said, I just kind of let it fly. I’ve been watching these guys forever. I’m just a huge fan of golf in general, whether it’s men or the women. I love this game. I love everything about it. I was able to just let it flow.
III. The dynamics on a PGA TOUR Live stream are also pretty different to a live broadcast, Kim discovered. One thing I noticed that’s different about PGA Tour Live compared to traditional coverage is that dead air is okay. Listening to them, you can learn so much about how a player thinks when they’re talking about every swing they’re taking. It really is about letting the players, in essence, tell their own stories. The microphones obviously are over there, the fluffy microphones. You’ve got cameras that are dedicated to an entire group for the entire round. You’re getting a more intimate look. I thought that was really, really cool. At the end of the day I just talk and say what I think is taking place and what could be going through a player’s head because I have those experiences. To a certain degree, I’ve been training for this my whole life.
IV. One of the things Kim was praised for on social media was exactly what she mentions above: letting the players tell the story. I’m a golf fan. When you get to pick the mind of someone that is so young and someone that is so good, along with a clearly world class caddie, it doesn’t matter what level you’re on. You want to take part in that and know what the players are saying. For me, I was fortunate in that, this is information I was provided and information that was hugely important for me to learn, while at the same time, I was like, ‘That’s great because I don’t want to hear my own voice. I want to know what’s going on over there.’
V. All in all? Kim coins it a memorable experience on air. I know I am not a professional commentator. That’s what Brian [Katrek] and Billy [Kratzert] were for last week, because they are incredible at what they do and I didn’t want to feign as if I was one of them. My role was adjacent to them while I was staying in my lane. I was like a kid in a candy store; I was full of adrenaline. I was having too much fun. It was a new experience. It was something I will cherish forever. It’s something that I can’t wait to get the opportunity to do it again when the scheduling allows.