2006: LPGA’s Trump card needs a few tweaks

It’s no coincidence that the LPGA’s first million-dollar prize was handed out in Trumptown, where everything that’s anything is over the top. If it’s not dipped, trimmed or caked in gold, it won’t fit the bill at Trump International, home of the ADT Championship. Walk into the clubhouse and those not already blinded by the super-sized chandeliers floating down from the ceiling will notice a fireplace so oversized even Yao Ming couldn’t rest his drink on the mantel.

For The Donald, it’s not about practicality. It’s all about the show.

When the field of 32 was trimmed to eight Saturday afternoon, tournament officials brought a magic box filled with $1 million onto the putting green. A Korean journalist asked if it was Trump’s money the Elite Eight were playing for on Sunday. When he was told no, he then asked why Trump had situated himself between Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis for the photo session, directly behind the cash.

Because Trump loves money.

And so do most Americans. Which is why playing for a one-day payout of $1 million now makes the ADT one of the most exciting events on the LPGA schedule. Sure there are a few tweaks that need to be made before 2007, but no one can say they weren’t entertained.

When players walked back to the 18th green Friday to watch the completion of regulation play, it was clear the LPGA had hit the jackpot. Since when do players, fans and media-types care so much about the middle of the pack on a Friday?

Since Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Juli Inkster, Morgan Pressel and a host of others had a chance to go home before the weekend.

“I told my caddie I felt I was in a Saturday afternoon horse race at the club; everybody out there playing and eliminating one at a time,” Inkster said after surviving a six-player playoff for three spots just to play on the weekend. Sorenstam drained a 25-footer for par on the 18th but missed getting into the playoff by a stroke.

It looked as though Ochoa might be slamming her trunk alongside Sorenstam until she birdied her third playoff hole, the difficult par-3 17th.

It’s safe to say most fans walking around Trumpland were fixated on the cool million and had no clue how most players got into the season-ending tournament.

Which brings us to the first suggestion to improve the event in ’07: Dumb it down. While the qualifying formula succeeded in getting 25 of the top 30 money leaders, how many people really knew what was going on? Granted, it takes at least one year for everyone to get acquainted with a new system. Now that fans and players know more about what they’re playing for, perhaps they’ll show a little more vested interest throughout the season.

Next suggestion: Don’t divide the season into two points races. It’s as if some of the players who get in based on their play late in the season are getting a mulligan for playing poorly early on. Taking the top players out of the equation mid-year only weakens the second half of the race.

As for the two wild-card selections, those should be based on the money list after the Tournament of Champions, not the Samsung (which finished a month earlier). It only makes sense to base things on the entire season.

The biggest beef players had with the new format, interestingly enough, concerned money. While no one griped about the possibility of winning $1 million, there were grumblings about such a large chunk of cash being applied toward the money list. (Granada leaped from 19th to fourth in season earnings in 18 holes.)

When the world No. 1 says the money list “really doesn’t mean as much anymore,”

the tour had better reevaluate. And Ochoa, who came into the event with serious concerns about Sorenstam or Karrie Webb overtaking her on the money list with a victory, said the importance of the money list “now is gone.”

The solution is quite simple, really. Put $500,000 toward the money list and award the other half as a bonus. One tournament payout should never equate to the combination of three or four victories. In fact, the tour should create a rule stipulating that the first-place check never should exceed a certain percentage of the purse to protect the money list.

The rest of the purse breakdown also could use some attention. To drop from $1 million to $100,000 for second and then $20,500 for third seems a little absurd. How about giving nothing to the people who fail to make the first cut? This is an event players qualify for, not an invitational. The reward is that you get to play for $1 million, not that you are guaranteed $8,000. Take that money and apply it toward the players who survive the cut.

Perhaps the most bizarre move of the event came Saturday evening when the final-round pairings were announced. Players went out Sunday based on their position on the money list. It’s bad enough that those who finished atop the leaderboard after 54 holes had to start from scratch the final round. The least they could do is give leaders the advantage of teeing off last so they know what kind of score they need to post.

This year, however, it really didn’t matter. Julieta Granada would’ve won had it been a run-of-the-mill stroke-play event. When the newly turned 20-year-old was having her photograph taken on the 18th green, crystal trophy in hand, tournament organizers came over to give her mother Rosa a bottle of Dom Perignon since Julieta was too young to partake. Her mother asked for help getting the bottle open because she wanted to douse her daughter in the high-priced spirits.

Officials scrambled to get her a bottle of cheaper champagne. Had Trump not already jetted off to New York, he probably would have uncorked two bottles of the good stuff to spray golf’s newest millionaire.

In Trumpland, it’s all about the show. Even if needs a little tinkering.

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