Tensions are running high on the LPGA after back-to-back weather fiascoes. Players have emailed, texted and placed phone calls to higher-ups looking for answers about on-course safety and the factors that go into pushing a tournament to Monday.
Why was the Evian Championship, a major, reduced to 54 holes on a Thursday, while an inaugural “regular” event played in New Zealand finished on Monday?
“We would like more transparency,” texted Kris Tamulis, “because at the end of the day, it’s a golf tournament and we are the golfers.”
Player president Vicki Goetze-Ackerman has fielded plenty of calls from players in the past week. Some feel they can’t talk publicly about the issues.
“I feel like there is a gag order on this tour,” one veteran player said.
Goetze-Ackerman said “the big thing” she has gotten from players is the issue of safety.
“They should never feel like they’re unsafe,” Goetze-Ackerman said. “That’s something we need to address as an organization.”
Players described the conditions last Sunday in Auckland as some of the worst they’d seen, and the pop-up windstorm that hit the lead group was especially shocking. Television cameras caught tournament signage barreling down the fairway toward players.
“I think the general feeling was anger at putting us in harm’s way, but it was a tough call,” said Becky Morgan, who noted that while the winds were forecasted, their strength took everyone by surprise.
“We came in originally because the golf course became unplayable with the puddles, but it seemed every time we went back out the wind got stronger.”
LPGA vice president Heather Daly-Donofrio said the tour has had
a rough year weather-wise and has learned from each instance.
“We apologize if any player or caddie felt unsafe,” Daly-Donofrio said. “That is not a situation we want to put our players in.”
Players felt the same about the extreme conditions they experienced early in Round 1 of the Evian, where scores from Thursday eventually were scrapped. Brittany Lincicome was one of many players who didn’t agree with the decision to erase scores and felt the call to the reduce the event to 54 holes was made too early.
“Oh my God, everyone is up in arms,” Lincicome said in France. “I have not talked to one person or one caddie who thinks that scrapping the round was a good idea.”
Daly-Donofrio said the forecast on Monday, even going into Wednesday in Evian, played a large factor in reducing the event to 54 holes. While the LPGA talks to its partners in terms of television and travel, Daly-Donofrio said the decisions to go 54 holes at Evian and 72 holes at the New Zealand Women’s Open were made by the LPGA in the best interest of the competition. The main factors that go into those decisions, she said, are weather and course conditions.
Many would like to see clearer guidelines on the issue.
“We don’t have a steadfast policy in terms of what is the deciding factor to make it go 72 holes versus 54 holes and maybe we need to have one,” Goetze-Ackerman said. “Definitely a better understanding from a player’s standpoint about why certain decisions were made.”
While the purse at the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open was $2.3 million less than Evian, it was the last tournament for many players in the field to determine their 2018 status. (The remaining events on the LPGA schedule are no-cut, limited-field events.)
“At the end of the day, every tournament is important, and I understand that it affects a lot of people’s cards,” wrote Tamulis, “but every tournament affects something for someone. A lot of times the players don’t understand the behind-the-scenes decisions that are made. Sometimes it’s what the sponsor wants, sometimes it’s what the tour wants, but we’re not privy to that information.”
(Note: This story appears in the Oct. 9, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)