5 Things: A new U.S. women’s tour?

Myra Blackwelder

Myra Blackwelder considers herself an LPGA activist. Later in her career, the 1980 Rookie of the Year insisted, for example, that the tour provide childcare. Blackwelder has a history of getting things done. Her latest quest: developing America’s Golf Team.

The concept – help better prepare American players for the global stage – is simple. The reality? Funding anything for women’s golf is a challenge.

Backed by her contemporaries – Beth Daniel, Nancy Lopez and Meg Mallon – and various corporate constituents, Blackwelder has laid out plans for a women’s professional tournament series. She fervently believes that promising American players need more opportunities to compete at home and wants to provide them with proper training and financial assistance to pursue their dreams.

She envisions staging events in the following format: A field of 60 American pros will pair with 60 amateurs for a 54-hole tournament. The purses are expected to begin at $500,000 and then jump to as much as $1 million within three years. Lofty goals, considering Futures Tour purses hover around $100,000.

Blackwelder also would like to form regional academies for young professionals as well as academies that are on-site at tournaments. Proceeds from the tournament series would help fund America’s Golf Team Foundation, which aims to, one day, provide funding for select juniors and support them until age 30, if necessary. Blackwelder says most females reach their prime around 30.

Two years ago, Blackwelder presented this idea to a group of LPGA legends during the Solheim Cup.

Shirley Spork, an LPGA founder who was instrumental in starting the LPGA T&CP, came up to Blackwelder after the dinner.

“She said, ‘Look, I am too old to do this project for you,’ ” Blackwelder said. “You have to promise me that you will not quit until this gets done.”

Blackwelder promised. Now, she needs the money to deliver.

• • • •

New Zealand’s Michael Campbell just can’t seem to get his game back on track, no matter how hard he tries. The 2005 U.S. Open champion has just finished a tour of the Middle East, where he went 4-for-4 in missed cuts. The 41-year-old has now missed his past 13 European Tour cuts, dating to last year’s French Open. Indeed, the French Open was the only cut he made last year among the 19 events he played. Campbell was once ranked as high as 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking, but since has slipped to 805th. There is one modicum of comfort for the Kiwi: His stroke average this year is 74, down from last year’s 76.08.

• • • •

University of Florida senior Andres Echavarria celebrated his second career collegiate title in a most unusual way: He replaced his irons and wedges. Not because they were underperforming, mind you. No. He was upgrading his TaylorMade Tour Preferred irons because in two weeks, he tees it up at the Nationwide Tour stop in his native Colombia, and his current clubs’ grooves would be nonconforming for tour competition.

“Have to change them tomorrow,” Echavarria sighed after winning the SunTrust Gator Invitational in Gainesville, Fla. “Might not be a bad thing, though. They might be golden!”

And, like many, Echavarria was just thankful for the measuring stick of playing against the best in golf’s minor leagues. “You always want to play against the pros, to see how good you really are,” he said. “Golf in South America is really expanding, and I’m happy to be a part of that. Hopefully it keeps going.”

• • • •

Comedian Billy Murray was so proud of his performance at the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am that he bought the scoring sheets. Adam Heieck was removing the player scoring strips from the scoreboard in the media center last week when Murray strolled in. Typically, these are given to the Northern California Golf Association, which, in turn, planned to include them in an auction that would benefit the NCGA Foundation’s Youth on Course program. (A similar effort following last year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach raised some $15,000.) “That’s pennies,” Murray said, “and yes, the game is too expensive for kids.”

Murray let it be known that he would like to have his scores from his pro-am victory, and Heieck agreed to give them up. The check is in the mail.

• • • •

England’s Nick Dougherty will be sidelined for at least three weeks after slipping in the shower and fracturing his hand. The three-time European Tour winner had planned to play in this week’s Avantha Masters in India but had to cancel after pulling out of the Dubai Desert Classic. He now has a three-week break before the Sicilian Open. However, he plans to use his time wisely. “If there is some consolation, the timing could have been a lot worse,” he said. “Now I will spend the time working on my fitness in the gym, though not doing any exercises that involve using the hands. I will also work on the mind side of things. Mental rehearsal for golf is what Ian Poulter calls it and he finds it very useful.”

Dougherty was once tipped as a future European star, but has slipped to 367th in the world ranking.

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