Nichols: Moving ANA Inspiration away from ANWA only option for LPGA

Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports

Nichols: Moving ANA Inspiration away from ANWA only option for LPGA

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Nichols: Moving ANA Inspiration away from ANWA only option for LPGA

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LOS ANGELES – Lauren Stephenson had a hard time tearing herself away from the final-round telecast of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur to go warm up for Round 3 of the ANA Inspiration. Everything about it was bigger than she’d imagined, and the LPGA rookie’s peers were putting on one heckuva show.

“I had major FOMO,” said Stephenson, who left Alabama a semester early to join the LPGA. (That’s “fear of missing out” for non-millennials.)

Word is out. The Augusta women’s event is the best amateur tournament in the world. It far exceeds most women’s professional events too in every measure that counts outside of a purse.

Will the allure of the ANWA die down next year? Not a chance.

That’s precisely why the LPGA has no choice but to move the ANA Inspiration. It’s not just that amateurs shouldn’t have to choose between an LPGA major and Augusta National. Though it will become increasingly difficult for the ANA to attract top amateurs.

An LPGA major should not be vying for attention against another women’s event in the same week. Those writing the checks deserve to have the full spotlight. So too do LPGA pros.

ANA, by the way, recently reupped as title sponsor to 2022.

Nearly everything about the ANWA’s final round was set up exactly like the Masters. Patrons could buy Masters logoed merchandise as well as the ANWA’s. Concessions were the same. The back-nine buzz on Saturday was spine-tingling.

Moving tournament dates forward best option

Augusta National will never have trouble selling out tickets to the ANWA because it’s as close as many will ever get to the Masters.

It’s a battle the LPGA simply can’t win.

The argument that the ANA shouldn’t move simply because they were there first isn’t good enough. LPGA veterans are tired of having to move their events around to fit within the PGA Tour schedule. The tour moved the ANA previously to get it away from The Players Championship. Augusta National coming along and bigfooting their major left plenty of players steaming and for good reason.

The LPGA didn’t create this schedule conflict, but they’re going to have to be the ones that fix it.

Moving the date forward seems to be the best option. Crowds at the ANA have been dwindling for years. It’s a bad look for TV and makes for a flat atmosphere on the ground. If the ANA moves further into April, even more of the seasonal desert folks will have left town. That cuts into the number of fans and volunteers. It also puts the event up against Coachella, which presents a whole host of extra headaches.

A move earlier in March means that members would lose a full-field event in the lead-up to the year’s first major, which is critical for those trying to qualify. But if the LPGA can add a new January stop in Florida that’s been in the works, it would eliminate at least one of the concerns.

TV remains a concern

One key component to the move is making sure there’s enough TV time available. Getting network coverage back at the ANA – and every major – should be a priority as the LPGA goes into television negotiations this year.

To that end, the ANA shouldn’t be up against The Players or a WGC event, which includes an opposite-field event in Punta Cana. Being the same week as Valspar makes sense. It puts the ANA up against the opening week of the NCAA basketball tournament, but no scenario will be perfect.

The Kia Classic could move ahead of ANA and Founders could flip behind it. Of course, all the title sponsors and venues would have to sign off on these moves, satisfying memberships and resorts that are booked years in advance. There’s nothing easy about it, and 2020 might be too soon to pull it off.

But the ANWA is only going to get bigger and better. Pulling away from the Masters might help the ANA have more post-tournament buzz. As it currently stands, unless Lexi Thompson gets a four-stroke penalty or there’s an eight-hole playoff, the sports world (including the most dedicated golf outlets) generally turns its focus toward Augusta long before the last putt drops in the desert.

The U.S. Women’s Open moved its championship dates to earlier in the season. The Evian returned to the summer, and the PGA Championship jumped to May.

Change can be good. Gwk

 

 

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