Inbee Park gives LPGA opportunity

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Spurred by Inbee Park’s Grand Slam run, the LPGA says it has been working diligently to maximize exposure.

Phil Mickelson called it "amazing," Tiger Woods used the word "incredible" and Rory McIlroy said he was keeping track of Inbee Park's pursuit to become the first golfer in history to win a calendar Grand Slam.

Of course, that was before gusting winds, the Old Course at St. Andrews and fate itself conspired to derail what would have been a singular feat in all of sports. But it should not stop the LPGA from riding Park's achievement of three in a row for everything it's worth in order to promote women's golf, a sport that still needs all the help it can get.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not only for her but for the organization," Jon Podany, chief marketing officer of the LPGA, readily acknowledged Friday. "So we're working as diligently as possible to maximize all the exposure we can get out of this."

It should also be noted that Park can still win four major tournaments this year if she takes the Evian Championship, which will take place in France in September and for the first time has been designated as the fifth major on the women's schedule.

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

When Inbee Park won the U.S. Women’s Open in June -- her third major in a row -- it was good for her and for the LPGA.

But what can the LPGA do? And is it possible to wring more attention from Park when her accomplishments did not get the attention they deserved even before she was essentially blown out of the British?

Marc Ganis, the head of the Chicago marketing firm Sportscorps Ltd. and a longtime observer of women's professional sports' standing in the marketplace, said it's important first to adjust expectations.

"It's unrealistic in the current era to expect women's professional sports to be at or near the level of men's professional sports, not because it shouldn't be but because the men have a 100-year head start," he said. "Once that's recognized and factored in, many women's sports organizations are successful in their own right. We just have to adjust what our definition of success is."

In any equation that involves pro sports, the definition includes respectable television ratings, major sponsorships and overall exposure.

"Our efforts are usually in conjunction with our partners and assets to bring a story to life," Podany said, "and by that I mean, our mobile website, social websites, PR efforts -- all the assets we have to bring it to life and tell her story and use her as a way to bring more people to the LPGA overall."

Podany said it's not enough for the Golf Channel telecasts of tournaments to attract viewers, and that the LPGA is working with the network to put the spotlight on women's golf across all its shows and platforms. Ditto with the LPGA's international TV partners through special programming, as well as "paid marketing" through advertising in digital and print mediums.

The LPGA is also working to increase its tournament telecasts and to bring at least a few of them to network TV, which would give women's golf a better chance of attracting the casual fan.

Use what she brings rather than what she doesn’t. What she brings is an interesting face, an Asian face, where golf continues to explode and where the biggest sponsors happen to be.
Marc Ganis, head of Sportscorps Ltd.

It's not always within the LPGA's control, though. Had Park -- who is not scheduled to play again until the Canadian Open on Aug. 22 -- won the British, she was still headed back to her home in South Korea on Monday, thus severely limiting how much mileage the LPGA could have generated in the United States.

Jimmy Kimmel via satellite just doesn't carry quite the same punch.

The shout-outs from Woods (3.5 million Twitter followers), McIlroy (1.7 million) and Co. are worth their weight in marketing gold. But it's tough for the LPGA to count on such things, and one or two days a year does not a viral phenomenon make.

Still, Podany will take it. The only really frustrating aspect of Park's pursuit, he said, was the insistence by some outlets of harping on the lack of attention it was getting while not giving it attention themselves.

It sure doesn't hurt that No. 2-ranked Stacy Lewis was the one who captured the British Open on Sunday, marking her second major championship. Her first was the 2011 Kraft Nabisco, which happened to be the last time an American had won a major. It had been 10 straight for Asian players since then.

As xenophobic as that may sound and as important as it is to attract a global audience, the tour is based in the United States and its popularity here is critical.

Lewis, who was ranked No. 1 for a month this spring before Park took over, happens to be a good story every time she wins simply because of her compelling history. Scoliosis kept her in a back brace from age 11 through high school and required surgery before she won the NCAA title at Arkansas.

Even longtime No. 1 Yani Tseng, upon losing the top ranking to Lewis this spring, said it was "good for golf" to have an American No. 1.

It would be a cop-out, however, for the LPGA to rest on that excuse too heavily -- and it doesn't seem to be. Park is interesting enough to market. Still, said Ganis, it is important once again to adjust expectations.

"Use what she brings rather than what she doesn't," he said of Park. "What she brings is an interesting face, an Asian face, where golf continues to explode and where the biggest sponsors happen to be. Don't fight the fact that she might not be as glib in English on the early-morning talk shows. Get her on, get the story out, but don't expect if it doesn't catch fire that it's a failure.

"Don't expect her to be treated like Tiger Woods. It's a success if there is more attention brought to women's golf and use that to build upon for the next generation."

But the LPGA can't wait. Push Lewis, sure. But push Park even harder. Even if it means Kimmel via satellite.

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