Ladies event at Augusta would be boon for LPGA
The home of the Masters is set to close for the summer later this week. Augusta National, as is its custom, is rewarding various workers, volunteers and caddies with rounds of golf through the weekend. Members played their last rounds on Sunday. And so one of the most famous courses in the world will not see a shot hit again until sometime in October.
It might seem strange that such a remarkable course is not played for more than four months, but Bobby Jones set up Augusta National as a winter club, and tradition reigns.
But wouldn't it be cool if Augusta National stayed open just one more week and played another tournament there right now? Specifically, an LPGA event?
Whatever your take on Augusta's male membership issue, it would be hard to argue against holding another tournament there. And don't think that an LPGA event showcasing the world's best women players wouldn't be hugely popular -- especially among spectators clamoring to get a look at the place.
Although there is nothing to suggest that any such tournament is more than a dream, the LPGA commissioner has broached the subject with Augusta National officials.
"As the commissioner of the LPGA, I think Augusta should have a women's tournament," Mike Whan told Forbes last week. "I don't care if they have female members."
Undoubtedly, an LPGA event at Augusta National would do far more for the advancement of women in golf than adding a few members, which would largely be symbolic. A tournament on the grounds offers a tangible goal to achieve. And imagine the hype and exposure such an event would create.
"What's frustrating is that the best players now on our tour can't play there," Whan said. "I ask every year."
Whan explained that Augusta National is a big supporter of LPGA Tour initiatives but he was not asked a follow-up question in regard to Augusta National's interest in a tournament. When contacted, Whan declined to discuss the issue further, which suggests perhaps he felt he said more than he should.
As we have come to learn, Augusta National does things on its terms, on its timeline. Who knows if such a tournament is remotely of interest to the powers that be there?
But it is interesting to note that club chairman Billy Payne, who was president of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games in 1996, was very much in favor of golf becoming part of those games and holding both the men's and women's events at Augusta National in the summer, when the club is normally closed.
When it did not happen due to political in-fighting -- not the least of which was over Augusta's male membership policy -- Payne called it his "biggest personal disappointment."
"It's clear the biggest thing missing here is golf at Augusta," Payne told reporters in 1996 on the eve of the Games. "I'm sorry about that. It's my biggest personal disappointment."
That doesn't mean Payne would want to be part of having another tournament at the club he now runs. It is unlikely he would ever discuss it publicly, as is the club's custom. But it is an interesting backdrop.
And clearly, the event would be a hit with the players.
"That's when we'd know we had really made it, if something like that happened," said LPGA Tour player Paula Creamer when asked about such an idea last month by the Mobile Register.
Such a tournament would open up a world of possibilities. Neighboring Augusta Country Club -- which borders Augusta National behind the 12th green -- long ago hosted an LPGA major called the Titleholders.
A major-type event with tournament winners, past major champions and all of the top players in the women's game from around the world would immediately become the most-watched women's event on television, and probably the best attended -- all due to the venue.
What does Augusta have to gain? Aside from more money that it doesn't need, probably not much. It would be a huge public relations hit, but the hassles of staging another tournament are immense and might not be worth the added revenue and prestige. This is certainly not to suggest such an endeavor would be easy, especially given Augusta's penchant for wanting to do everything exactly perfect when it comes to staging a tournament.
Still, you could see the course hosting such an event this week, not infringing on members' golf. Spectators who have never had the opportunity to see Augusta National in person might now get that chance. An entirely new branding opportunity would exist.
Whan said he brings it up every year, and it seems a good question to ask.
The slow-play penalty
As brutal as it was for Morgan Pressel to receive a slow-play penalty on Sunday during her semifinal match at the Sybase Match Play Championship -- costing her a hole she had won -- here is why it was justified: Pressel's own words.
"I think what bothers me most is that we were given sufficient warning, and she really didn't do anything to speed up and then I was penalized for it," Pressel said, referring to Azahara Munoz, whom she lost to in the match.
Pressel knew the clock was ticking, and yet she went 39 seconds over her allotted time to play the three shots on the par-3 12th hole -- where she incurred the penalty.
While Munoz is known for being a slow player and helped to put the twosome on the clock, a player has to know that from that point forward, they are timed. Munoz was on the clock, too. An LPGA rules official was right there. Why would he not dock Munoz if she had breached the rule?
It was a cruel blow for Pressel, who went from what would have been a 3 up lead with six to play to only 1 up. Munoz eventually won the match, and she was just as hurt by the outcome, as nobody wants to win in such a manner.
It was the second week in a row when slow play was a big story in golf. At The Players Championship, Kevin Na became the subject because of his long pre-shot routine. He, too, was put on the clock, but the PGA Tour's rules call for a second bad time once warned in order to incur stroke penalties. Not the LPGA, which hands out two-shot penalties in stroke play (and loss of hole in match play) after a warning.
It was the ninth such time since the start of 2008 that the LPGA Tour has dished out such a penalty. The PGA Tour, meanwhile, has not given out stroke penalties since 1995.
Perhaps such a penalty is unjustified when it is in a match and nearly nobody else is on the course, but there has to be some equity to the other competitors and to spectators. The rules are there, and they were enforced.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Birdies And Bogeys
1. Jason Dufner. That's two wins in three starts for a guy who previously had not won on the PGA Tour.
2. Dicky Pride. His dramatic par at the 18th at the Nelson wasn't enough to win, but the second-place check of some $702,000 is more than Pride had earned in any season during a 20-year career.
3. Nicolas Colsaerts. With his victory at the Volvo World Match Play Championship, Colsaerts put himself in position to be the first player from Belgium to make the European Ryder Cup team.
1. Morgan Pressel. That was a tough lesson at the Sybase Match Play, where a slow-play penalty dearly cost her in a semifinal match she went on to lose. Pressel did rebound to take third place.
2. Anthony Kim. It's been one thing after another for the three-time tour winner, who now will be out for several months to deal with injuries to both arms. Kim had made just two cuts this year.
U.S. Open watch
Other than being within the top 60 cutoff in three weeks and winning this week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth -- if not already exempt -- the only other way into the championship will be through a 36-qualifier in England on Monday and U.S. sectional qualifiers at 11 sites around the country on June 4.
Pending the final top 60, more than half of the field will be exempt into the Open, with about 70 spots available through sectionals.