When the LPGA announced its new qualification process and tournament format for the ADT Championship late last year, it met with reviews that varied from mixed to downright negative. After a few months of mulling it over, I thought I would take a fresh look at the pluses and minuses.
First off - the winner of the ADT is NOT crowned Player Of The Year or even the LPGA Champion. I’ve scoured their website and while there’s a lot of talk about the $1 million first prize, they never claim that this tournament winner is “The 2006 LPGA Champion” ( http://www.lpga.com/content_1.aspx?mid=4&pid=5715). They refer to the qualification process as the “LPGA Playoffs”, which certainly suggests that they want us to regard the winner to be the champion but they don’t ever specifically say that. BIG mistake. Making a big deal out of qualifying for this end-of-the-year event and then not even anointing the winner as Champion winds up being much ado about nothing. Maybe they don’t want to piss off Rolex, but the absence of the phrase “LPGA Champion” makes this event no more meaningful than it was in 2005. It seems that all of the hullabaloo over the ADT/playoffs announcement late last year missed this ambiguity. Either that, or all the negative press caused the LPGA to hedge on fully committing to this “Championship”. Or maybe somebody pointed out that event they’ve been playing for several years now called the “McDonald’s LPGA Championship”. How come there are no “playoffs” to qualify for that one? And why isn’t Se Ri Pak the “2006 LPGA Champion”?
Let’s ignore the gist of that last paragraph for a moment and suppose that the ADT winner is to be considered the LPGA Champion. First problem – the 32-player field is WAY too large. When I look at the current list of players, I see only four who have a legitimate claim to being the 2006 LPGA Champion (Ochoa, Webb, Sorenstam, Kerr). Every player you add to the ADT field, you increase the chance that one of those four players will NOT win the title. Like March Madness it will make for some entertaining action for a few days, but this setup is not conducive to allow the best players to win. I would have much preferred a 16- or even 12-player field. The Samsung event was a better vehicle to determining an LPGA champion than the ADT will be.
I like the idea of awarding points per event, although this business of awarding double points at some tournaments (and at the Asian events, none at all) is a joke. Make each sanctioned LPGA event worth the same amount of points or don’t sanction it in the first place. I also like having automatic qualifiers through winning certain tournaments, but this gets undermined too – does winning the Match Play event equal winning the US Open? The ADT format is an interesting and different one – everybody plays the first two rounds, the top 16 play Saturday, and the top 8 start Sunday from square one to shoot it out for the title. My only quibble with it is that maybe they shouldn’t reset all the scores, but I’m not totally against that part.
Using “playoffs” and a final tournament to crown a champion would be a great idea if it was executed properly. Maybe they should seed the 32 players and let 17-32 play Thursday to eliminate eight of them, add 9-16 to the mix on Friday and eliminate eight more, then add 1-8 on Saturday and play down to the final eight for Sunday. That way, the top players avoid the possibility of playing their way out early and get a reward (a 1st or 2nd round bye) for having the better overall seasons, while the lesser players knock each other out over a couple of days for the chance to play with the best.
The LPGA first needs to better define what this tournament and its qualification process means in the overall scope of the organization, and then structure both of those things to fit that definition. It might not happen this year or even next, but under the current process they are eventually going to be put in the awkward position of having to defend these “playoffs” when somebody like Brittany Lang, Maria Hjorth or Diana D’Alessio wins that $1 million after having a season that would put them in nobody’s Top 20.