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LPGA leaving ANA Inspiration against Augusta Women’s Amateur

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CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — The LPGA Tour will have a new tournament in Florida at the start of next year, and likely another one in the late spring. The Asian swing of limited-field events at the start of the year is adding a tournament with a full field and a cut.

And perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle: The ANA Inspiration is staying put. It again will be one week before the Masters and the same weekend as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which stole the spotlight from the LPGA Tour’s first major, not to mention some of the amateurs.

Still to be determined is whether it stays that way.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said last week he was not ready to commit the ANA Inspiration to the weekend before the Masters after 2020.

“I’m very open in admitting it wasn’t as great a media year or television ratings year as we’ve had in the past there,” Whan said.

Moving the ANA Inspiration won’t be easy. To play it in the California desert a week after the Masters would compete with the fabled Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, when hotel rates would likely triple and volunteers would be harder to find.

To go a week earlier would pit the LPGA’s first major against the Dell Match Play, meaning a significant loss in TV time. The Match Play had 26 hours of TV time on Golf Channel, while the Kia Classic on the LPGA Tour (the same week) had eight hours of Golf Channel coverage.

“We’re better to stay where we are,” Whan said. “ANA has agreed with me, first and foremost let’s make sure we put on a good major for the players and figure out the rest around that.”

Whan doesn’t see it as a total loss. This year, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur turned into a showdown — and a terrific show — between Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi, who now are on the LPGA Tour.

“I still believe if we get it right — the Augusta-ANA combination — we’re going to create a weekend one of these years that’s really going to be a celebration,” he said.

According to Golf Channel, more than 80 hours of live tournament and news coverage was devoted to the ANA Inspiration and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur from April 1 through April 7, the most ever dedicated to women’s golf in a single week.

“We aren’t necessarily saying that’s the date for the next five years,” Whan said. “Just the date for 2020.”

OUTLOOK ON NO. 1

Justin Thomas once said he never thought much about being No. 1 in the world ranking until he no longer had it. Brooks Koepka also has a different outlook. He says he cared too much about it when he first got to the top and was consumed by trying to stay there.

Koepka first reached No. 1 by winning the CJ Cup in South Korea. He stayed two weeks, alternated with Justin Rose the next three weeks, ended the year at the top, watched Dustin Johnson and Rose battle for No. 1 for more than four months, and then reclaimed it with his PGA Championship victory.

“After Korea, I was just focused on maintaining No. 1 and trying to grow the lead,” Koepka said at the Travelers Championship. “Now I understand. It kind of consumed me. I was so focused on it and I couldn’t focus on my golf. Now if I play good golf, it’s all going to take care of itself. If I go out and win and do what I’m supposed to do, I can grow the lead over Dustin or Rosey.”

PGA-LPGA PARTNERSHIP

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan says the tour is finishing up details on what amounts to a two-year extension with Golf Channel. That would put the LPGA Tour’s contract through 2021, the same time the PGA Tour’s television contracts expire.

The PGA Tour will be representing the LPGA Tour in the TV talks.

“We always had an agency as it relates to our value and to bring those opportunities to us. We asked the PGA Tour to be that agency in this round,” Whan said. “My take of the PGA Tour, selling TV rights three times, they’re good at it and know value. I think there’s some value to us in understanding where their future is, as well.

“Do I have faith in the PGA Tour on this project? A hundred percent. I signed up with them.”

The next step in an alliance with the PGA Tour is a mixed team event. The LPGA Tour and European Tour are among sanctioning bodies at the Vic Open in Australia, where men and women compete for equal prize money. The European Tour and Ladies European Tour compete at the same resort (different courses) in Morocco in April.

Whan said the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour are “really close” to announcing a similar project.

One possibility is the World Cup, which has not been held with any regularity. It was in China four times from 2007 through 2011, and it has been held in Australia three times since 2013. The World Cup might be the best opportunity for PGA Tour and LPGA Tour to compete together.

“Figuring out something with the PGA Tour schedule is challenging,” Whan said. “I think we’re really close to something that we’ll have something good for everybody.”

MAJOR PARITY

It started with I.K. Kim winning the Women’s British Open. The streak was extended when Hannah Green won the Women’s PGA Championship.

Perhaps the best sign of increasing depth on the LPGA Tour is that 10 players have won the last 10 major championships, the longest streak without a multiple major champion since the middle of 1993 through the end of 1995.

The difference now is the countries producing major champions.

The last streak of 10 straight majors with different winners included seven Americans — Lauri Merten, Brandie Burton, Donna Andrews, Patty Sheehan, Martha Nause, Nanci Bowen and Kelly Robbins — along with players from England (Laura Davies), Sweden (Annika Sorenstam) and Peru (Jenny Lidback).

The most recent 10 major champions on the LPGA come from six countries, with Angela Stanford at the Women’s British Open the lone American. Four players have come from South Korea (Kim, Jin Young Ko, Jeungeun Lee6 and Sung Hyun Park), two from Sweden (Pernilla Lindberg, Anna Nordqvist) and the others from Australia (Green), Thailand (Ariya Jutanugarn) and England (Georgia Hall).

DIVOTS

The Chicago Tribune reports that BMW will not renew as title sponsor of the FedEx Cup playoff event after this year. The PGA Tour says it is working with the Western Golf Association to find a new sponsor. BMW has been title sponsor since the FedEx Cup began in 2007. … Ryan Palmer is at No. 20 in the FedEx Cup, and that was enough to get him back to the British Open for the first time since 2016. The Open awarded three spots to players not already exempt in the top 20 in the FedEx Cup after the Travelers Championship. The other two spots went to Chez Reavie and Charles Howell III. … Steve Stricker makes his U.S. Senior Open debut this week. … Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller will be partners in the LPGA Tour team event, the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Michigan on July 18-21. Both have become mothers in the last year.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Dustin Johnson won 20 times on the PGA Tour between Chez Reavie winning his first (2008 Canadian Open) and second (Travelers Championship) titles.

FINAL WORD

“It only takes a second and it can change someone’s life.” — Women’s PGA champion Hannah Green on interaction with young fans at golf tournaments.

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