The Ladies Professional Golf Association has seen something of a revival in 2012 after a decline since 2008. In recent years the LPGA has been plagued with sponsors dropping support, a low number of tournaments, low television rankings, and a general disinterest by America’s public. The tournament schedule reached its lowest point in its recession when there were only 24 tournaments scheduled, and only 23 of them were money tournaments.
Now, in 2012, five tournaments have been added to the schedule bringing the total up to 29. Sponsors are beginning to invest more money into the tournaments and players, increasing purse sizes and name recognition. TV ratings for women’s golf in 2011 were up 30% from 2010 on the Golf Channel. The GC has picked up more live tournaments, a big improvement over taped delay. However, this is a cable channel and only one tournament is picked up by the networks, the Women’s US Open. ESPN also picks up the RICOH Women’s British Open.
While improvements are being made, there is still a long way to go for the LPGA. This is especially true when compared to the PGA who garners much more name recognition and live air time. This is in part due to the fact that the LPGA doesn’t have the dominating players like Tiger Woods… but wait, it does.
Yani Tseng, a Taiwanese player, has unquestionably dominated the LPGA. She is the youngest player ever (yes, including Tiger) to win five major championships and has held the number one ranking for the last 78 weeks. Tseng doesn’t look like she’ll lose that number one spot anytime soon either as she has almost twice as many points as the second place player, Stacy Lewis. Lewis shares a competitive fight for second place with positions 2-5 all being within one point of each other.
However, Lewis fighting to stay ahead of the pack and attempting to rival Tseng could be just what the LPGA tour needs. As it stands, there are only two Americans in the top ten while there are seven Asian players hailing from South Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan. While this is great for golf overall, it hurts viewership and interest in America where the majority of the tour is played. The American public has no idea who the top players are, and Stacy Lewis has not broken into the mainstream media yet.
As the highest ranked American, Lewis recently became the money leader on the LPGA tour. Yet many American’s are ignorant of her name. She only has 7,000 followers on Twitter which pales in comparison to players that rank far lower than her. It does not help that only the US Open is aired on network television and that Na Yeon Choi, a name largely not recognized outside of golf (and then only barely), won the tournament.
This is a stark contrast to the PGA where a big win from Tiger at the Memorial Tournament boosted the ratings by 138% when compared to last year. The LPGA needs this kind of clout behind an American player to keep the tour on its upward trend. If Lewis continues to improve and crawl closer to Tseng, the rivalry could produce a jump in interest and make Lewis a household name. It cannot just be Lewis however, American players need to continue to improve and break into the top 10 for there to be any long standing interest.
Lewis recognizes this and hopes that her fellow American players have recognized the hard work and practice she’s put in to break into the top three. While she wants to get to the number one position, she wants to improve the LPGA as she goes about it, “I also want to continue to grow the tour and give kids that are growing up now the same opportunities that I’ve had to play golf. I’m just trying to leave this tour in a better place.”
Hopefully Lewis catches the eye of more sponsorship and continues to gain recognition from Americans and the media. Things are looking good so far as she recently claimed a sponsorship from KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm that also sponsors the golf legend Phil Mickelson.
David Bryce is an online publisher for Thousand Hill’s Cabins in Branson, MO. He blogs on the topics of golf, travel, and vacations.