The LPGA returns to Toledo with the Drive On Spirit

Ron Sirak

Never underestimate the feistiness of the LPGA. Since the Founders created the Tour in 1950, it’s fought for recognition and respect, battling those who demean women’s sports as well as economic realities.
But always the LPGA has forged ahead with a Drive On spirit. There is no reason to think that won’t be the case when it comes to COVID-19.
When 144 players tee off on Friday in the Drive On Championship at the Inverness Club it will be not only be the return of competitive golf at the LPGA Tour for the first time in 166 days, it will be the first page in the next chapter of a remarkable 70-year history. And if the past is prologue, the Tour will return stronger than ever.
In those early days, the players went everywhere to promote their Tour – minor league baseball games, boxing matches, anywhere sports fans congregated. They would not listen to those who said their idea would not work. That’s what Commissioner Mike Whan means when he tells today’s players to “act like a Founder.” The LPGA is yours – act accordingly.
Later years presented different problems. In 1971, what by today’s standards was such a mild recession it’s not even worth noting, reduced the LPGA Tour to 20 tournaments. But the next year it was back to 29 after singer Dinah Shore and Colgate Palmolive executive David Foster breathed new energy – and resources – into the women’s game.
Later that decade, Nancy Lopez came along. By the late 1990s the LPGA was growing into golf’s global Tour as players from Asia joined those from Britain, Australia, South Africa, South America and the European continent.
Then in 2011, the punishing impact of The Great Recession reduced the Tour to 23 tournaments. But by 2017, it was back up to 34.
The LPGA entered 2020 with more prize money and greater television exposure than ever. A new TV contact beginning in 2022 was even more good news.
And then the world stopped.
Every step of the way the LPGA has proceeded with prudent caution. The first cancellation came Jan. 30 at the Blue Bay China and the second and third on Feb. 2 with the Honda Thailand and the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. On March 12, the first tournament in the U.S. – the Volvik Founders Cup – was placed on hold.
The return to competition in Toledo with first the Drive On Championship and then the Marathon Classic Presented by Dana, will put the familiar faces of the LPGA in a town with long ties to the Tour but under very new conditions.
Added to the usual concerns about the length of the rough and the speed of the greens, tournament officials will have the much greater responsibility of ensuring the safety of all those on site. There won’t be fans in Toledo or a pro-am at either the Drive On or the Marathon. But there will be face masks, testing, social distancing and thermal scanners.
The new normal might also include some old ways of doing things.
In the days before the LPGA went global, players and caddies would put 50,000 miles a year on their cars driving from tournament to tournament. Now, they rack up 100,000 frequent flier miles annually. That ratio is changing for some.
“We are just pulling out from Orlando and starting our 16-hour drive to Toledo,” 2018 ANA Inspiration champion Pernilla Lindberg said Sunday in a text message. “Planning on arriving Monday afternoon. Excited to get back to playing but fully aware life on Tour will look different in many aspects.”
Angela Stanford, the 2018 Evian Championship winner, clearly needed a tutorial on how to drive from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Ohio. On Twitter she posted this on Instagram:
“Well I packed the car this morning for Toledo. All the emotions you can imagine, excited, nervous, anxious, all of it. It was bitter sweet pulling out of the driveway. About 15 min down the road...... I forgot my golf clubs.”
No one who has been through this is going to forget 2020. And “Let’s Try This Again” applies in so many ways.
Morgan Pressel is flying from South Florida to Toledo. “Definitely excited to get back to competing,” Pressel said in a text. “I know it will be a bit different for everyone, but the LPGA has worked hard to get us back to work as safely as possible.”
The most positive way to look at the Coronavirus pandemic is that it grabbed the world by the collar and shouted, “Let’s Try This Again.”
COVID-19 is going to force us to rethink everything – how we work; how we play and maybe how we take care of each other.
The return of the LPGA at the Drive On Championship and the Marathon Classic is about much more than getting back to golf. It’s about getting back to life with an idea of what “Let’s Try This Again” could mean.
Ron Sirak is recipient of the PGA of America Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award and the LPGA Media Excellence Award. He's covered more than 150 major championships for The Associated Press and Golf World magazine and co-authored three Vision54 books with renown teachers Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson. His article runs in The Press courtesy Christina Lance/LPGA.


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