Announcement invites scrutiny
It would be so much easier to get excited if you knew what you were getting excited about.
That's Dottie Pepper's take on the LPGA's announcement Monday of the "final field" of 32 players who will represent the eight prequalified countries in the inaugural International Crown.
The event, which will be held July 24-27 at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., is a great concept: an Olympic-type event that's an alternative to the U.S.-versus-Europe Solheim Cup competition. It's also another chance for international exposure and guaranteed drama while establishing national dominance in a sport that can always use another way to create interest.
You don't know ... who is actually going in with some momentum, who's just kind of dragging into the event. We're looking at 100-some odd days before the event's played.Dottie Pepper
The only problem is that in their urgency to build sales and create momentum for the event, the LPGA is shooting itself in the proverbial foot.
"There's nothing you can analyze," Pepper, assistant captain of the 2013 U.S. Solheim Cup team and an ESPN analyst, said bluntly. "You don't know who's hurt, who's not, who is actually going in with some momentum, who's just kind of dragging into the event. We're looking at 100-some-odd days before the event's played. ...
"This is like Tom Watson having to pick his Ryder Cup team on Memorial Day."
In reality, the 2012 U.S. team was named 24 days before the late-September event, and the Solheim Cup teams were selected 12 days prior to the competition last year.
But LPGA chief communications officer Kraig Kann said Monday that because the International Crown includes countries from all over the world, giving three weeks lead time is impractical, if not impossible.
"No one would deny there is more drama the closer to the event," Kann said. "But in the bigger picture, we're a global tour, this is a global event ... and we want time to hype it for a lot of reasons."
Kann said logistically, players have to "be educated about the event" and set their schedules, billboards have to be erected locally, and global television partnerships and sponsorships -- particularly those from outside the eight countries -- have to be secured well in advance.
He stressed that this is the event's first year. In other words, expect things to change the next time around in 2016.
No doubt the LPGA would like for the focus to be on the U.S. rallying on the final day of qualifying and actually overtaking South Korea in the combined player rankings for the No. 1 seed.
With the official naming of team members Stacy Lewis (ranked No. 3 in the world rankings), Paula Creamer (eighth), Lexi Thompson (ninth) and Cristie Kerr (12th), the U.S. nudged ahead of South Korea's Inbee Park (No. 1), So Yeon Ryu (sixth), Na Yeon Choi (11th) and I.K. Kim (15th), which certainly could not have been predicted a year ago.
It presents the U.S. team not only with a great chance for redemption on an international stage after losing to Europe in the Solheim Cup, but for the U.S.-based LPGA to gain a stronger foothold here, hopefully boosting interest, TV ratings and marketing in the process.
Instead, it has observers such as Pepper legitimately wondering how anyone is supposed to conjure up enthusiasm for players making their respective teams Monday, since they could very well not be the best players in the world come July 24.
"It's an enormous accomplishment," Pepper said of the U.S. seeding. "But my concern is there is so much time between the team being announced until actual play time, that you're not looking at the team in its current form. ...
"You have all these hours of live television leading into July. And you keep beating that drum and you keep selling that message. Now what do you have to sell? Established teams certainly. But you don't have the drama of who's going to make the team."
Pepper pointed to the example of the final round Sunday of the Kia Classic, in which Anna Nordqvist came from two shots off the lead, firing six birdies to edge American Lizette Salas by one shot.
"If Lizette Salas had won and Cristie Kerr [who finished fifth] finished outside of solo second, I don't think she would have gotten the last spot on the American team. I mean, it would have been really cool to have that sort of drama and that sort of build-up in early June or the end of May. That would have been really cool."
While there is a substitution policy for the International Crown, it's probably not going to include major reshuffling due to who's hot at the time. If a player does drop out, the next player in Monday's rankings would simply make the team. And as Pepper readily concedes, the players knew that this was the deal.
But then again, the LPGA has opened the door for scrutiny. And not the good kind.