Women's CanOpen wrap: LPGA Tour plays nice

Last Saturday I wrote a column about how much fun it was to cover the Canadian Women’s Open (um, CN Canadian Women’s Open…). Anyway, I think I actually enjoyed it more than covering the Canadian Open, and my column gives some indication as to why. Oh, and if you’re interested in a funny blog from the event, check out TV annoucer John Gordon’s blog on his “encounter” with Morgan Pressel.
LONDON, Ont. – Coming off the 18th green after a round in which she grinded out a four-over-par 76, former Canadian Women’s Open winner Meg Mallon could be excused for ignoring the throng of spectators lurking for autographs behind the final hole at London Hunt and Country Club. Instead of sulking or immediately heading to the range to work on her game, Mallon gladly signs hats, programs and anything that was thrown in front of her until everyone in the crowd is satisfied. For Mallon, who ranks fourth in career earnings over her nearly 20 years on the LPGA Tour, taking the time to show the fans her appreciation for their support is not hard work.

“I just touched 50 people and how long did it take me?” she said after. “This is not something we have to work hard at. It is just part of the game and its etiquette.”

Needless to say, at a time when sports celebrities and their fans can seem far removed from one another, the LPGA Tour‘s approach is refreshing. And, apparently, it works.

Just ask London-native Angie Benenati, who was one of the recipients of Mallon’s signature.

“This is just a wonderful experience,” Benenati said, noting she had taken the time to grab autographs from Canadian Lorie Kane, and LPGA Tour hottie Natalie Gulbis. “Maybe by osmosis I’ll become a better golfer.”

In fact, the LPGA Tour is so conscious of maintaining its friendly demeanour and image that a news report earlier this week indicating Gulbis might have reluctantly signed some autographs and been curt with an interviewer, and that Kane had refused to sign a Precept golf ball, drew the ire and a response from tour officials that was also signed by players. Kane wouldn’t sign the ball because she has a deal with Titleist and admittedly Gulbis was being run from one interview to another, but the truth is both players, along with the majority in attendance at this week’s tournament, have been giving freely of their time to promote their sport.

In many ways they don’t have much of a choice. Though new commissioner Carolyn Bivens has worked hard at putting marketing muscle behind the Tour, it is still a distant second to the PGA Tour when it comes to popularity. Certainly the influx of new and talented youngsters such as teenager Morgan Pressel, bomber Brittany Lincicome and certifiable stars Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie has helped garner attention for the tour, but there are still plenty of sports fans who think that somehow the LPGA Tour is second tier.

It is an image the LPGA Tour is working hard to combat. That said, anyone who comes for a day to London Hunt and Country Club will find the level of play is anything but minor league and, perhaps more refreshingly, the barrier between golfers and spectators is very slight.

A few years ago, Sports Illustrated said the most underrated place to see a game was on your couch in your living room. While that might be true in the case of many sports, with their huge stadiums that put most fans well away from play, it isn’t with the LPGA Tour, where players mingle with and sign autographs for spectators, and do interviews in the midst of crowds only steps from the scorer’s tent.

In contrast, at a PGA Tour event there’s rarely much interaction between fans and players. Golfers drift away from the scorer’s tent, sign a handful of autographs for the throng that congregates and thrusts out their hats and Sharpies, and retreat to the clubhouse or the range.

Apparently the LPGA Tour‘s message is starting to be heard. The tour’s marketing slogan is “These Girls Rock,” and judging by the expansive gallery around Kane yesterday, and the record crowd for the opening round on Thursday, Canadians appear to wholeheartedly agree.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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