What do Danielle Kang, Yuka Saso, Lexi Thompson, Nasa Hataoka, Hannah Green, and Shanshan Feng have in common? One, they are all in the top 20 of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Two, they’ll be skipping the fourth major of the year, this week’s Amundi Evian Championship.
If you’re wondering why several of the 20 best players in the world would voluntarily skip a major, especially one with the second biggest purse in the game, there are a few factors at play. The first is the schedule. Hannah Green and Shanshan Feng announced weeks ago they’d be shutting things down to prepare for the Olympic Games, which begin ten days after the Evian. Two weeks after that is the final major of 2021, the Women’s British Open, and the Solheim Cup arrives after another two-week break. It’s a brutal stretch. Some players will be asked to travel from France to Japan to Scotland to Ohio, dealing with Covid-19 restrictions at each stop. Ultimately, for those who could potentially compete in all of the events, the Evian seems to be drawing the short straw.
Scheduling isn’t the only issue, though. Concerns with the Evian have been bubbling up for a while. For years, the field size was about 90. But in 2013, when the Evian Masters became the Evian Championship and was designated a major, that number increased to 120, and the event moved from July to September. The idea was to separate it from the busy summer schedule, but poorer weather and fewer hours of daylight led to a multitude of issues.
LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan acknowledged it was a mistake to hold the Evian in September, but even after it returned to July in 2019, the critiques kept coming. Lexi Thompson had some choice words regarding course conditions after she missed the cut, saying on Instagram, “I’m actually thankful I don’t have to put myself [through] that for another two days.” She deleted the post and backpedaled on her comments, but photos of the course aligned with her sentiments, and many applauded her for speaking up.
This week the LPGA appears to be answering the age old question: What if professional golfers played a major at course that was set up like my broke-as-hell-daily-fee municipal goat track? (From Lexi Thompson’s Instagram at the Evian Championship.) 🤮 😡 pic.twitter.com/FQzZcthCzh
— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) July 26, 2019
Stacy Lewis, who has been vocal about her hopes to make the Solheim Cup and would benefit from a solid performance at a major, will also not be going to France. On a recent episode of the No Laying Up podcast, Lewis echoed Thompson’s critique. “You can’t just throw money on a tournament and call it a major. The golf course is nowhere up to the standards of what it needs to be.”
Perhaps in non-Olympic years, the Evian’s status won’t seem as questionable, but it’s worth asking whether a fifth major, one that gets a weak field in busy years and often has subpar course conditions, is what women’s golf needs.
From Mike Whan’s perspective, elevating the Evian to a major was a bold move with a lot of upside, putting the stars of the women’s game front and center for an additional week and expanding the global footprint of the tour. While some golf traditionalists criticized the decision, many players praised it, seeing the Evian as a bastion of support for the LPGA and the Ladies European Tour (LET). “Players on the LPGA have always considered the Evian Masters on par with the best tour events in all of golf,” Cristie Kerr said at the time. “As an LPGA major, Evian will continue, as it has always done, to reach new heights year after year.”
That was a decade ago. Today, thanks in large part to Whan’s leadership, the LPGA Tour is in much better shape. The competition has gotten deeper, purses and the number of events have increased, and viewership is on the rise. Also, crucially, the three majors without a home course have started going to venues with real history and architectural quality: Aronimink (2020 Women’s PGA), Olympic Club (2021 U.S. Women’s Open), and Carnoustie (2021 Women’s Open). The Evian Resort Golf Club is simply not on that level, and it’s diluting what it means for a tournament to call itself a women’s major.
If the Evian Championship loses its major status, the women’s tours should figure out a suitable replacement. It was always a good idea to create a new signature event with a strong field and a big purse, and to keep female golfers in the spotlight for another week each year. And hey, we could even throw the brand people a bone and let them smash that caps-lock key: presenting… the Women’s PLAYERS Championship! [Ed. note: The Fried Egg has made a point of not styling the men’s Players Championship in all caps, but we’d be… *sigh*… willing to consider a change of policy for a Women’s PLAYERS.]
Odd typography and aggressive marketing aside, the Players at TPC Sawgrass is a top-notch tournament. Why a similar event doesn’t exist for the women is a mystery. Another gap in the strategic alliance between the PGA and LPGA tours?
Of course, there would be scheduling, financial, and organizational logistics to figure out. The Women’s PLAYERS would need an advantageous spot in the calendar, not to mention a title sponsor willing to foot the bill and lend some immediate prestige. Finally, since the Evian Championship is a collaboration between the LPGA and the LET, perhaps the Women’s PLAYERS could be co-sanctioned by two or more regional tours, including the robust LPGA circuits in Korea and Japan.
The venue would also be critical. One option would be for the Women’s PLAYERS to follow the example of the PGA Tour, Pete Dye, and TPC Sawgrass: commission an architect with name recognition (Gil Hanse, David McLay Kidd, etc.) to custom-build a course for the event. To represent the global reach of the women’s pro game, maybe this course could be outside of the U.S., preferably in Asia or Australia.
There’s no doubt plenty of architects would be eager to take on such a project. Back in the early days of The Fried Egg podcast, Tom Doak expressed interest in designing a course specifically for female golfers.
As Doak indicates, getting the money together for this kind of course would be challenging. But the idea of seeing the most skilled women in the world play a course specifically designed for them is too compelling to dismiss out of hand. Just imagine Lydia Ko and Inbee Park picking apart golf holes with fairway widths, green sizes, and hazards fully suited to their games.
We should hold major championships to high standards. If one is falling behind, players have every right to speak up. The current frustration with the Evian Championship should be taken seriously. While it’s unlikely the event will be demoted anytime soon, the declines in field strength and course conditions are concerning. It’s time for the LPGA and the other women’s tours to take another big risk and create a tournament—a TOURNAMENT?—that shows the women’s game at its best.