LPGA looking at ‘hybrid’ and ‘wraparound’ seasons

LPGA looking at ‘hybrid’ and ‘wraparound’ seasons
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When the LPGA returns this summer from its coronavirus break, the fourth event planned is a major championship.

In fact, when the tour restarts in two-and-a-half months, two of the first six events will be majors.

How will qualifying to play the Evian Championship (Aug. 6-9) and the AIG Women’s British Open (Aug. 20-23) be adjusted with so few events leading up to them?

Also, how will priority ranking reshuffles be tweaked?

And how fair will it be at season’s end to take away status from rookies and veterans whose starts were seriously limited by the revamped schedule, with fewer full-field regular tour events to prove themselves?

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said those are the most pressing questions he and his staff are getting from players looking at the revised schedule.

The LPGA announced another update to its schedule on Wednesday, pushing its season resumption to mid-July.

Whan’s team is exploring the possibility of making unprecedented moves to solve those problems. The group’s evaluating multiple scenarios affecting eligibility and qualifying.

Can you say “hybrid” and “wraparound”?

“Now that we have a more firm start date and a fuller schedule, we’re taking a fresh look at all of our eligibility, as it relates to field size, criteria, et cetera,” said Heather Daly-Donofrio, the chief tour operations officer. “Whether or not there will be changes made to any of the criteria is still to be determined, but we’ve shared with our players that we are taking a fresh look.”

Whan said the tour is examining the possibility the LPGA will create an official season that doesn’t end with the kind of finality players are accustomed to experiencing.

“We’re calling it the hybrid, which means at the end of the year, it would be a large reshuffle, but nobody loses their card,” Whan said.

Under that plan, the 2020 season would be official, but priority ranking status in a year-end reshuffle would carry over into 2021. In terms strictly related to eligibility, the 2020 and ’21 seasons would be joined together. If enacted, the Symetra Tour would operate under the same scenario.

Of course, that still leaves large questions, like whether Symetra Tour players have to wait two full years for promotions and what happens to Q-School and Q-Series access.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan wants to make sure his staff and players have a handle on how testing will work in a revamped world of competition.

“Gets complicated,” Whan said.

LPGA officials say those are details still being sorted as they work through scenarios.

Whan said the tour could go a step further and officially join together the 2020 and ’21 seasons in every way, as a single wraparound season. He said that becomes a real possibility if the coronavirus adds more significant disruption to the schedule, like interfering with the July restart and piling on more cancelations to the nine events that have already been scrubbed.

Of course, Whan’s preference is to complete one official season.

“Quite frankly, [it] is really going to depend on how many of these events we get out, especially how many of these full-field events we get out,” Whan said.

The LPGA played four events before the pandemic shut down play. If completed as now devised, the full 25-event schedule will include 13 regular full-field events, five majors, six limited-field invitationals and one two-player team event.

Before the pandemic, the schedule featured 18 regular full-field events.

Whan likes the financial opportunities the LPGA is still offering its players in its revised schedule, even with the nine tournament cancelations, but he knows challenges remain with the virus so unpredictable. He said he keeps emphasizing the LPGA must keep an eye to the future as it makes decisions affecting this year’s woes. That means making sacrifices now that ensure the LPGA is as strong in ’21 and beyond as it was at the end of 2019.

“The only way COVID really damages the LPGA long-term is if we allow it to by only focusing on 2020,” Whan said.

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