Despite so much of the LPGA season already going out the window – and the first possible date for a restart having slipped to late July – this won’t go down as the season lost to COVID-19.
The workarounds continue at LPGA headquarters as commissioner Mike Whan announced that LPGA and Symetra Tour status earned for the 2020 season will be retained for the 2021 season. In essence, the seasons will be combined for the purpose of eligibility even as they historically remain two distinct seasons.
The decision effectively protects a player from losing the status she earned in 2020 because of a lack of playing opportunities or hesitation about returning to competition before she’s ready. The LPGA also announced that there will be no Q-School or Q-Series in the fall. With no players falling off the priority list, there’s no room for a player to play her way on, either.
“As we look to the remainder of our 2020 season and ahead to 2021, we wanted to make sure that the athletes who earned the opportunity to play on the LPGA tour for 2020 have that full-season opportunity in 2021,” Whan said.
So far, only four LPGA events have been completed, with the last official event taking place Feb. 11-16 in Australia. The money earned in those events remains official and will be recognized for historical and statistical purposes. The same goes for tournament wins, and players who stand to earn winner’s category status for a victory logged during the shortened 2020 season.
As Whan has worked through restart scenarios these past few months, he figured the LPGA was looking at one of three scenarios: a wrap-around season, a hybrid season or a restart. Call this the latter, much like a cut-and-paste from 2020 to 2021.
“In this case, you can play ’20, you can win, you can come back from medicals, maternities, that kind of thing, but generally speaking outside of wins, you’ll likely be starting 2021 with your 2020 starting place,” Whan said.
Whan spent a good chunk of the early week doing a series of virtual player meetings during which he announced the changes. Feedback from players, he says, has run the gamut of not wanting to leave home to worrying about hotels and rental cars to feeling like the season should have restarted already. But the decision to honor 2020 status is a big step in eliminating any anxiety a player might feel over rushing back to competition too soon.
“Regardless of how comfortable you are playing, regardless of whether or not you can get out of your home country because of travel restrictions, regardless of you live with your grandparents and they’re 82 and they’re asking you, ‘Please don’t go and come back,’ we allow you to play 2020,” Whan said. “It’s official money, the season will end.”
Like the LPGA season, the Symetra Tour season stands to look much more condensed than originally planned. Only one event has been played so far and a restart has been pushed to early July, the Prasco Charity Championship in Cincinnati, at the earliest. The Symetra Tour is targeting a 10-tournament season, and if at least eight events are played, the top five finishers will be offered LPGA status in 2021.
Local qualifiers at LPGA events – another option for up-and-coming players – have also been scrapped for the remainder of the 2020 season, largely because of safety and logistical concerns.
The drawbacks in this setup are there, of course, too, and young players are most likely to feel them. College graduates looking to start their professional journey are losing out on a Q-School opportunity.
Whan recognized this spells “terrible news” for them. Then again, the same could be said for players who were disappointed with the level of status they started the year with or even those eyeing their way into the Olympics.
“I don’t know who wins in 2020, but none of those versions are considering 2020 a great year and having it again in ’21 is better than not. But it’s not a perfect answer, either,” Whan said.
So when could the LPGA play again? It will be at least six weeks after the PGA Tour’s scheduled June 11 restart. The Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a highly-successful team event that debuted last year, was set to kick off the LPGA’s resumption of play July 15-18 in Midland, Michigan. With the event now canceled, the Marathon Classic in Sylvania, Ohio, sits in the leadoff position. The Marathon is scheduled for July 23-26.
Another event, the Meijer LPGA Classic scheduled for Oct. 2-4, was canceled on Wednesday and the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway, New Jersey, previously postponed from its May date, will take those open dates.
The Dow event was designed as a community event, complete with vendors and concerts. It would have been difficult to pull off so many of those details on the periphery. Whan saw the decision to cancel as the right long-term decision, even if it hurt in the short term.
“If it doesn’t work for your check writer, you can pull out some legal document, but you’re not going to be in business with them long-term, so it was the right thing to do,” Whan said of the cancellation. “They made a commitment to us for longer term and we made a commitment to make sure if it doesn’t work in 2020, we won’t force it into a square hole.”
Conversations continue, Whan said, with tournament sponsors on the remainder of the 2020 calendar. A three-week stint in France and Scotland in August hinges on international travel restrictions. With so much of the back half of the 2020 schedule in the air, Whan remains committed to delivering at least what players were guaranteed at the start of the year.
“I think the less we play,” Whan said, “the more comfortable I am with the decision we communicated today.”