A Win* for Whan
By Stephanie Wei under General

On Tuesday the LPGA announced the addition of a new tournament, the Sybase Match Play Championship. The LPGA re-signed Sybase, a database technology company, to a three-year sponsorship agreement. The $1.5 million event will be take place May 20-23 at the Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, New Jersey.

Now, there are 25 events on the 2010 LPGA Tour schedule — which is good news, but the new contract didn’t come without concessions (hence the asterisk in the headline).

The tournament will feature 64 LPGA players competing in a bracket-style match play format. According to an LPGA official, eligibility for the field is as follows:

  • The top-48 players from the 2009 LPGA Official Money List
  • 10 players not otherwise qualified will have the opportunity to qualify in the first two rounds of the Bell Micro Classic (essentially it’s a 36-hole qualifier and top ten finishers who didn’t finish in the top-48 on the money list will be eligible).
  • The top-four players not otherwise qualified from the above criteria from the 2010 LPGA Official Money List through the Bell Micro Classic
  • Two sponsors invites

Newly-deigned Commissioner Mike Whan weighed in via the press release:

We’re pleased that Sybase has enabled the LPGA to bring a prestigious women’s golf event back to the Greater New York area. It is especially gratifying to continue the momentum that the LPGA has been enjoying since the end of last season, thanks to great partners like Sybase and Octagon.

Sybase was the title sponsor of the Sybase Classic from 2001 through 2009, but last fall it was announced the event was not returning. According to an industry insider, ShopRite, the presenting sponsor of the Sybase Classic for the past three years, opted not to extend its contract. Shortly thereafter it was revealed that ShopRite, which ran a successful tour stop for twenty years, was bringing back the ShopRite Classic to the Seaview Resort in Atlantic City.

Without a presenting sponsor, Sybase was unwilling to bear the full financial responsibility to hold a full field tournament — which explains why the new event is limited to 64 players vying for a $1.5 million purse, down from $2 million the previous two years.

An LPGA official noted, “The new format was the essential element in keeping Sybase on the schedule.”

It’s a sign of the times. The Tour must compromise to accommodate the sponsor’s requests — which is a very different plan than what disgraced former commissioner Carolyn Bivens envisioned when she took over in 2005 — but practical (the LPGA will take what it can get, right?).

But at least a new deal with Sybase was successfully negotiated. The better news is there are now two tournaments in the New York area on the schedule, rather than one — even if one of them is a limited field event with a smaller purse. Perhaps under Whan’s watch this is just the start of more good news to come.