Patty Sheehan is 49 years old, which pretty much makes her a fossil on the LPGA Tour.
That doesn’t bother Sheehan. Her time has come and gone, and she’s secure enough in her legacy to appreciate the precocious talents of LPGA youngsters Paula Creamer, 19, Morgan Pressel, 17, and Michelle Wie, 16.
What she doesn’t appreciate, however, is the LPGA losing its memory.
Sheehan believes the LPGA has buried its past as it relentlessly promotes the youth movement on Tour.
“I don’t think the LPGA is doing a very good job of educating the kids,” Sheehan, a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, said Thursday after her first-round 77 at the Safeway International. “I think there are a lot of kids who don’t know who the founders are, who the greats are.”
You can’t blame the LPGA for shoving its teenage phenoms to the forefront. As the cover of the Tour media guide says, “These Girls Rock.”
Creamer won two tournaments last year as a rookie, Pressel tied for second at the U.S. Open, and Wie is the second most recognizable female golfer in the world.
In addition to being terrific golfers, the kiddie corp makes for great theater. Creamer already has had a verbal altercation with alpha female Annika Sorenstam, and Pressel and Wie have sniped at each other in the media.
For a Tour that’s had Sorenstam and little else to celebrate the past few years, their boisterous arrival has been a blessing.
“I don’t think the Tour is pushing them,” said 10-year Tour veteran Jean Barthomolew, who had an opening round 66. “I think it’s their agents and TV.”
So it’s the television networks that have Wie ranked as the No. 2 player in the world even though she’s only played in 16 Tour events and has yet to win?
“I think it’s laughable,” Sheehan said. “I really do. It’s a joke.”
Admitted Barthomolew: “I’m sure a few players were peeved at the rankings.”
The LPGA can’t turn back the clock. It has a good thing going. Television ratings for the four majors in 2005 were 40.6 percent higher than in 2004, attendance increased 11.2 percent, and prize money this year will total nearly $50 million, a Tour record.
“We’re enjoying the heck out of the kids,” 20-year Tour veteran Meg Mallon said. “It’s great to have all that attention out here.”
So it is, but the LPGA — in addition to revamping the rankings so there’s some legitimacy to them — should make it a priority to educate younger players about the Tour’s history. Have the Tour’s old guard — Sheehan, Mallon, Beth Daniel, etc. — talk to the kids about what it was like to play for tiny purses in small towns, with hardly anyone watching.
For how are Creamer, Wie, Pressel and their contemporaries going to truly appreciate what they have if they’re unaware of what — or who — came before them?
It was revealing to hear Pressel talk Wednesday about her “big sister” on Tour, 45-year-old Juli Inkster. Asked whether she’s sought out Inkster for advice, Pressel said, “Well, I haven’t really gone . I mean, I’ve known Juli for a while, and she’s great. I know if I have anything I would need to ask her, she’d be more than happy to answer.”
This is Pressel’s first full year on Tour. She should be full of questions.
The PGA Tour long has tied its past with its future. Jack Nicklaus revered Ben Hogan. Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw were historians of the game. Tiger Woods had a poster of Nicklaus on his bedroom wall.
On the LPGA Tour, however, there’s a gulf between yesterday and today that has yet to be bridged.
“I think there’s respect there,” Sheehan said. “They just don’t know. There’s no connection between what’s happening now, which is phenomenal, and what’s happened in the past.”
That’s not the LPGA’s fault. But the Tour will do itself —and its fans — a disservice if its temporary amnesia becomes a permanent condition.