Scheduling conflict puts Women's Open up against British

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The Independent Online

The U.S. Women's Open is the premier event on the LPGA Tour schedule, a major championship with a history and tradition - not to mention a purse - that no other tournament can match.

The U.S. Women's Open is the premier event on the LPGA Tour schedule, a major championship with a history and tradition - not to mention a purse - that no other tournament can match.

And yet when the women tee off on Thursday at the Merit Club, they'll be going right up against the British Open and Tiger Woods' bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

"Obviously, I think we'd all prefer to have the week to ourselves as far as the attention goes," said Karrie Webb, the world's No. 1 golfer.

So why don't they? Blame television. And the PGA of America. The U.S. Golf Association, which puts on the Women's Open, didn't plan for things to work out this way. When it initially chose the Merit Club to play host to the U.S. Open, it gave the club the 1999 tournament.

But then the PGA of America decided the 1999 PGA Championship would be played at Medinah Country Club, in another Chicago suburb. Throw in the Western Open and the Ameritech Senior Open, and the Chicago area would be playing host to a PGA major, an LPGA major and two other high-profile golf tournaments in a span of just six weeks.

That's a lot of competition. Too much competition, the USGA decided, and gave the Merit Club the 2000 Women's Open, instead. When it came time to pick a date for the 2000 tournament, officials from the USGA, Merit Club and NBC, which is televising the event, looked at their options and decided this was the best weekend to hold the tournament.

Sure, most of the regular golf media would be in Scotland covering the British Open. And yes, there are PGA Tour (the B.C. Open) and Senior PGA Tour (Instinet Classic) events this week. But unlike most other weeks of the year, the "only" real competition would be the British Open, and its television coverage would end before the Women's Open's began.

"Whenever you do it, you're going to have a conflict," said Marty Parkes, senior director of communications for the USGA. "Now you've got golf on in the morning and then there really isn't a lot of competition."

Added LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw, "In looking at how do you make lemons out of lemonade, they said, 'At least we'll have TV audiences to ourselves in the afternoon.' "I'm a 'Glass is half-full guy,"' he added. "There are negatives, but there are positives to be pointed out, too. ... Certainly, having the golf audience to ourselves will hopefully generate one of the largest TV audiences we've ever had."

History seems to support that thinking. In 1998, when Se Ri Pak beat Jenny Chuasiriporn in a playoff on Monday, the Women's Open drew a 2.6 rating on Sunday, said Jon Miller, senior vice president of NBC Sports.

But last year, when the Women's Open went head-to-head with Woods' victory at The Memorial, it only drew a 1.4 rating.

"We initially chose this weekend because we wanted to avoid a head-to-head competition," Miller said. "By having the British Open going off the air before ... we are free and clear all afternoon long from any men's golf."

But will people want to spend an entire summer day watching golf? Or will most people watch the British Open and then turn off the television and head outside?

"I don't know that people necessarily get 'golfed out.' I don't know anyone who will watch all five hours of the British Open," Miller said. "If you've got a compelling event and you've got stars like Juli Inkster, Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam, people are going to find their way to the T.V. set."

Players have mixed feelings about the scheduling. While they're happy about the potential increase in ratings, they'd rather not share the spotlight. Especially not for this tournament.

"It's hard," admitted Inkster, the defending champion. "I wish it wasn't up against the British Open. But you know, this is our tournament. This is our national championship. This is our biggest tournament of the year, and we're just going to have to go out there and play some good golf and bring the media to us."