In 1997 I saw a young LPGA player head off for her practice round at the Sprint Titleholders Championship only to find another player on the tee. "Ma'am," the youngster said, "amateurs aren't allowed to play practice rounds." One problem, the "amateur" was 21-time LPGA winner Sandra Palmer.
That was the most egregious act of disrespect and cluelessness I had ever witnessed, until I heard a few of the LPGA's best respond to the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, in which players compete for a "mock purse" while one million real dollars go to charity.
Playing for pretend money isn't ideal, and the event may have been rushed, without full consideration being given to other tournament sponsors and their charitable donations, but the Founders has generated much-needed publicity for the LPGA, and it's giving players more domestic exposure and more rounds before the year's first major. Still, stars such as Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen and Morgan Pressel(above) have publicly criticized LPGA commissioner Mike Whan and said they won't play. Reactions like this are absurd. If you don't want to play, fine. Whan made it clear that no one was obligated nor would a player be chastised for passing. If you don't like the deal, speak with Mike about your concerns; he's amazingly accessible. But the whining has made those players look selfish and neglectful of their endorsers, who value the early-season domestic exposure. Palmer is not an LPGA founder, but she is one of many who laid the foundation for today's LPGA. Current players should embrace the chance to say thanks and give back—or quietly stay home.
Dottie Pepper is a 24-year LPGA member and a golf analyst for NBC.
SI Golf+ will next appear as a supplement to the March 7 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
ROBERT BECK (PEPPER)
KOHJIRO KINNO (PRESSEL)