Capitals

LPGA Tour ahead of the curve on global travel

201211181929701818125-p2.jpeg

LPGA Tour ahead of the curve on global travel

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) Alarm bells went off when the best golfers no longer were Americans, whether the measure was a ranking or simply who kept winning the majors.

That was the LPGA Tour a generation ago.

It took awhile for the men to experience the same shift to a more global game, such as Europeans occupying the top four spots in the world ranking at the end of last year, or the Americans getting shut out of six straight majors. Or the time Lee Westwood, whose humor can be vastly underrated, was speaking at a dinner when he mentioned Steve Stricker winning the previous week at the John Deere Classic. Looking at PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, he said, ``Nice to see an American win on your tour.''

The next cause for concern in women's golf was having to leave home to build a schedule.

It looks like the LPGA Tour again was ahead of its time.

The women finished a whirlwind - not to mention worldwide - schedule over the last three months by going from Virginia to England to Alabama in consecutive weeks, and then ended its season with three straight tournaments that took them from Japan to Mexico to Florida.

This might not have been what Karrie Webb had in mind when she moved halfway around the world for a Hall of Fame career on the LPGA Tour. Her rookie season, there were 34 events on the LPGA Tour schedule, all but four of them in the United States. This year, 12 of the 27 official events were outside the country.

``I envisioned playing most of my career in the U.S.,'' she said. ``Even for me, coming from Australia, it was a bit of an adjustment. But I realized that's where the money is. It will take many years to get the economy back to where it was for us to have a luxurious schedule in the U.S. There's money in Asia and a lot of interest in golf. I was OK with it then. But learning more from being on the (LPGA) board, having Asian events helps the health of our tour.''

Cristie Kerr put it more bluntly, as she always does.

``We were definitely ahead of the curve,'' Kerr said. ``Without that, our tour might have gone away. We have a lot to be thankful for of the Asian countries.''

The LPGA Tour's worldwide schedule used to be seen as a stigma. Now it is a way of life for them.

And it's getting that way for others.

The European Tour had no choice but to follow the money when economies faltered. Just look at the last 10 years. About 65 percent of its tournaments in 2002 were played in Europe, including seven in England. This year, only 47 percent of the tournaments were held in Europe.

There were as many tournaments in China as there were in Scotland this year. There were as many tournaments in Dubai as there were in England. And the country that held the most official events on the European Tour? That would be the United States (with three majors and three ``World'' Golf Championships).

``It was clearly a stigma,'' LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said. ``But I said this to our players and our staff, `Gang, I promise you the rest of our sport is going to follow.' Unfortunately, we're going to be the model. We're going to make all the silly mistakes. But you can't go back.''

By mistakes, he was alluding to former Commissioner Carolyn Bivens' short-lived attempt to penalize players who didn't learn to speak English. Four years later, Kerr is starting to learn Korean, in part because one of her sponsors is the Korean Exchange Bank.

``Every business where I've worked went global,'' Whan said, mentioning Proctor & Gamble, TaylorMade and the hockey industry. ``And the end result is pretty cool. Your buffet is so much fuller. We believe we're the future of sport. That sounds pretty bold. But how much money has the NBA spent a year to power into an international program? Or the NFL or Major League Baseball? For us, we're there.''

Is it ideal? Maybe not.

``We have the best players from around the world. They move here and they want to play here,'' Whan said. ``I've had more than our share of players ... you would think, `Oh, they love your Korea event.' No. They want another Atlanta event.''

The PGA Tour is the strongest in the world. Thanks in large part to Tom Wade, the top executive in charge of marketing, the tour has been able to renew sponsorships or find replacements for nearly every tournament domestically. Then again, that didn't keep the tour from following the money. When it goes to a fall start for its 2013-14 season, two of the events will be in Asia. The tour might have looked for other opportunities if it had not been a little late to the table.

The LPGA Tour started going international even in healthier times. It was during the recession that domestic events started to go away - 24 domestic events at the start of 2008 compared with 13 last year - and international events slightly increased.

Whan is optimistic that the LPGA Tour will add another event next year outside Beijing, and the ideal schedule would include four or five more American events, with about 60 percent of the tournaments at home. There is work left to get that done.

Players, meanwhile, found cause to embrace trips overseas. They get a business-class plane ticket and stay in five-star hotels in Singapore and Malaysia and just about everywhere else they go. There is no cut, so everyone makes money. They are treated like rock stars, compared with getting ignored at times in America.

``In Malaysia, our players stayed in a five-star hotel connected to a mall,'' Whan said. ``I'm sure we raised the gross national product that week.''

He said the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore had the atmosphere of the U.S. Women's Open, and its South Korean event attracted more coverage and bigger crowds than the K.J Choi Invitational held the same week.

The LPGA is off for nearly three months. Its new season will start an ocean or two away from home, which no longer seems all that far away.

Quick Links

How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

Hockey is a game of organized chaos.

Sure, pucks can take some unexpected bounces, but a lot of what you see on the ice doesn’t happen by accident.

Trailing 2-0 early in the third period of Game 1, Patric Hornqvist got the Pittsburgh Penguins on the board with a deflection that scuttled past Braden Holtby.

You may dismiss the play at first glance as a lucky deflection off a wide shot, but it actually was much more coordinated than that.

The play starts with defenseman Justin Schultz holding the puck at the blue line. He buys time, sees Hornqvist and fires a wrister at the net. The shot is not going on net, but the net isn’t the target.

You can see the play here:

Schultz is specifically aiming to put the puck in a position for Hornqvist to deflect it on goal.

“Justin does a great job just changing his angle, having some patience and just delivering pucks down to the net that gives our forwards an opportunity to get a stick on it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

According to the coach, it is a play the Penguins practice daily and one that is reminiscent of former Capital Sergei Gonchar who routinely made smart plays from the blue line to set up his teammates.

Gonchar was one of the top offensive defensemen in the league over a playing career that spanned from 1994 to 2015. He recorded 811 points in his NHL career, 416 of which came during his 10 seasons with Washington.

Now, however, he serves as an assistant coach for the Penguins helping the defensemen practice plays just like the one Schultz made to set up Hornqvist.

“Sergei is so good at helping those guys with the subtleties of the game and just those little skill sets along the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said. "I don't know that there was anybody better in his generation than Sergei was and he does a great job at relaying some of those subtitles to our guys and those guys, they work at it daily.”

Deflections are obviously very difficult for a goalie to handle. It is nearly impossible to react to the puck’s mid-air change of direction. A goalie has to be positioned perfectly to make the save. It also gives shooters at the blue line more targets. Rather than shooting just at the 42x78 inches of the net, players can shoot on net or in the shooting lane of any of their teammates anywhere on the ice. Essentially, the entire offensive zone becomes a potential target.

There’s a reason the Penguins have been as good as they are for as long as they have. They are not getting lucky bounces, they are creating their own deflections thanks in part to the expertise of the former Cap.

MORE CAPITALS vs. PENGUINS NEWS:

Quick Links

The Redskins drafted for need, and this time, that is just fine

The Redskins drafted for need, and this time, that is just fine

ASHBURN, Va. -- After months, and maybe years, of the Redskins front office explaining that the NFL Draft came down to taking the best player available, the organization might have veered from that strategy Thursday night.

The Redskins selected Alabama defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne with the No. 13 overall pick. It's a fine selection, but the team made it not necessarily because Payne was the best player available, but because he was the best player available at a position of desperate need. 

"There were quite a few guys that were worthy of that pick, quite frankly, but for what we were looking for and the fit, I think Da’Ron is perfect for us and what we were looking for," Washington head coach Jay Gruden said after the first round ended.

Payne should help right away on the Redskins defensive line, but plenty of fans want to know why the team didn't select Derwin James and Tremaine Edmunds at No. 13. Both freak athletes, James could have helped the Redskins' secondary while Edmunds could help at the linebacker spot and rushing the passer.

Asked specifically if Payne was on top of the board at No. 13 with Edmunds and James present, the coach wasn't quite crystal clear.

"Yeah, he was up there. There’s a lot of scenarios we tried to play through and guys were getting picked and we’re happy as heck to get Da’Ron. He’s one of our top guys."

For Gruden and the Redskins, this pick was about competing in the NFC East.

"You see what’s going on in our division with Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott and Philadelphia, the way they run the ball," the coach said. "Our [2017] ranking on defense wasn’t quite up to speed at 32nd."

The coach is right. 

The Redskins struggled mightily last season against the run, coming in dead last in rush defense. In turn, they struggled in the division, going 1-5. Dallas and Philadelphia already run the ball very well, and now by drafting Barkley second overall, the Giants could be a strong run team too. 

There is no question Payne will step in and help against the run, and that should happen immediately. Gruden even said the Redskins will use Payne at the nose tackle position, likely with Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis lined up next to him. 

The question on Payne is pass rushing ability, and he's eager to prove it's no question at all. 

"I’m going to get after the pass rush and just dominate the run every chance I get," the new Redskins said in a conference call with media. 

In thre years at Alabama, Payne logged three sacks. Read that again. It's not a misprint. 

For interior defensive line players, sacks aren't always a great measure of effectiveness. Getting good push up the middle disrupts the quarterbacks time in the pocket, and that often results in sacks off the edge. Payne should be able to help in that capacity.

"I think he's got great power, and a lot of times the sacks that don't show up on the stat board, he enabled other guys to get them because of the push of the pocket that forces the quarterback outside. I think Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Ryan Anderson will be very happy to have Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne in the middle pushing that pocket," Gruden said. "Stats don't always tell a story about pass rushers."

The Redskins made a smart, safe pick with Payne. He will help the team from Day One. 

The Redskins eschewed the chance for a riskier, but maybe more rewarding pick in Derwin James or Tremaine Edmunds. And that's ok.

If Payne boosts the run defense, like he should, he will be proven worth the No. 13 pick.

If Payne boosts the run defense, and proves capable as a pass rusher, then Redskins fans will forget all about James and Edmunds. 

MORE REDSKINS NFL DRAFT NEWS:


REDSKINS TALK PODCAST:

 Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!