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Having seemed lost in the rough, LPGA officials are now pitching a brighter future

January.

Park Inbee, pictured after her victory  in the Kraft Nabisco Championship last April, added to the excitement of the LPGA Tour by winning a trio of majors.  Picture: Danny Moloshok/Reuters
Park Inbee, pictured after her victory in the Kraft Nabisco Championship last April, added to the excitement of the LPGA Tour by winning a trio of majors. Picture: Danny Moloshok/Reuters

That grim, bleak month when we all choose to become locked in a prison of self-imposed abstinence in the hope that those increasingly saggy, dangly folds that have enveloped our skeleton and hang down forlornly like a stricken hot air balloon entangled on a tree will suddenly beat a hasty retreat during a rigorous four-week regime of health and fitness.

That's the dream, of course. The reality is slightly different. Come the middle of the month, you're muttering and cursing while you wheeze yourself into your tracksuit and trainers with all the enthusiasm of a cow shuffling towards an abattoir, before collapsing into a heap on the couch with a bottle of sauvignon blanc and a pie as those fragile New Year's resolutions are crushed under the weight of downright laziness and an overwhelming urge to throw alcohol and grease over your thrapple.

At least there are plenty of other people with a bit of get up and go. Last week, the LPGA Tour's commissioner, Mike Whan, delivered another significant shot in the arm for the women's circuit when he revealed details of the new "Race to the CME Globe", a season-long points competition which will conclude at the CME Group Tour Championship and will offer a $1m bonus pay-out to the person who tops the money list. The winner of the Tour Championship itself will pocket $500,000.

As it moves into its 65th year, the LPGA Tour is thriving again. In 2014, the circuit will boast 32 events, up from 28 last season, and overall prize money will be more than $56m compared to around $49m in 2013. In addition, the new International Crown, a biennial matchplay event featuring eight nations, has been scribbled into a galvanised schedule.

When Whan took over at the helm in 2009, the LPGA was on a slippery slope. The economic recession had hit hard, many events were held in smaller markets, the all-conquering poster girl Annika Sorenstam had retired the previous year and Lorena Ochoa, the bubbly, global powerhouse from Mexico, was reaching for her slippers too.

Like a torpedoed battleship, the ailing tour hit the bottom in 2011 with just 23 tournaments, a meagre cobbling together of bits and pieces which led to the Scottish stalwart Janice Moodie suggesting that, "I now have a part-time job". The resurgence has been remarkable.

The intrigue and excitement generated by Park Inbee's three consecutive major wins last season and the emergence of teenage talents like Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson have all played a part but a huge amount of credit has to go to the endeavours of Whan and his continued global vision.

"When I took the job, somebody asked, 'what are we going to do about all the foreign players on our tour?" recalled the tour's eighth commissioner, as the invasion of players from the far east continued. "I can be two kinds of commissioner: the one from 1990, where all the players and sponsors and tournaments were in America or Europe. Or I can be the commissioner of 2010 where players come from everywhere, sponsors come from everywhere and tournaments are everywhere."

Last year, Park and Suzann Pettersen became the first players in LPGA Tour history to break through the $2m barrier in season earnings. It was a considerable haul but the gulf between the good ladies and their counterparts on the men's PGA Tour remains stark.

There were 82 players who crossed the $1m mark on the PGA circuit in 2013, more than 10 times the number on the women's tour. Since the start of the 2014 campaign at the end of 2013 - golf is odd that way - the PGA Tour's overflowing gravy train has already sloshed out seven first prizes of more than $1m. In both financial terms and on the publicity front, the men continue to rule the roost.

"I'm resigned to the fact that we will never get the same level of attention as the men and I'm tired of banging my head off that wall," lamented Catriona Matthew a couple of years back. Despite her global conquests and her long-standing position as Scotland's leading golfer on the world stage, Matthew's successes have never garnered the acclaim they should.

Rather like women's golf as a whole. Only last summer at the Open, for instance, the media worked itself into a frenzy when they descended en mass to Muirfield to roar their lungs dry on the issue of male-only golf clubs.

That was all well and good but, during a summer in which Park had the chance to win four successive majors and Europe's women claimed a Solheim Cup victory on American soil for the first time, the mainstream news outlets, by and large, ignored these achievements.

Clearly, they had filled their boots with the single-sex club issue, moved on to whatever the next fist-shaking outrage was and showed just how sincere they were about promoting the women's game in the first instance. At least those in power at the LPGA Tour seem to be succeeding in their efforts to shape a prosperous, vibrant future.

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