The struggling LPGA suffered a pair of body blows on Monday when Michelle Wie and Natalie Gulbis each failed to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. That means two of the tour's biggest names will be absent for one of the marquee events of the year, a disastrous turn for the LPGA.
That's bad for the players, of course. Each of them has struggled with being more of a name brand than an actual golfer, something that won't change when you can't qualify for a major tournament. It hurts the LPGA much more, however.
Obviously it won't do much to impact the level of play at the Open. If either player was that spectacular, they wouldn't be qualifying for spots in the field. But the LPGA is awfully short on household names when you remove Gulbis and Wie from the mix. That's going to mean fewer eyes on the event, and, right now, eyes might be more important than performance for women's golf.
The LPGA is struggling to keep a full schedule of events for 2010 in the face of an economy that's costing them sponsors. Just having Gulbis and Wie at Saucon Valley Country Club on July 9th wasn't going to make money rain from the skies, but it's a lot better than having them sidelined for nearly a month because of the way the LPGA's schedule is set up.
Sponsors want players like Gulbis, who was on "The Apprentice," to be front and center even if they don't have much of a chance of winning the tournament. Wie, on the other hand, looked like she was breaking through at 19, which would have made a compelling story if she was in contention during the tournament's final round. Now, though, it will be the mostly anonymous crew led by Lorena Ochoa playing good golf, a formula that hasn't meant much in the past.
It doesn't figure to rate this time around, either, which will serve to push women's golf further onto the fringes of the sports landscape.