The L.P.G.A. did not always lag behind, picking up remaining periods of time. In 1976, two years before a rookie by the name of Nancy Lopez increased interest in the LPGA, the first major of the tour, then known as the Dinah Shore, drew higher ratings than the Greater Greensboro Open in the same week. The largest ambassador for LPGA at the time was an Australian, Jan Stephenson, who was not famous for her success – her three major championships came in the early 1980s – nor her work ethic, although she stopped driving range at dusk.
Ray Volpe, then LPGA commissioner, had identified Stephenson as golf's answer to Farrah Fawcett, the female ideal of the era, and used her to promote sex appeal to major sponsors. As Stephenson, who was initiated this month at the World Golf Hall of Fame, recently called out, "I would get a Telex in my locker at the end of a Ray tournament and it would say," There will be a plane ticket. for you at the airport, could you fly to New York? I have a potential sponsor. "We probably signed 10 12-year contracts that way just because I ate and dined and played golf with potential sponsors."
Those deals set the stage for Lopez & # 39; s long-running show. Based on her telegenic personality and her 48 L.P.G.A. victories, including three majors, Lopez broadened the audience, and the appetite, for women's golf. Since the departure of Lopez from regular tour in 2002, the L.P.G.A. has searched close and far for someone with both the charisma and the performance to name the spotlight in the United States. A teen Michelle Wie came closest, but her flight was hampered by injuries, and last week she said shockingly that she didn't know how much more competitive golf her crumbling body would allow.
Ladies' golf has no lack of charismatic stars, but they are foreign-born players whose influence is most evident in their home country. Ariya Jutanugarn, 23, a two-fold L.P.G.A. Player of the year and the first big winner from Thailand, is such a big deal there that a film is made of her life. Park, which became the first rookie in 2017 since Lopez won the & # 39; Player of the Year & # 39; re, is awaited by the kind of hysteria in South Korea that is typically reserved for its pop bands.
Whan Asia said the women routinely outdraw the men. "So I know it's possible," he said.