Nichols: Should LPGA titles be stripped away decades later? Jane Blalock and Sandra Palmer would like their records restored

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Jane Blalock either won 29, 26 or 27 times on the LPGA, depending on which media guide you pick up from the late 90s. How can a player who last won in 1985 have such a discrepancy in her record?

Well, like many things about this game, it’s complicated. But the bottom line is this: After being credited for having 29 wins for more than a decade, the phone rang in the late 90s and Blalock, 76, was told that her two victories in the Lady Angelo’s 4-Ball in 1972 and 1973 were being taken away. She’d now have 27 titles. Blalock’s partner for both events, Sandra Palmer, 79, received the same call. Her victory total dropped from 21 to 19.

They were told that a committee had met and decided that team events should not count as official victories, and that was that.

It seems exceedingly harsh to take titles away from players decades down the road. Add them, sure, but strip them away?

Jane Blalock
Jane Blalock

Jane Blalock in action during tournament play circa 1982. Blalock was on the LPGA Tour from 1969-87. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

When the LPGA introduced a two-person team event in 2019, the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, Blalock took note of the fact that it was considered an official win. While the results don’t count toward the Rolex Rankings, Solheim Cup points, or Player of the Year, the winners do receive the standard two-year winner’s exemption on the priority list, CME points, official money and a point toward the LPGA Hall of Fame.

“If Cydney Clanton is going to get her tournament win,” said Blalock of one of the inaugural winners, “then why not for me and Sandra?”

While there was some initial back and forth with the LPGA in 2019, Blalock said she hasn’t heard anything about it since.

(Her victory total dipped down to 26 when it looks like her 1974 Southgate Ladies Open victory was erroneously left off the list and then added back, giving her 27 titles.)

Meg Mallon served on the committee that made that decision back in the late 90s, when changes were being considered for the tour’s Hall of Fame criteria. Some of the greatest to ever play the game weren’t going to get in under the current system, that required 30 LPGA victories with two major championships, or 35 with one major, or 40 with no majors.

That’s when it was changed to the current 27-point system, in which one point is given for each regular LPGA victory, two for a major win and one point each for the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy awards. In addition to having 27 points, players must also either win an LPGA major or Player of the Year honors.

During the course of this years-long process, there was an effort made to clean up records. Through that process, Mallon said, it was discovered that credit was given to team events that many felt shouldn’t go into an individual system like the Hall of Fame.

“It took us a long time,” said Mallon. “This committee was (together) seven years. We knew we were going to be criticized.”

There were other team events in the 1970s that were never counted as official events, but Blalock maintains that she was always under the impression that Angelo’s was official. After all, her record immediately changed to reflect those victories and stayed that way for 25 years.

Judy Dickinson, who headed the committee ahead of the LPGA’s 50th anniversary, said they surveyed players from that era to see if they felt the events were official and found that many felt they’d been erroneously marked as official. The events were changed to unofficial, she said, in an effort to be consistent.

Palmer and Blalock disagree.

“I’d like to have credit for that,” said Palmer, who noted that the stars of the time teed it up those weeks on the Cape. Kathy Whitworth, JoAnne Carner, Betsy Rawls, Marlene Hagge and Judy Rankin were among those in the field in 1972.

Sandra Palmer plays a tee shot on the 10th hole during the second round of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club on July 13, 2018 in Wheaton, Illinois. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Neither Palmer nor Blalock are in the LPGA Hall of Fame and awarding them each two more points for their 4-Ball wins won’t change that. Palmer would still be three points short, and while Blalock has the points, she’s missing the POY or major title.

Both, however, can still be considered for the World Golf Hall of Fame. Blalock said that’s one big reason why she reached out to the LPGA in 2019, not for herself as much as for Palmer, whose 19 LPGA victories (possibly 21), including two majors and a POY award, make a strong case. There are men in the WGHOF with similar records.

Should this week’s Dow event count as an official victory? It’s Clanton’s only LPGA title. For some, it could be a life-changing week. For others, like last year’s winner Ariya Jutanugarn, another step toward the Hall.

Count former No. 1 Stacy Lewis among those who believes this week should be official.

“Yeah, it’s a team format, but you’re still playing against the best players in the world,” said Lewis. “For Dow, I think for our sponsors, it should be an official format. I don’t think you get world rankings points. There is no way to count stats or anything like that with the format.

“But I think you can still call it an official win. I have no problem with that. I think the tournament deserves that. I think Dow’s investment into this tournament and women’s golf deserves it. And players do, too. You’re playing four rounds. You still got to hit the putts, the shots. You just got a little bit of help.”

In the midst of a stressful summer, Lewis continued, events like this are needed.

Teammates Cydney Clanton of the United States (R) and Jasmine Suwannapura of Thailand pose for a simulated selfie with the championship necklace’s after winning the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational at Midland Country Club on July 19, 2019 in Midland, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

This week’s field is missing several big names, like World No. 1 Jin Young Ko and No. 2 Minjee Lee. But the Korda sisters are in Midland, Michigan, along with Lexi Thompson, Jennifer Kupcho and Leona Maguire. Giving this event official status matters when it comes to strength of field. The same reason it matters for the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic, which also counts as an official victory.

When Elaine Scott, former LPGA communications director, worked on Louise Sugg’s biography, “And That’s That!”,  it was discovered the LPGA founder’s victory total was a bit off.

Six weeks shy of Suggs’ 90th birthday, the tour added three more wins to her name. Two of those titles came in 1961 during Suggs’ last full year on tour – Sea Island Open and the Naples Pro-Am – plus the Pro-Lady Victory National Championship, which she won as an amateur with Ben Hogan in 1946.

The additions moved Suggs ahead of Berg (60) to rank fourth all-time on the LPGA list, behind Kathy Whitworth (88), Mickey Wright (82) and Annika Sorenstam (72).

(The old JCPenney Classic, a mixed event between the LPGA and PGA Tours, was not considered official.)

Scott said players kept records in their car trunks in those early years and drove down the highway with scoreboards attached to their roofs.

Left to right; Patty Berg, Betty Jameson, Jean Hopkins, and Louise Suggs, before the start of the Western Women’s Golf tournament, June 1946. (Copyright Unknown/USGA Museum)

The LPGA’s record keeping is notoriously poor. Wikipedia is used far more often than resources offered by the tour.

During a time when the core of this game is being scrutinized like never before, the finer points about what should count toward the Hall of Fame serves as a reminder of why the roots of the game are so important.

Should event titles be stripped from a player decades later? Should team events be given the same weight as individual ones? These are worthy debates.

Just as it’s important for records to be as fair and complete as possible, so that decorated LPGA players can rightly take their place among all golfers.

“For Sandra, it could make a very big difference to the Hall of Fame,” said Blalock. “It’s just a number, but to me, it’s more meaningful to Sandra. I also like the sound of 29 much better than 27.

“I hate going backwards in life.”