Jane Blalock spent 36 years on the LPGA Tour and won 27 tournaments. Since 2000, she has been a leader in establishing the Women's Senior Tour, which is now called the Legends Tour. Blalock, 64, is currently the CEO of the Legends Tour, which makes a stop this weekend at Innisbrook's Island Course in Palm Harbor. Blalock recently talked about the challenges of a women's senior tour, how the LPGA has changed, and her record of 299 tournaments played without missing a cut.
You started the summer with money to play the Legends Tour Open Championship but no place to play it. Now you not only think it will be in Tampa Bay for the next three years but beyond that as well?
We had the title sponsor (Dr. Haruhisa Handa), but what we were looking for was a venue, a partner. We wanted a venue that was interested in making this tournament a permanent home. And it will also help us engage the entire community. We want to get the entire bay area involved in this event so it will be a great success and we can keep it here for a long time. There's nothing like finding a home for an event.
How difficult has it been to establish this tour?
It started with 25 players who put up $5,000 each of their own money. It all started for the players, by the players. Then we convinced the LPGA to anoint us. And just like it was then, things are very challenging. There's a lot of competition out there. But given the names and talent that we have on our tour, and the importance of female baby boomers to corporate America, I think we are able to distinguish ourselves. It's a challenge today, between the economy and the challenges the LPGA is having, it's not easy. The last couple of years have been a little frustrating. But we are coming off a good tournament in Hawaii, and we have two more tournaments after this one this year, so I would say momentum is on our side. This is our turning point.
There are currently six tournaments on the schedule. Do you envision there being double-digit tournaments a year and it becoming a full-time job for players?
Our realistic goal is 12 tournaments. I think once we get to eight tournaments, we'll be a bona fide tour. Our group of players are not going to play 20 weeks a year. Many have families and other responsibilities. But 12 would give the women of the LPGA Tour a place to go, and they could make a living. Now, am I going to get greedy when we get to 12? Maybe (laughing).
How has the LPGA changed since you played?
The money is a huge separator. I like to say that we played in the golden era. We had like 30 tournaments a year back then. Then we also had a season where we traveled internationally. We mostly kept it in North America. We had international players in the field, but it was mostly a U.S.-based field with some international players coming over to play.
The LPGA now is truly a global tour, but for those in the States, we all need our role models, and that's a bit challenging now for the LPGA. We had personalities and characters. But the LPGA has to go where the money is, and right now it's overseas.
So the LPGA needs a personality? Someone like Michelle Wie?
That could be the turning point for the LPGA. Having her win more could help re-create the excitement. We need the LPGA to succeed because we need them to keep spawning legends.
Do you think the LPGA will succeed?
I think the future will be fine. They lost tournaments last year due to bankruptcies and the challenges of the last commissioner (Carolyn Bivens). It was the perfect storm. The product is different now. How do you sell a tour dominated by international players? Names you may not recognize. There is the whole English-speaking issue. If all the players used translators, that would be a challenge.
If you were the LPGA commissioner now, would you have instituted an English-only rule like Carolyn Bivens did (and later retracted)?
No. You just have to get more personality from the players who can speak English.
Your 299 tournaments without a cut record is one that may never be broken. You must be proud of that.
Yes, I am proud of that. I've never given up on anything, that's why our tour is still going. It's hard to say if things are tougher today than they were when I played, but I think that record will be around for a while. I like it when someone gets close because then they bring up my name.