July 12, 2010: The LPGA is seeking a fresh face or two to lead its marketing charge in 2010 and beyond. It may have its answer in seven-year pro Paula Creamer, or by going a bit back to the future with Se Ri Pak, an LPGA rookie in 1998 who won two of the Tour’s four Major championships in her first year. The LPGA has sought to fill that role over the past few years with the retirements of top players Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam, both of whom were top marketing spokeswomen.
Pak has signed a deal with Hilton Worldwide to represent the hotelier in various marketing efforts both on and off the golf course. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Alexis Thompson, who turned pro this year at the age of 15, could be the young woman who moves into the lead marketing position, with deals that already include Cobra-Puma and Red Bull. Thompson looked strong at the U.S. Women's Open this past weekend at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, but ultimately fell short to Creamer. Analysts say that victories for Thompson, and for others who could lead the LPGA marketing push, are the ultimate key.
Michelle Wie turned pro in 2005 at the age of 16 amidst much fanfare and sponsorship backing, earning about $12-$15 million from deals with McDonald's, Kia, Nike and Omega. However, unlike Sorenstam and Ocohoa, Wie, now 20, has not yet achieved a consistent level of success on the golf course. She did not make the cut at the U.S. Women's Open this past weekend and, according to Golf Digest, since turning pro has had more missed cuts and withdraws in Majors than she has had Top Ten finishes.
Creamer's win at the U.S. Open was her first Majors victory, but the 23-year-old golfer, whose fondness for pink has earned her the user-friendly nickname "Pink Panther," now has nine total wins on the LPGA Tour. Her endorsement deal with adidas-TaylorMade includes a signature line of shoes; she also has deals with, Kraft, Sundog Eyewear, RBS and NEC, according to marketing and endorsement firm Premiere Global Sports, New York.
As Creamer posted on Twitter, she expects her future to continue to shine. "Thank-you to all my sponsors! And to all my fans for always supporting me through the good and bad times. Hopefully [this Major win is] one of many more!"
Like Creamer, 27-year-old Natalie Gulbis has a bevy of endorsement deals, including adidas, Anheuser-Busch and EA Sports. But since joining the LPGA circuit in 2002 has only three wins (two of which were not part of the Tour). By comparison, Ochoa retired at the age of 28 with 30 victories (including 27 on the Tour, two of which were Majors) and Sorenstam retired at 37 with 72 LPGA wins and 27 victories on other circuits.
Sorenstam was earning close to $12 million annually from endorsements when she retired, according to analysts, who put Wie in the $12-$15 million range. Ochoa was taking in about half that amount when she retired earlier this year. Gulbis and Creamer are in the $3-$5 million area, Pak and Thompson are at about $2-$3 million each.
Pak, who won her 25th LPGA title at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic earlier this year and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, will wear the Hilton HHonors logo on the right side of her hat at all remaining professional golf events in 2010. In addition, Pak will participate in three City of Hope charitable fundraising events presented by Hilton Worldwide. The first was the Celebrity Golf Invitational at La Quinta Resort & Club on June 5. Future appearances will be at City of Hope Qualifying event at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando on Sept. 25 at The Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles on Oct. 11-13.
Pak will also speak at the Hilton Golf Academy Alumni event, open to all past Hilton Golf Academy attendees this fall.
“I am an active Hilton HHonors loyalty program member, and it brings me great pleasure to be able to show my support and appreciation of the many HHonors benefits I receive, during each competition this year on the golf course,” Pak said in a statement. “Over the years I have found my home away from home at many of Hilton Worldwide’s hotels, and I know I can trust that I will receive the best customer service at each hotel.”
This partnership runs concurrent with a Hilton HHonors golf offering now through Sept. 6, 2010, in which members can enter the Hilton HHonors Golf Sweepstakes to win a roundtrip vacation with three of their friends to Scotland, Hawaii, Cabo San Lucas, Phoenix or Orlando. Grand Prize winners will also receive 100,000 Hilton HHonors bonus points and the opportunity to play 54 holes on Golf Digest’s top-ranked courses. First Prize winners will receive a new 2010 Burner SuperFast TaylorMade driver, 2010 adidas TOUR360 4.0 shoes and 50,000 Hilton HHonors bonus points. (Full details here.)
LPGA marketing partners include Anheuser-Busch (Michelob Ultra), Choice Hotels, Blue Diamond Almonds, Prudential and Rolex.
“As we continue to show our support of the game of golf, we are honored to align our leading hotel loyalty program with Ms. Pak," Jeff Diskin, svp-global customer marketing, Hilton Worldwide, said in a statement. "Not only is she one of the most-respected and well-known LPGA players of all time, her winning attributes, unwavering dedication to her craft and her drive for excellence are attributes Hilton Worldwide can proudly stand behind.”