For all we know, the deal is done. For all we know, some Belgian brewmaster/ beancounter has decided to terminate the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill.
But if not, what can save
' LPGA tournament? A stirring final round this afternoon? Another marquee champion?
Crowds that clog I-64 back to Fort Eustis? A 10-percent spike in Stella sales?
Or is today goodbye to Lorena, Natalie and a gaggle of Kims?
Answers are weeks, if not months, away as
suits ponder the event's value during lean times. But three things we do know.
Having ESPN2 bounce the Mich in favor of college lacrosse Saturday was not a good sign.
An obscure winner today, no matter how deserving and charming, will not help the cause. Sorry, Lindsey Wright, In-Kyung Kim, Song-Hee Kim and
"No drama" may have been an effective and rhyming mantra for a certain presidential campaign, but it doesn't work for a golf tournament on life support.
On that last count, today is replete with possibilities. Wright and 2005 Kingsmill champ Cristie Kerr, No. 6 in the world rankings, share the lead at 15 under par, with five others within five strokes.
And if you think a handful of shots is a bridge too far, consider Saturday's third round. Tour bigfoot
arrived leading by three and departed trailing by five.
"I don't know what happened," she said after a 3-over 74, her worst round of the year.
What happened was she made a hash of the tame 14th hole, airmailing an 8-iron approach from 135 yards — she misjudged the wind badly — and flubbing three chips en route to a double-bogey 6. Unsightly, yes, but when the world's No. 1 turns into
, it makes for compelling television.
Speaking of the boob tube, ESPN2 was scheduled to air Saturday's round from 2-4 p.m. But come the appointed hour, the network stuck with a first-round
men's lacrosse tournament game between Brown and Johns Hopkins.
Talk about a slap in the kisser.
Now as a Baltimore brat, I love lax. But exiling women's golf to
Classic for 30 minutes while Hopkins completes its overtime victory?
At least give us split-screen of Natalie Gulbis and Dave Pietramala (that's Hopkins' coach, for you lax-impaired).
Gulbis elbowed her way into the conversation Saturday with a 68 that leaves her five off the lead. She is among three possible champs who would boost the tournament's Q-rating, and not just because she's the tour's most ogled fashion plate — she also has an endorsement deal with Michelob Ultra and would make an ideal promotional poster.
As would Kerr or Ochoa, veteran world-class players comfortable not only as athletes but also as marketing vehicles.
Kerr is the leading money-winner in the Michelob's brief history with $623,610. Her 17 rounds under par and 15 in the 60s also are tops.
So few, if any players, hold this event in higher regard.
"A lot of us have been pondering the question of what's going to happen for next year," Kerr said. "Hopefully, they'll see the value and (that) it's so worth it. … This is a really great showcase for any brand.
"And I think it's our responsibility, and it's been my focus this week. I want to try to give them the best show I can. That's the best I can do to try and help to save this tournament going forward."
The event's future accrued European flavor when Belgium-based InBev, maker of Stella Artois, merged with Anheuser-Busch last year. The latter has sponsored a professional golf tournament at its Kingsmill sandbox for 29 years, 22 with the
, the last seven with the LPGA.
But bankrolling such a clambake is not profitable. The general formula says the title sponsor usually eats the purse amount, which in the case of the Mich is $2.2 million.
Now in the good ol' days, Auggie Busch could cover that tab by selling a few Clydesdales. But during these lean, restructured times, sponsoring a golf tournament is arguably excessive and tone-deaf.
Clearly, the Michelob is a first-rate tournament. Players have voted it the circuit's best for its Southern hospitality and immaculate course.
"It does feel like a major-type atmosphere," Gulbis said.
But just as clearly, the Michelob is in trouble. If not, organizers would have announced an extension months ago.
Could today be a lifeline? Could today turn heads in St. Louis, Belgium, or wherever this decision rests?
Television coverage is scheduled from 3-5 p.m. We can only hope Jeanette Lee playing 9-ball is not deemed more important.