ORLANDO, FL. — The Koepka brothers could be in for a big payday on Sunday. Brook owns a three-stroke lead entering the final round of LIV Golf Orlando and their team, Smash, is two ahead in the team competition.
The individual champion gets $20 million and the winning team splits $5 million.
And that’s not all.
Brooks is one of 18 members of the Saudi-backed LIV circuit that will play in nex`t week’s Masters. He’s won four major tournaments, but not that one, and his game seems more than ready based on the first two rounds at Orange County National’s Crooked Cat Course.
“Getting a `W’ is on my mind,’’ said Koepka. “If I play well that’s possible, and I like the way I’m playing looking ahead to next week.’’
The Masters is vitally important to the LIV players, who are playing only their third tournament of their first official season. In the circuit’s debut season there were only eight tournaments. This year there are 14.
LIV players haven’t been allowed to play in PGA Tour events since bolting that circuit, but the Masters is allowing LIV members who met its qualifying standards to tee it up at Augusta National. It’ll be the first time players from the rival tours are in the same tournament.
Koepka went 65-65 in the first two rounds here. He trailed first-round leader Sebastian Munoz by two shots after the first 18. Munoz, who shot a LIV record-tying 62 in Round 1, slipped to a 71 on Saturday but is still Koepka’s closest challenger entering the final round.
Koepka is 12-under-par 130 for the first 36 holes.
Smash used Brooks Koepka, Matt Wolff and Jason Kokrak as its scoring unit on Saturday. Only three scores on the four-man teams count each round in team scoring. Chase Koepka, Brooks’ younger brother, didn’t count in the team scoring on Saturday but his 65 was key to Smash getting a fast start in the opening round.
JASPER, Indiana – Golf’s top senior women players found a home at French Lick Resort, which hosted big tournaments for nine straight years. The senior run ended in 2021 when the last of three Senior LPGA Championships was played on the Pete Dye Course there.
“A great run for them, and a great run for us,’’ said Dave Harner, long-time director of golf at French Lick Resort. He triggered the arrival of the Legends Tour, a circuit for players who had starred on the Ladies PGA Tour and wanted to continue to compete after reaching their 45th birthday. And now, 10 years later, his team at French Lick played a major role in bringing the Senior LPGA Championship back to Southern Indiana.
The Legends Championship was a French Lick fixture from 2013 to 2016. Then the event was upgraded, to the Senior LPGA Championship – the first major tournament for women in that age group.
French Lick opted to focus on the LPGA’s up-and-coming stars after that, and hosted a Symetra Tour event on its Donald Ross Course. That evolved into the biggest-paying event on what is now the Epson Tour when it makes its final appearance in the small southern Indiana town from Aug. 3-6 with a $335,000 purse on the line.
Women’s championship golf isn’t leaving the area, though, and Harner remains very much a part of it. He helped steer the Senior LPGA back to Southern Indiana for this year ‘s Senior LPGA. It’ll be played at Sultan’s Run, a public course located about 20 miles from the resort.
Sultan’s Run, which opened in 1992 and was remodeled by Pete Dye protégé Tim Liddy four years later, has been named the site for this year’s Senior LPGA. It’ll run from June 26 to July 2.
“Salina Country Club (in Kansas) was the site last year, but there’s a renovation going on out there, so they had no site for 2023,’’ said Chris Tretter, co-owner and general manager of Sultan’s Run. “They reached out to Dave.’’
“Salina had really done a good job and wanted to come back,’’ said Harner. “They wanted to make sure the tournament had an appropriate venue for this year, and Sultan’s Run in a quality venue.’’
The relationship between the French Lick Resort and Sultan’s Run has always been a warm one. There were even talks about the resort buying Sultan’s at one point. The resort staff managed Sultan’s for two years and Harner considers it “a sister course.’’ When there’s an overflow of play at French Lick or some guests want an extra course to play he sends them to Sultan’s Run.
“It adds another dimension to our golf experience,’’ he said. “Having the Epson Tour has been super, and I wouldn’t be surprised – based on how the Senior LPGA goes – if the Epson came back here to play at Sultan’s Run.’’
That’s a topic for another day, but Tretter is excited about Sultan’s Run getting its biggest tournament yet. The course has received numerous state awards and been well received as the site for many Indiana amateur and professional events.
The course got its name from a legendary race horse, Supreme Sultan, who trained on the grounds before the course was built. The course has what’s been billed as “the most dramatic finishing hole in Indiana.’’
Tretter and Harner invited Tim Kramer of the PGA out for a visit in October. They toured the course and Kramer immediately said “We’re coming.’’ More details, however, had to be worked out before the announcement could become official.
“This will be our first big women’s event, and we’re thrilled,’’ said Tretter. “The history of the women’s tour is really robust, and very interesting.’’
The last Legends event at French Lick was won by England’s Trish Johnson in 2016. Johnson also won the first Senior LPGA the following year. Laura Davies was the Senior LPGA champion in 2018 and Helen Alrfredsson in 2019. The tourney was cancelled in 2020 due to pandemic issues, then Johnson won again in 2021.
Australian Karrie Webb was the winner last year in Kansas, and now Sultan’s Run is looking to add similarly great champions to its resume like the ones who won at French Lick. In addition to the Senior LPGAs played there the Legends winners included Lori Kane, Laurie Rinker and Juli Inkster, and Jan Stephenson won the Super Senior Division when it was part of the Legends format.
The winner at Sultan’s will receive the Steve Ferguson Trophy, honoring the chairman of the board of Cook Group, just like the previous champions did.
French Lick won’t be out of the tournament spotlight either. The Pete Dye Course will become the site of the men’s Korn Ferry Tour Championship beginning in 2024. That event will end its run at another Indiana course, Victoria National, this fall. French Lick has a five-year agreement to take over that big event.
NAPLES, FL. – Bernhard Langer now shares the honor of being the winningest golfer in the 43-year history of PGA Tour Champions. This great accomplishment was a long time coming.
In winning the Chubbs Classic on Sunday Langer notched his 45th win on the 50-and-over circuit to pull even with Hale Irwin. Irwin, who very rarely plays any more, won for the last time in 2007. That was the same year that Langer earned his first Champions win.
And more will be coming. The Chubbs was only the third of 28 events on the 50-and-over circuit this season so it figures Langer will have the cherished record all to himself in the very near future – maybe as soon as the next tournament. The Cologuard Classic is just two weeks after the Chubbs, and Langer has won that Arizona event previously.
“He continues to amaze us all,’’ said Steve Stricker, one of Langer’s top rivals in every tournament. “He just keeps going. He stays in shape, and he’s a nice person, too. That’s the coolest part; he’s a good guy.’’
That showed immediately after Langer’s final putt dropped at the Chubbs. It wasn’t just his playing partners, Steven Alker and Jerry Kelly, who were quick to give Langer their best wishes. Scott McCarron, one of Langer’s fellow ambassadors for Illinois-based club manufacturer Tour Edge, waited long after he had finished his round to congratulate Langer.
Also on hand was Langer’s wife, daughter and grandson and Bobby Clampett, the long-time tour player who introduced Langer to a Bible study group. The has had far-reaching positive effects for Langer.
The 36th playing of the Chubbs, again at the Greg Norman-designed Black Course at Tiburon Golf Club, was like a home game for Langer. He has been a south Florida resident for over 30 years and he has won the Chubbs five times. He came into his record-tying victory as the event’s defending champion.
Moving ahead of Irwin is, of course, his next challenge but Langer wanted to savor win No. 45 first.
“It was extremely special because I never thought it would happen,’’ said Langer, who extended his record of being the oldest Champions Tour winner to four events. He was 65 years, five months 23 days old for his latest win.
Irwin got his 45 victories in 217 starts and Langer did it in his 319th. Though the latest was officially a wire-to-wire win, it didn’t seem that way. Fred Couples, Padraig Harrington, Alker and Dicky Pride all at least shared the lead before Langer wrapped it up with four birdies on the last five holes.
It helped that Harrington, Alker and Pride all made major mistakes down the stretch, though Langer wasn’t really aware of their problems.
“We didn’t have any problems. We were just trying to make birdies, and we did,’’ he said. “I played solid, but didn’t set it on fire. All of a sudden I made those birdies coming in. That’s when you have to do it, when everything is on the line.’’
Langer was tied for the lead after the first round and led by one after the second. He bettered his age in posting a 64 on Friday and matched his age with a 65 on Sunday. His 17-under-par 199 score for the 54 holes resulted in a three-stroke victory margin but the historic win wasn’t that easy.
Couples knocked Langer out of the lead by making four birdies in the first six holes. When he cooled off Harrington shot 29 on the front nine to take the lead and Pride, in the field as a sponsor’s exemption, used a hole-in-one at No. 10 to also move into the top spot.
Langer wasn’t aware what was happening to them as the back nine unfolded, but it was to his benefit.
Harrington put his tee shot near a pond at No. 14 and needed three more shots to just get out of the hazard. That led to a double bogey that doomed Harrington’s chances. Alker threatened until putting a fairway bunker shot into the water at No. 13. That also meant a double bogey that stymied Alker’s hopes.
Pride hit his tee shot tee shot deep into the woods on No. 17 and finished bogey-bogey. That left Langer a stroll to the finish, where the gallery piled in behind him in appreciation of his accomplishment.
“My whole life has been an improbable story,’’ said Langer after the celebrating had died down. “I should have died as a kid when I had an extremely high fever. Doctors told my mother not to have a child, but she got pregnant anyway. They told her to abort me, but she decided not to take a chance of killing herself and me. We both survived.’’
Then came his start in golf.
“I was just a German kid from a village of 800 who started as a caddie,’’ he said. “Nobody started a career in golf in Germany. They thought I was crazy. Just to earn a living at it was incredible. Maybe some day we can make a movie about my life. That would be cool.’’
The movie may take a while, as Langer has no intention of cutting back on his tournament schedule any time soon. And, in the end, those who might watch that movie could well find it hard to believe. The Langer story might well seem too good to be true.
ORLANDO, FL. — Funny thing about the LPGA. The premier women’s tour in golf ended its 2022 season and started its 2023 campaign with Florida tournaments that were marred by some discontent.
The sponsor of last November’s CME Championship wasn’t happy that all the players competing for the biggest first-prize in women’s golf didn’t show up for the tournament’s gala banquet. The players weren’t happy when they arrived at Lake Nona Country Club last week for the season-opening Tournament of Champions and found out that they weren’t provided with lockers in the clubhouse and that their time on the practice range would be limited.
Still, the show — featuring 29 LPGA players who had won tournaments in the last two years and a concurrent co-ed celebrity event, conducted with a Stableford point format for 56 players from the sports and entertainment world — had to go on, and it turned out a good one.
Especially for Canadian Brooke Henderson, who led wire to wire in winning the LPGA event with a 16-under par score of 272 for the 72 holes and earned $225,000. She had a four-stroke advantage on England’s Charley Hull and Sweden’s Maja Stark, neither of whom were disappointed.
“It was a great way to start the season,’’ said Hull. “When I got here I didn’t know where my swing was at. Now I’ve got three weeks off (the next tournament is in Thailand next month).’’
“This wasn’t a normal competition, but if I keep going like this it could be my best year yet,’’ said Stark.
Henderson was the runner-up to Danielle Kang in last year’s Tournament of Champions. On Sunday she claimed her 13th LPGA title in her first tournament after switching to TaylorMade clubs.
“I’m really happy I made the switch,’’ said Henderson. “I’m super-excited. This was a dream start, and I love this championship because it’s so unique.’’
The celebrity event was won by Mardy Fish, a former tennis star who had captained the U.S. Davis Cup team. Fish was also the celebrity champion in 2021.
This time that division turned into a unique sideshow because it featured a load of Chicago athletic stars, past and present. Jeremy Roenick, the former Blackhawks’ great, did the best of that lot. Paired with legendary golfer and Lake Nona member Annika Sorenstam, Roenick finished fifth – one point behind Sorenstam. Brian Urlacher, the ex-Bears’ star, tied for ninth. Baseballers Ian Happ, Jon Lester, Greg Maddux and A.J. Pierzynski were also in the celebrity field.
SEBRING, FL. -The International Network of Golf is a fixture at the PGA Merchandise Show and the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship. ING also hosted an annual Spring Conference around the country prior to pandemic concerns.
Still on the brink of celebrating his group’s 30th anniversary, ING executive director Mike Jamison moved in another direction. He organized his first Fall Forum, an event that was smaller in number of attendees than other events when ING members got together but its format may well be the wave of the future.
Attendees got a more close-up look at new golf gear in advance of January’s PGA Show as well as an informative social marketing seminar led by Sabrina Andolpho, a former college golfer turned social media whiz.
And all that was in addition to two golf outings – the first at the Citrus Golf Tour Open’s pro-am and the second at the return of the Durland Cup scramble. The Citrus Tour is a minor league circuit that offered a $20,000 first prize at its tournament immediately after the pro-am at Sun ‘N Lakes Country Club. The Durland Cup has been a fixture at ING events over the years.
This time, though, the four — more personalized — new gear presentations may have been the event’s biggest hit. Here’s what they revealed:
ZERO FRICTION’S WHEEL PRO – Illinois-based Zero Friction has come on like gangbusters, with president John Iacono coming out previously with new tees, gloves, rangefinders and balls. Now comes the much more cutting edge bags and trolleys.
Iacono introduced his first version at last January’s PGA Show but the launch of the Wheel Pro, a pushcart bag, didn’t go smoothly. It has removable wheels, weighs only 10 pounds and is great for traveling.
“We had a delay in getting them out,’’ Iacono said. “They were supposed to arrive in April but didn’t until late August. Supply issues.’’
That’s been an all too frequent problem in many industries in the aftermath of the pandemic, but Iacono is more optimistic about his newest products – The Hybrid and The Fairway. He expects the Hybrid – a power version of the Wheel Pro — to hit the marketplace in mid- to late-2023 and he’ll provide a sneak preview of The Fairway on the Thursday of the 2023 PGA Show in Orlando, FL.
The Fairway is an electric, follow me remote control golf bag that is being developed in England. Golfers can set the speed, and it’ll include a 36-hole rechargeable battery. A ramp is under construction that will be used during the PGA Show introduction.
Weighing 32 pounds, The Fairway is not designed for carrying and Iacono anticipates a market price of $1,899.
PROUD 90 – Want something different in golf apparel? Rick Versace has it, though he isn’t sure his famous clothing designer last name is part of the equation. Versace founded Proud 90 three years ago and is now its chief executive officer.
“Our mission is to make golf as much fun as possible for all skill levels,’’ said Versace, who said the company name comes from that fact that “most golfers don’t break 90.’’
He got the idea after watching PGA star Rickie Fowler (on television) playing with no shoes on one of the nicest courses in the country.
“We wanted to create a vacation vibe, no matter where you’re at,’’ said Versace. His polos started with Hawaiian prints and progressed from there to include a variety of eye-catching designs. They’re also known for being especially comfortable. The company’s logo – a dog standing on a green gazing up at a flagstick – underscores that. That dog is Versace’s Great Dane, named Tank.
Versace now has 12 sales reps and his polos are in 250 clubs around the country. They’re priced at $79 retail and $39 wholesale. They have ING’s support. Jamison declared the Proud 90 “the official ING apparel company for at least six months….We’ll see how that goes, but we love it so far.’’
MAKEFIELD PUTTERS – Pennsylvania-based Everett Farr was browsing through a lot of golf ads during pandemic days, and that encouraged him to take his engineering talents into the creation of a state-of-the-art putter. Its adjustable weighting system makes it stand out and provides its users with a wide variety of customization options.
The Makefield putters are designed with Path of Inertia, which guides your stroke, balances the clubface to the path to the hole and provides centeredness of impact. That encourages an immediate, consistent roll that should lead to lower scores. Five tour players and some Walker Cup players are testing it.
“One of my companies made a prototype,’’ said Farr, who got immediate positive feedback. Three months later the putter was in construction.
Michael Little, a two-time Philadelphia PGA Player of the Year, is a co-founder of Makefield and Michael Brown, who held the amateur titles of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware at the same time, is part of the Makefield team.
Farr came up with the Makefield name on a drive through Lower Makefield, a Pennsylvania town on the Delaware River.
“Make’’ is what a putter is designed to do, and `field’ is who you play against in a tournament,’’ said Farr, who still occasionally plays with a Ping putter that his father – a PGA Tour official – gave him in 1968. The Makefield version has captured his heart, however.
“This is all new to me, but it’s an absolutely amazing putter,’’ said Farr.
BUCKET GOLF – You’ve got to have fun with this company’s golf balls. Mac Ross certainly has.
“We sell golf balls,’’ said Mac Ross, who launched his company last May. “Buckets is associated with basketball, but it works with golf, too.’’
Mac’s wife is a teaching pro who grew up on a golf course, and he recalls selling balls gathered off a course near his home when he was 10 years old. Both have full-time jobs now but are having fun with their new business venture.
They’ve named the apparel company logo “Buckey’’ and are looking to give their raccoon mascot a marketing personality. The ball packaging is the best part, though. Its round shape —like a coffee can — makes it multi-purpose. It could be converted into putting cup, along with a variety of storage uses. No other golf ball manufacturer showcases its product the way Bucky does.
Apparel and golf accessories will come later, but for now Bucket balls are working out just fine. Ross got off to a promising start at the ING Fall Forum. Though not professing to be a great golfer, he won the long drive contest at one of the Fall Forum outings.
“He hit it at least 350,’’ marveled Jamison. Ross, of course, hit a Bucket ball on his long blast and another player made a hole-in-one with the ball at another of the outings.
Bucket balls so far have been made in China, and Ross is looking for manufacturers in South America and Taiwan. Ross has applied for USGA ball approval and expects no problem getting it. The balls are being sold off the company’s website (BucketsGolfBalls.com) for $28.99, not including shipping.
SEBRING, FL. — The International Network of Golf’s first Fall Forum in 2022 couldn’t have been scripted better for Joy and me.
In Tuesday’s pro-am for the Citrus Golf Tour Open we played on different teams. Joy witnessed a hole in one by her professional partner, Chris Wiatr, and my team’s pro, Donnie Trosper, tied Chris for low pro honors by holing out his last shot from the rough. Donnie, good friend Tony Leodora and I won the team title.
That produced some understandable excitement but nothing like Joy created on Wednesday in the Durland Cup Scramble at Sebring Golf Club. Joy wasn’t happy with her play on Tuesday but that was quickly forgotten in the Durland Cup, an annual feature at ING events. Joy started her round playing well and made her first-ever hole-in one on the fifth hole, sinking a 7-wood shot from 101 yards.
Joy and I were in the same group this time, with noted golf architect Ron Garl, eSouthernGolf editor Dave Daubert and Joey Johnson of Alabama’s Southern Fairways as our partners. Joy used the new Buckets golf ball, which was introduced at the Fall Forum by Mac Ross of Palm City, FL.
BELLEAIR, FLORIDA – This is the ultimate crunch time for women’s golf. The CME Group Tour Championship, which offers the biggest prize fund in women’s golf history — $7 million with $2 million going to the champion. That tournament tees off on Thursday at Tiburon in Naples, FL.
The last full-field event on the LPGA Tour, the Pelican Championship, concluded less than a three-hour drive from Tiburon on Sunday to set the stage for this week’s big one. This year’s CME event provides a stage eerily reminiscent of last season when South Korea’s Jin Young Ko emerged the champion for the second straight year.
She didn’t play in the Pelican — won by Nelly Korda in another duel of American stars with Lexi Thompson — and may not play in the season finale, either. As was the case last year, Jin Young Ko has been bothered by a wrist injury and hasn’t competed since September. But this year the stakes are even higher for the season finale. Women’s golf is clearly on the upswing.
Last year’s CME purse was $5 million with $1.5 million to the winner. The Pelican is offering more, too. Korda took home $300,000 from a purse of $2 million in her second victory, and next year the tournament will be rebranded as The Annika – a tribute to the legendary Annika Sorenstam who will become the tourney’s hostess. There’ll be $3.5 million in prize money with $2 million going to the winner in 2023.
Anyway, those upgrades paled with the comparisons to last year on this day. Again, it was a Korda-Thompson battle to the end. The day started with Thompson in a three-way tie for second, one stroke behind leader Allisen Corpuz, and Korda another stroke back.
Korda’s playing partner, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, was the only other player to contend. She birdied the first four holes to take a two-stroke lead, then dropped back with two late front-nine bogeys and didn’t threaten again.
In the end Korda shot 64, finished her 54 holes at 14-under-par 196. Thompson was one stroke back after posting a 66.
A year ago Thompson and Korda were tied for the lead with two holes remaining in the Pelican. Korda made triple bogey on No. 17 but in the end It didn’t matter. Thompson made bogey at 17 and another one at the 18 to set up a four-player playoff to determine the winner. Korda won it, nabbing her fourth title of a great season and savoring the No. 1 world ranking going into the CME shootout.
This time Thompson took the lead midway through the final round, then lost it with bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13. Korda took command with birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 but made bogey at 18. Thompson couldn’t take advantage, and that made Korda a repeat champion who will regain the No. 1 world ranking officially on Monday – a great accomplishment since she suffered a blood clot in her left arm and missed some tournaments after undergoing surgery in March.
“Back-to-back sounds sweet,’’ said Korda. “Life’s been a roller coaster, and there’s been more downs than ups this year. That’s what makes this win so much sweeter to me.’’
Korda was No. 1 from Nov. 8, 2021, to Jan. 30, 22. Her health problems made her regaining the lofty status all the more remarkable.
“I’ve never been a player who looked at the rankings too much,’’ said Korda, “but going through what I’ve been through this year and regaining the world No. 1 rank is really special.’’
While Korda celebrated Sunday was another downer for Thompson. She was the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 12. She turned pro at 15 and won her first major title at 19. Now she’s 27 and hasn’t won since the ShopRite Classic of 2019.
The tales of the top American stars will be only minor sidelights once the top 60 players in the CME rankings gather at Tiburon, the only course to host events on three tours. PGA Tour Champions has its Chubbs Classic there and the PGA’s QBE Shootout, formerly the Shark Shootout, is also played there. Thompson and Korda are scheduled to compete against the men in the QBE event.
Jin Young Ko was last year’s star, and this year it could be the Atthaya Thistik, a 19-year old from Thailand. She won her first professional tournament at 14 and was this year’s LPGA Rookie of the Year. Like Jin Young Ko, she didn’t play in the Pelican.
BELLEAIR, Florida – As the last full-field event of the season, the Pelican Championship is important for LPGA players. The top 60 on the season point list qualify for next week’s $7 million CME Group Championship in Naples, where $2 million – the largest first prize in the history of women’s golf – will be on the line. Plus, the top 100 on the point list after Sunday’s final round here earn their playing privileges for the 2023 season.
The final staging of the 120-player event under the name of The Pelican hasn’t been ideal. Originally scheduled for 72 holes, the first round was cancelled due to a visit from Hurricane Nicole on Thursday and the event was reduced to 54 holes.
Nicole, the second hurricane ravaging most of Florida in the last six weeks, left the course soggy for Friday’s rescheduled Round 1 and created a shortage of space for parking. The main lot was too muddy in some spots on a day when organizers had planned a Veterans Day celebration amidst the golf.
None of that bothered Mexico’s Maria Fassi, however. She wasn’t qualified for the CME event heading into the Pelican but took the first-round lead with an 8-under-par 62. That was good for a two-stroke lead on American Lexi Thompson, Hong Kong’s Tiffany Chan, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, Republic of Korea’s Hy Joo Kim, and Germany’s Isa Gabsa entering Saturday’s Round 2.
“Every one of us wants to be at the CME,’’ said Fassi, “and this had been a tough season for me at the beginning. I got back on my feet towards the middle and now – especially after today’s round – I have a chance. I’ve just got to keep doing what I did today. If I keep taking care of myself and hitting good golf shots that will take care of itself.’’
The day off caused by the hurricane worked in Fassi’s favor after she played tournaments in Japan and Korea the last two weeks.
“I loved it,’’ said Fassi. Poor putting held her back the last two weeks, but not on Friday. She shot 30 on the back nine, making an eagle at No. 14 and lipping out a birdie put on No. 18 that would have given her the tournament course record. Ireland’s Leona Maguire shot 62 in the first round last year.
“I knew a round like this could happen any time in the year,’’ said Fassi. But she was especially glad it happened Friday when she badly needed it.
Despite the inopportune time for the hurricane’s visit, the Pelican has been elevating its profile lately.
In September the LPGA and tournament staff announced that the Tampa Bay area’s LPGA event would be rebranded as “The Annika Driven by Gainbridge at Pelican,’’ in honor of legendary Annika Sorenstam assuming the duties of tournament host. Sorenstam’s Foundation will benefit from the event, to be played Nov. 6-12, 2023.
Along with that development came the announcement that the prize fund would be increased from this year’s $2 million to $3.25 million in 2023. That’ll make the tournament the LPGA’s best-paying event outside of the major championships and the CME Group climax to the season.
Gainbridge had sponsored LPGA tournaments in Indianapolis from 2017-19 and Boca Raton and Orlando, in Florida, the last three years. The company wanted to stay involved with the premier women’s golf circuit.
More recently The Pelican was named the site of “The Match,’’ an exhibition entering its seventh season on Dec. 10. The format has changed over the years, and next month’s version at the Pelican will be played over 12 holes under the lights with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy taking on Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.
FRENCH LICK, Indiana – It’s transition time for women golfers at Indiana’s premier golf resort.
It’s hard to imagine any golf facility doing more for the women’s game in the last decade than this southern Indiana resort has been willing to step forward for two pro circuits — The Legends for players who have reached their 45th birthday and the Epson (formerly the Symetra) for future Ladies PGA Tour stars.
“We’ve been a long-term supporter of women’s golf,’’ said French Lick long-time director of golf Dave Harner. “There’s been a lot of opportunities here for the ladies to play.’’
That’s putting it mildly.
French Lick, best known for being the boyhood home of basketball legend Larry Bird, was in a revival mode after its oldest course – the Donald Ross – underwent a renovation while construction on its newest one – the spiffy Pete Dye Course – was wrapping up.
The resort needed a big event to showcase its new course, and the LPGA’s Legends Tour needed a big tournament. It was a good marriage.
French Lick put the focus on the Legends Tour, which was only nominally a part of the LPGA at the time. It consisted of women touring professionals who had hit their 45th birthday. One of them, Jane Blalock, struggled to get a circuit started for her colleagues in 2000, but it took French Lick leadership to really get it done.
The Legends Championship, a 54-hole tournament with a $500,000 purse, made its debut in 2013 on the spectacular Pete Dye Course, and that wasn’t all. The resort also established the Legends Hall of Fame in its West Baden Springs Hotel.
Lorie Kane was the Legends first champion followed by Laurie Rinker, Juli Inkster and Trish Johnson. In 2017 the Legends Championship was transitioned into the first major championship for senior women players. It became the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship, and Johnson won again.
French Lick not only paid a substantial price to get television coverage but 2017 also marked the arrival of the Symetra Tour in town. The young, budding LPGA stars competed in the Donald Ross Memorial tourney, held to celebrate the centennial of the oldest of the little town’s three courses. Three LPGA tourneys had been held there, including the 1959 and 1960 LPGA Championships.
Using the golf spotlight to benefit the Riley Children’s Hospital, French Lick also hosted Senior LPGA Championships in 2018, 2019 and 2021 and the Symetra’s Donald Ross Classic in from 2017-19 and 2021. Neither tournament was held in 2020 because of pandemic issues.
That was a big load for any golf facility to take on, so something had to give. It was “So long, Legends’’ and a big welcome back to the Epson Tour, which had taken over the title of the developmental circuit.
The Legends had a great run at French Lick, with some celebrated champions before departing. Laura Davies followed Johnson as the winner of the Senior LPGA in in 2018, Helen Alfredsson was the champion in 2019 and Johnson won again last year.
Harner, in a final farewell to the senior stars, played in the pro-am prior to this year’s Senior LPGA at Salina Country Club, in Kansas. Their circuit is now called The Legends of the LPGA but it’s in transition, too. Blalock took a diminished role in the circuit’s operation when Jane Geddes was named executive director. Geddes didn’t stay in that role very long, though, and now Linda Chen is the circuit’s executive director of business development.
Over the years the Legends have raised nearly $24 million for charity, and that number will grow with three more events on this year’s schedule – The Land O’ Lakes Classic in Minnesota this month, BJ/s Charity Classic in Massachusetts in September and the Rosie Jones Invitational in South Carolina in October. Those players also have a second major championship coming up with the U.S. Senior Women’s Open Aug. 25-28 at NCR in Dayton, Ohio.
This year’s Donald Ross Charity Classic won’t have the same big names in women’s golf in its field but will have the brightest young stars, headed by the season’s leading money-winner, Lucy Ly.
Previously known as the Futures and Symetra tours, the Epson has been around for 41 years but the tourney at French Lick will be something special.
Most significant is the prize money — $335,000, with $50,250 going to the champion. It’s also a 72-hole event, a rarity on the women’s pro circuits, and has been designated as the Epson’s flagship eent, meaning it will offer more Rolex World Golf Rankings points than any tournament this season.
Two full-field pro-ams are on tap for Wednesday on the Pete Dye Course and the LPGA is livestreaming the last two rounds of the tournament.
“It’ll be big,’’ said Harner. “It’s the biggest purse in their history.’’ The previous biggest purse was $300,000 in 2019 when the tourney was held at a layout on Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Casey Danielson earned $37,500 for her win in last year’s event at French Lick. That catapulted the former Stanford University golfer to the LPGA, but she’s coming back to French Lick to defend her title this week.
Erynne Lee, in 2017; Stephanie Kono (2018) and Patty Tavatanakit (2019), were other winners of the Donald Ross tourney. They’ll find a much different atmosphere and challenge when they take to the Pete Dye Course.
A couple young stars to watch include 17-year old rookie phenom Alex Pano and Jaravee Boonchant, who arrived last week from her native Thailand. Even without a practice round on the tournament course Boonchant was a seven-shot winner in the Illinois Women’s Open immediately after arriving in the United States. She went on to finish a strong tie for 13th on Sunday in the Epson Tour’s Firekeepers tournament in Michigan.
The Firekeepers had a surprise champion in Xiaowen Yin, who won in a playoff with Gina Kim. Yin, who won $30,000, came into the tournament at No. 24 on the season money list while Kim was No. 6.
“The Pete Dye Course has a tradition of hosting major championship golf,’’ said Mike Nichols, chief business officer of LPGA Qualifying Tours. “By elevating the tournament experience for the Epson Tour, French Lick Resort has set an example for our current and future partners of how we can ally to support these professional athletes chasing their dreams.’’
The 27th version of the Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open turned into one of the more unusual ones on Tuesday. It all turned on great approaches to the No. 10 green by the only two players who seriously contender for the title on the Mistwood course in Romeoville.
Amateur Addison Klonowski stuck her approach on the short par-4 to within inches of the flagstick, then playing partner Jaravee Boonchant rattled her’s off the flagstick. After Boonchant’s ball hit Klonowski’s ball both marked their balls and made their birdie putts. They both felt that the weird turn of events was the key to Boonchant’s seven-stroke victory.
Boonchant made five back-nine birdies en route to a closing 67, and Klonowski – a high school senior who lives in Naples, FL. – was convinced she couldn’t keep up after that. As it turned out, she couldn’t.
“There was nothing I could do. She was making everything,’’ said Klonowski, who used the IWO as preparation for next week’s PGA Junior Championship at Cog Hill. “I just tried to stay in my own game and stay composed.’’
“On the back nine I got momentum,’’ said Boonchant, who turned professional last summer and won her first tournament in America at Mistwood. She’s from Thailand and didn’t get to Chicago until Sunday.
That meant she couldn’t get in a practice round at Mistwood, but she still played the course in 7-under-par 137 in the event’s new 36-hole format. She was the only player to finish under par and her margin of victory tied the second largest in IWO history. Emily Collins won by nine in 2014.
Both Boonchant and Klonowski have only remote ties to Chicago. Klonowski’s father is from Downers Grove, and she’s been a summer visitor to Chicago in an effort to avoid the Florida heat. This, however, was her first IWO appearance.
Boonchant, like Klonowski, also spends most of her time in America in Florida. She stays in Orlando while she is preparing for events on the LPGA’s Epson (formerly Symetra) Tour.
“I have a host family in Chicago, and they signed me up for this tournament,’’ said Boonchant. She used a Mistwood member, Boone Chommany, as her caddie and the victory earned her $5,000.
As has been the case in recent years, the field was dominated by amateurs. There were 17 of them in the final nine threesomes on the final day. Nicole Jeray, an LPGA veteran who now teaches at Mistwood, tied for 25th.
Jeray had a strong showing – a tie for 15th – on Sunday in the Senior LPGA Championship in Kansas. A two-time IWO champion, she spent Monday night as a guest speaker in the Illinois Junior Golf Association’s first Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at Cantigny, in Wheaton, in between her rounds in the IWO.