LPGA changes are imminent as season winds down

Linking up with Annika Sorenstam changed the atmosphere at Pelican.

BELLAIR, Florida – Changing times on the LPGA Tour are unlike the PGA-LIV soap opera on the men’s circuit, but the women are in the progress of some adjusting, too – starting with the name of the season’s penultimate tournament.  Instead of using the name of the host club in the title, what was the Pelican is now The Annika driven by Gainbridge at Pelican.

It honors Annika Sorenstam, one of golf’s all-time greats.  It’s the first time an LPGA tournament has been named in honor of a player, and more legends might be recognized down the road.

“It’s important to have history involved in the game,’’ said Stacy Lewis, the U.S. Solheim Cup captain.  “It’s important for these girls to know the players that have come before them.  Fortunately, everybody knows Annika. I wish we had more of them because there are a lot of players that played even before Annika that we probably haven’t done a good job of honoring.  There needs to be more of it.’’

Betsy King, Nancy Lopez and Kathy Whitworth have been similarly honored at tournaments, but not quite like Sorenstam. The Annika has a bigger purse ($3.25 million, biggest on the LPGA circuit minus the majors and CME event) and a better field than was the case in the event’s three seasons as the Pelican. The signage and décor very much highlighted Sorenstam’s connection to the event.

One difference was evident even before Thursday’s first round was over when darkness set in at 5:48 p.m. with one player still to finish.  Nelly Korda, the champion the last two years, had a less-than-ideal start. Though she shot a 67 on the par-70 Donald Ross design course, Korda trailed nine of the players who also had morning starting times and she was tied for 31st when Thursday’s play ended. Canadian Brooke Henderson was the leader with an 8-under-par 62.

Two-time defending champion Nelly Korda wasn’t at her best in The Annika’s debut at the Pelican, but the colorful atmosphere was refreshing.

Lexi Thompson, runner-up twice in the previous three years, started in the afternoon and posted a 64 with a lot of added pressure.  The CME Group Tour Championship, the biggest money event in women’s golf with $7 million on the line, is coming up Nov. 16-19 to conclude the season.  Only 60 players will qualify for the CME at another Florida facility, Tiburon in Naples. (Tiberon will also be the site of a new December event in which some LPGA players team up with players on the PGA Tour).

Thompson, who has missed the cut in eight tournaments this year and had only two top-10 finishes, stands 88th in the point standings so she needs to climb the leaderboard before the tourney ends on Sunday.  New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, another top player for many years, is also on the outside of the CME field, too.  She stands 101st.

Stacy’s Solheim Cup team is also smarting from a 14-14 tie in Spain, which enabled their European counterparts to retain possession of the trophy.

“I hate how it finished because I felt we played good enough to win,’’ said Lewis, who will return as the American captain the next time the bi-annual event is played.  “There are definitely some changes to be made.’’


The Annika will give a big boost to more than just the LPGA

Ready for The Annika’s November debut are (from left) sponsor exemption Louise Rydqvist, executive director Marci Doyle, host Annika Sorenstam and Pelican member and recent LPGA winner Elizabeth Szokol. (Pat Eastman Photo)


BELLEAIR, FL. — Annika Sorenstam was a legendary player before she stepped away from the LPGA Tour in 2008. Now she’s back again in a variety of roles, most notably as the host of a revitalized tournament called The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican.

The Pelican Golf Club, on the outskirts of Tampa, hosted the LPGA circuit for tournaments beginning in 2020. It was called the Pelican Women’s Championship then and Nelly Korda goes into the revised version as the two-time defending champion.

Sorenstam’s presence changed the event considerably from when Pelican was the title sponsor. This year’s penultimate event on the LPGA schedule has an elevated purse of $3.25 million, the largest outside of the major championships and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples. Marci Doyle has come from the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational to assume the executive director’s role at The Annika.

The Annika effect also showed in the field. Eight of the world’s top 10 and 16 of the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings  are scheduled to compete this time around, headed by Korda and world No. 1 Lilia Vu. Also in the stacked field  are major championship winners Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson.

So, why is Sorenstam here?

“When I stepped away in 2008 it was a step away from competitive golf, but I wasn’t stepping away from the game,’’ said Sorenstam.  “It was more what can I do to share my passion and knowledge or inspire the next generation.  It started with the foundation, then a few things all connected.  I’m still here, and I want to do things.  I want to inspire.  I want to grow women’s golf, and all the things that this tournament stands for are things that I stand for personally.’’

At the Media Day she shared the spotlight with Elizabeth Szokol, a Pelican member who won for the first time on the LPGA circuit this year, and Louise Rydqvist, a Swedish player who is a junior at the University of South Carolina.  She will make her first LPGA appearance as a sponsor’s exemption at The Annika.

“I played the Annika Cup in Sweden and then I played her Annika Invitational in Europe,’’ said Rydqvist.  Then I came to college and I played her intercollegiate event.  Now, all of a sudden, it’s kind of closing the full circle.  It’s very surreal, and I’m super, super thankful to be here.’’

Sorenstam has made a few tournament appearances and her husband-caddie Mike McGee says she’s also become the main swing coach for their son Will.  The 13-year old, who plays daily with the sons of Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter at Lake Nona, made a big splash playing in the PNC event in Orlando last year.  Annika and Will were paired with Tiger and Charlie Woods. Mike has also been a go-between for Annika’s projects involving the LPGA.

“I have a long wish list of things I want to achieve at the Annika Foundation,’’ she said.  “We started at the end of 2007, and 15 years later we have seven global tournaments.  We are in different parts of the world.  We do different initiatives, whether it’s six year olds to 12 year olds to 22 year olds. We started with different initiatives this year.  It’s a development program for young players who just left college and are now turning professional.’’

What Sorenstam has done for women’s golf is nothing short of terrific – and much needed if the game is to grow.  Her role at the inaugural Annika hasn’t been clearly defined yet.  She was asked if she’d hit the ceremonial first tee shot. Surely she’ll do much more than that.’’

“I am playing in the pro-am.  I’m committed to that’’ she said.  “I look forward to that, but I’m a host and I’m up for anything to make this tournament great.’’

The pro-am is on Wednesday, Nov. 8.  Then there’ll be four rounds of tournament play on the private course, a Donald Ross original design that has been redesigned by Beau Welling.









This amateur golf doubleheader is not one to miss


Rarely has Illinois been treated to a golf tournament doubleheader as attractive as the one on tap for this week – and it’s all about the amateurs.

The Women’s Western Amateur has been played without interruption since 1901, and the 123rd staging begins on Tuesday at White Eagle, in Naperville.  The always popular Illinois State Amateur also tees off that day at Bloomington Country Club. This will be that tourney’s 92nd playing.

Obviously the players will be more familiar in the State Am, to be played at Bloomington for a record ninth time, but the Women’s Western – always one of the most prestigious events in women’s golf – may have its strongest field ever. The 120 competitors represent 29 states and 15 countries.

“Our partnership with the Western Golf Association (which began in 2019) has helped us strengthen our fields,’’ said Susan Buchanan, the WWGA president, “and our local players are getting better along with the national ones. They’ve realized that they can play in a big, strong national tournament without having to travel.’’

Geneva’s Sarah Arnold and New Lenox’ Grace Curran, who finished one-two in the Illinois Women’s State Amateur, are also Western contenders and Naperville’s Lisa Copeland,  the runner-up as a 15-year old in last year’s Western Junior. Is also in the field.

Defending champion this week is Teglao Jeeravivitaporn of Thailand, and she’ll be trying to become the first repeat winner since Meredith Duncan in 2000-01. The 2021 champion, Marissa Wenzler, is also competing.

In its rich history the tournament has had only nine back-to-back winners, the first being Chicago’s first great woman player, Bessie Anthony, who won the first three titles in 1901-03. She was the lone three-peater, and the best known of the others to win two in a row was Hall of Famer Louise Suggs, who won in 1946-47 in the years leading into the creation of the Ladies PGA in 1950.

Past Western Am winners also include Nancy Lopez (1976), Beth Daniel (1978), Cristie Kerr (1998), Grace Park (2003), Brittany Lang (2006), Stacy Lewis (2012) and Ariya Jutanugarn  (2012). Past Western competitors have won 327 times on the LPGA Tour, including 12 major titles, and made 28 Solheim Cup appearances.

While the field is stronger,  the venue is also tougher than the last two playings at Park Ridge and Sunset Ridge.  White Eagle was the site of LPGA tournaments from 1992-94 and also hosted two of the last three Illinois Opens. The original Arnold Palmer design was upgraded in recent years by Todd Quitno.

There will be 36 holes of stroke play qualifying on Tuesday and Wednesday with the top 32 advancing to match play.  Matches will run Thursday through Saturday.

STATE AM: Hinsdale’s Mac McClear will defend his title at Bloomington and try to become the first repeat winner since Ethan Farnam.  He won in 2019 and 2021, with the pandemic canceling the event in 2020. Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell was the last to win in consecutive years (2002-03).

McClear, who won last year at Westmoreland in Wilmette, also captured two of the last three Big Ten individual while playing collegiately for Iowa. Last year he beat out Illinois’ Tommy Kuhl at Westmoreland, and Kuhl won’t be on hand this week.  He recently entered the professional ranks, but McClear will have one particularly tough opponent in Parker Wisdom, the home club hopeful.

Wisdom, who led Illinois Wesleyan to the Missouri Valley Conference title as a senior, tied for third in last year’s State Am.

The 132 players competing at Bloomington were determined after eight state-wide qualifying rounds in June. The full field of finalists will play 18 holes on Tuesday and Wednesday, then the field will be cut to the low 35 and ties for a 36-hole wrapup on Thursday.

Bloomington, which opened in 1896, last hosted the State Am in 2018 when Jordan Hahn was the winner.  At 6,561 yards and a par 70 it’ll be the shortest course to host the event since 2008.

No 59, but Straka still wins at the John Deere Classic


Austrian Sepp Straka posted the best final round by a John Deere Classic champion.

SILVIS, IL. – Low numbers are nothing new at the John Deere Classic, and Sunday was no exception. Sepp Straka, far down the leaderboard at the start of the final round, shot 28 on the front nine at TPC Deere Run and strung four birdies on holes 11-14.

With four holes left Straka needed just one more birdie to shoot a 59.  Only one other player – Paul Goydos in 2010 – hit that milestone at the JDC.

Straka’s hot round took a strange twist, however.  That much-needed birdie never came. After three pars he hit an 8-iron approach shot from 180 yards into a pond left of the 18th green.

“My only bad shot.  I pulled it about seven yards left of my target,’’ said Straka.

A chip and two putts later he had a double bogey and – though Straka’s scorecard showed a 9-under-par 62 – the title was up for grabs.

The 62, matching the best round of the week, put Straka at 21-under-par 263 for his 72 holes.  Third-round leader Brendon Todd and Alex Smalley, aiming for his first PGA Tour win, had six holes left and Straka’s lead was down to two strokes.

“I wasn’t thinking about a 59,’’ insisted Straka, who was born in Austria but has lived in Georgia since he was 14 years old.  “As fun as it would have been to shoot a 59, I wasn’t going to change my game plan. It’s always better to win a golf tournament.’’

Straka went to the clubhouse to watch Todd and Smalley on television.  Todd got within a shot at one point but, when both players failed to make par at the par-5 seventh hole, Straka had his two-stroke lead back.

He was warming up on the practice range in anticipation of a playoff when both his rivals went to the No. 18 tee.  Both needed to make eagle on the finishing hole to force a playoff, and neither came close.

“It was stressful,’’ said Straka.  “Thankfully the playoff didn’t happen.’’

Post round concerts by Darius Rucker and Blake Shelton near the 18th fairway swelled the galleries for the JDC’s weekend rounds. (Photos by Joy Sarver)

Straka posted the lowest final round by a JDC champion, beating Payne Stewart’s 63 in 1982. It was also Straka’s career low on the PGA Tour, and he also had a 63 in Friday’s second round.

“It was pretty awesome,’’ he said. “The key here is getting the putter hot, and mine stayed hot.’’

A reason for that came via text from his putting coach on Thursday.

“We made a little tweak in my putting setup,’’ said Straka. “The toe of my putter was sticking up a little bit. All of a sudden I got hot.’’

Straka’s second win on tour – he captured the Honda Classic in Florida in WHEN – gave him a winner’s check of $1,258,000 from a purse of $7.4 million but he had an immediate expense, too.  He was staying with six other players at a home in Geneseo.  Among the others was defending champion J.T. Poston. Poston picked up the tab for the group of renters, and Straka did the same.

Ironically Todd was to be in the group but his family decided to join him so he rented a hotel room.

“I’ve known Sepp since he was in college at Georgia,’’ said Todd.  “He’s just a great guy, good personality, always happy for those around him.’’

With the win Straka moved up to No. 18 in the FedEx Playoff standings and No. 27 in the Official World Golf Rankings. He won in his third JDC appearance, having tied for 26th in 2019 and missing the cut in 2021.

Poston finished tied for sixth in his title defense after leading wire-to-wire last year. He was six shots behind Straka.

Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who shot a 65 on Sunday, was the best of Chicago connected players with a tie for 21st.  Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim was a shot behind Hardy in a tie for 26th and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman, who had a second-round 63 sandwiched in between three rounds at par 71, tied for 51st.

Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim had to escape a bunker on his last hole Sunday to happily finish in a tie for 26th at the John Deere Classic. Ghim was 65-67 in his middle in between to 70s.





Another first-time winner in the JDC? Smalley could be the man

Alex Smalley had his game in top form in the third round of the John Deere Classic. Can he do it again and become the 24th first-time winner at Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop?  (Joy Sarver Photos)

SILVIS, IL. – Every year a prominent story line at the John Deere Classic is who will be the next first-time winner on the PGA Tour and this year is no exception.

The JDC has had 23 champions who won for the first time in its 51-year history. That’s an extraordinarily high number, and they range from big names like Deane Beman, D.A. Weibring, Payne Stewart, Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau to the not-so-famous like Mike Morley, Blaine McCallister, J.L. Lewis, Michael Clark II, David Gossett and Michael Kim.

The stage was set to add another first-timer to the list Saturday when Alex Smalley charged into contention with the best score of the week – a 9-under-par 62 —  in the third round at TPC Deere Run.

Smalley will start Sunday’s final round one shot behind leader Brendon Todd, who shot 66 on Saturday. He stands at 16-under-par 197 after 54 holes and won’t be in the “first win’’ battle because he already has three titles on the PGA Tour. That doesn’t lessen the intensity ahead in the final 18 holes.

“You always want to be the guy being chased,’’ said Todd. “It’s just head down and made birdies.  It’s going to be hard to run away and hide here.’’

Especially considering his closest pursuers. Smalley’s colleagues at one back include Denny McCarthy and Adam Schenk. They’re also hungry for that first win, but Smalley fits into the list of new champions perfectly if he can get the job done. He has special ties to the JDC.

The JDC has always been receptive to giving promising young players a chance through its issuing of sponsor’s exemptions each year.  Smalley wasn’t one of those lucky ones, but he has his own story to tell.

Smalley Monday qualified for the JDC in 2021 with his mother Maria  working as his caddie.

His agent landed Smalley a veteran caddie, Don Donatello, in time for the tournament that year and he tied for 47th. That meant a $17,339 payday for a young player just out of Duke University who hadn’t earned his PGA Tour card yet.

Donatello became his regular caddie and last year they came back and did even better. Smalley tied for 16th and earned $115,141.

Now TPC Deere Run seems the perfect place for Smalley’s first PGA Tour win after his hot round Saturday. He started birdie-eagle, shot 30 on the front nine and added four birdies on the back side.

“It was a dream start,’’ admitted Smalley. “I feel comfortable here.  After my first experience here in 2021 I liked the course. I like the atmosphere, the vibes, at the tournament. I don’t know why the next first-time winner here couldn’t be me.’’

The only trouble with that is that a few other players know the JDC’s reputation for first-time winners. They feel the same way and have come tantalizingly close already this year.

McCarthy lost to Norway’s Viktor Hovland in a playoff at the Memorial. Schenk, who also used Donatello as his caddie in the past, has two runner-up finishes.

When the last putt drops the champion will get $1,258,000 from a $7.4 million purse.  A spot in the British Open, coming up in two weeks at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England, is also on the line.

That’s particularly enticing for Smalley, who will play in next week’s Scottish Open no matter how the JDC turns out but still hopes to play in the British, the year’s last major championship.

Last year he missed a spot in the British when he made bogey on the last hole of the Scottish Open. He has a history at Hoylake, though. The 2019 Walker Cup amateur team matches were played there, and Smalley was a star for the U.S. team.

“I was 3-1 in the matches, and that was the first Walker Cup we won on foreign soil since 2007, so I certainly have good memories there,’’ said Smalley. “It was also the first time I played links golf.  It would be great to go back and draw on those memories.’’

Brendon Todd took the lead in the JDC but there’s still one round to go.



Streelman posts his best round ever in the John Deere Classic

Kevin Streelman celebrates his best round ever in Illinois’ only annual PGA stop.


SILVIS, IL. – Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman has been Chicago’s best PGA Tour player for years, but this season hasn’t been one of his best. Qualifying for the FedEx Cup Playoffs was even in serious doubt when the John Deere Classic teed off this week.

Only players ranked in the top 70 in the FedEx point standings qualify for the first  event of the lucrative three-tournament series that starts on Aug. 10. Streelman is No. 116 now, but still hopeful.

He should be, especially after shooting Friday’s low round – an 8-under-par 63 – in the second round of the JDC.

“My goal was always to get to 45 (years of age), then be home with my family for a few years before Champions,’’ said Streelman, who is 44 and can’t play on PGA Tour Champions until he’s 50. “But now that I feel I can shoot scores like this I’m not ready to give it up yet.’’

Streelman went from being in danger of missing the 36-hole cut to getting into a tie for 10th place. He’s within five shots of leader Cameron Young, last year’s PGA Tour rookie-of-the-year who had a 65-64 start.

A strong weekend showing at TPC Deere Run would help Streelman’s playoff hopes significantly and – if he does crack the top 70 – there’s the fact that one of the $20 million playoff events is like a home game.  The BMW Championship is back in the Chicago area, at Olympia Fields’ North Course. It tees off on Aug.17

Streelman played that course when it was used in the 2020 playoffs. The BMW hasn’t been back in the Chicago area since then.

“I love that golf course and I love the renovation it had,’’ said Streelman, “but the course was really rough in that playoff year.’’

Streelman will play in next week’s Barbasol tourney in Kentucky, then take a week off before the last two regular season tournaments – the 3M Open in Minnesota and the Wyndham Championship in South Carolina. Then, even if he cracks the top 70 to get into postseason play, he needs to be in the top 50 after the first playoff event to qualify for Olympia Fields.

“I’ve had my PGA Tour card for 16 years, and I’m proud of that,’’ said Streelman, “but what you really remember are the chances that you’ve had. If I have two more rounds like this one (the 63) I should be fine.’’

Making it to this year’s playoffs is a big challenge now, but there have been other distractions this year in addition to his results in tournament play.  First came the retirement of Tim Clarke, the long-time president of Wilson’s Golf Division. He is Streelman’s “dear friend, like a big brother,’’ and Streelman’s contract with the Chicago equipment manufacturer ends after this year. He’d like an extension.

Then there has been the ongoing battle between the PGA and LIV Tour.  Streelman, a member of several PGA committees, has been an outspoken critic of LIV. The announcement of a “merger’’ of the two tours has left the players in the dark and the month-long leave of absence of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is puzzling, even though the PGA Tour announced Friday that Monahan would resume his duties on July 17.

“Honestly we don’t know much more than anybody else,’’ said Streelman.  “The media articles seem accurate, but we haven’t heard from Jay, and that’s strange.  I hope he’s OK, but you’d think we would have heard something by now.’’

Streelman heard something from his caddie, Mike Bestor, that triggered his great round on Friday. His par 71 in the first round was not encouraging.

“I actually hit the ball fine, but Mikey helped me with my putting last night,’’ said Streelman.  “It was one of those 7 p.m. emergency sessions.  He had me adjust my eye line to the left a touch, and I could see the putt line a little cleaner.  I had been tilting.’’

There’s  no time for “tilting’’ now. Low scores are usually commonplace at the JDC, and that’s more so the case this year.  Streelman posted one of five 63s on Friday.  One of the others was by Michael Thorbjornsen, and his was the lowest round ever by an amateur at the JDC.

Still, Streelman climbed 72 places on the leaderboard with his big round.




How `Swede’ it is at the John Deere Classic

A golfer from Sweden was expected to contend in the John Deere Classic this week, but it wasn’t Jonas Blixt in Thursday’s opening round.

Blixt, a 39-year old journeyman, has won three times on the PGA Tour, the last time in the 2016-17 season. He hadn’t even played in a PGA Tour since the Byron Nelson tournament in May, and hadn’t survived a 36-hole in five of his eight tournaments this season.

All that changed once he got to TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis, IL. Blixt, an early starter playing in ideal weather conditions, made four birdies and a 43-foot eagle putt in his final eight holes to post a 9-under-par 62.

Blixt also made an eagle on the par-5 second hole.  He shot 29 on TPC Deere Run’s back side and ended the day with a two-stroke lead on Grayson Murray, a player who has been similarly unspectacular the last few years.  His 64 was his best round in three years.

Though their scores were great on Thursday, their games have been in decline.  Blixt arrived in the Quad Cities with a No. 210 ranking in the FedEx Cup standings, with only the top 70 advancing to postseaon play, and he is No. 842 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Murray, 29, is No. 221 in the FedEx and 225 in the OWGR. He got a big boost by winning an event on the Korn Ferry Tour a month ago.

So, what happened to turn their games around?

“I saw my swing coach back home (he lives in Jacksonville, FL., now) and, after six weeks off I just tried to put some swings on it,’’ said Blixt, who played collegiately at Florida State.  “It worked out.’’

The two eagles were obviously the key.

“Those holes, if you take advantage of them, you’re really happy,’’ said Blixt.  “I was happy to make those (eagles) and get going.’’

Murray was bogey-free in the afternoon until his approach to No. 18 landed in a green-side bunker.  He couldn’t get up-and-down to save par but had no complaints.

“I missed a couple of birdie chances early, but stayed patient and it worked out,’’ he said.  “I had such a solid back nine. I’ll take it, even with the bogey to finish.  I’m in a good position going forward.’’

The question is can Blixt and Murray stay there?  Time will tell.

Pre-tournament talk centered on another Swede, 23-year old Ludvig Aberg. He’s shown great promise since sweeping all three collegiate player-of-the-year awards in his final season at Texas Tech. He’s in his fourth PGA Tour event since turning pro and finished in the top 25 twice.

Counting his amateur days Aberg appeared in five PGA Tour events and made the cut in every one. He has been getting noticed, and the JDC gave him a special pairing in Wednesday’s pro-am.  He played the front nine with the event’s celebrity, Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark. The popular Clark swelled the galleries and impressed Aberg.

“She’s a rock star.  I was just a passenger,’’ said Aberg.  “It was cool.’’

Last week in Detroit he was paired for two rounds with Luke Donald, the European Ryder Cup champion. That spiked talk of Aberg possibly being a Ryder Cup selection for Europe. He called Donald “a great guy’’ but was guarded about the Ryder Cup.

“If I was asked about the Ryder Cup a few weeks ago I’d have said `no way’ because I was still in college,’’ said Aberg.  “All I can do is prepare for every tournament and see where that takes me.’’

Next week it’ll take him to the Scottish Open, the last stop before the year’s final major – the British Open.

Aberg’s 68 on Thursday matched the score of defending champion J.T. Poston, who – like Blixt – started with a 62 en route to leading wire to wire last year.

Best of the Illinois contingent was Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who is tied for 13th after posting a 67. Doug Ghim, D.A. Points and Dylan Wu all carded 70s and Kevin Streelman is at 71.



Stanford beats Johnson — and weather — to win Senior LPGA


England’s Trish Johnson was the focal point of the Senior LPGA Championship, as she chased her third title in six years at Sultan’s Run. She didn’t win, however. (Joy Sarver Photos)


JASPER, Indiana – The Senior LPGA Championship, only six years old, is the youngest of golf’s designated major tournaments. It was first played at French Lick’s Pete Dye Course in 2017 and England’s Trish Johnson was the winner.

This year’s tourney was played only 20 miles away, at Sultan’s Run Golf Club, and Johnson was in position to win for the third time — but she didn’t.  A triple bogey-bogey finish by Johnson handed the title to Texan Angela Stanford, who reached the tourney’s 45-year old age requirement only seven months ago.

That wasn’t the only strange happening at the event, either.  The weather almost trumped the competition, and it was touch-and-go whether the event would finish on time.

Not only could no one in the 72-player field finish the first 18 holes on Thursday’s opening day, but two threesomes couldn’t even tee off.  The day-long rains were that bad, making a marathon second day inevitable.

Angela Stanford celebrates her firs title in the Senior LPGA Championship. (Mike May Photo)

Rain couldn’t dampen Round 2, but some players had to play 36 holes.  That long day ended with Johnson, shooting the day’s low round of 66, opening a three-stroke lead over defending champion Karrie Webb and Becky Morgan with Stanford five strokes back in her first Senior LPGA appearance.

Bad weather was in the forecast for Saturday’s final round, and players were to begin play at 7:30 a.m. with threesomes starting off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees to get the round in as quickly as possible.

Even that strategy didn’t work, and it wasn’t even close.  The first tee shots weren’t hit until 1 p.m. Though the Sultan’s Run course held up well despite the heavy deluge of rain the cart path only rule was put into effect. That slowed up play, and late in the afternoon tournament officials were warned that more bad weather – including tornado threats – was on the way.

Australian Karrie Webb finished third in her Senior LPGA title defense.

Johnson had a four-stroke lead, though, so hopes of a finish before darkness or more storms set in were high.

And then Johnson hit a bad tee shot off at No. 17. That led to a triple bogey.  Stanford, playing a group in front, made birdie at 18 and the four-shot swing left them both at 10-under-par. A Johnson birdie on the finishing hole would still give her the win but a par would force a playoff and more golf in – to put it mildly – questionable weather.

Johnson couldn’t shake off the nightmare at the 17th.  She hit another bad tee shot on the 18th and had a 12-foot putt for birdie that would have led to extra holes.  For better or worse, the putt missed.  Stanford was the champion and the weather issues were then of minimal importance. (They would have been a factor, as storms and strong winds emerged as darkness was setting in).

The end result was that Stanford was $60,000 richer after claiming the biggest prize from a $400,000 purse.  The low round of the tournament – a 65 – got her the win, which will go together with the seven she captured on the LPGA Tour.  Stanford then hurried off to California for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach.

“I’m leaving with more confidence than when I came here, that’s for sure,’’ she said. “I just figured some things out and got my mind right this week. I’ve had some confidence issues lately.’’

Now confidence issues might be Johnson’s problem.

“My game was great for about 16 holes, then I ended triple bogey-bogey to finish,’’ she said. “There’s not much more you can say, really. It was just a horrible finish. It was very disappointing, literally throwing the tournament away, but life goes on. There are worse things.’’

No. 18, the classic finishing hole at Sultan’s Run, was the scene of great drama in the 2023 Senior LPGA Championship. It’s a great hole for viewing from the clubhouse, too.


Koepka brothers are flying high in LIV tourney


Brooks Koepka (top photos) is leading the LIV Tour Orlando event and is also captain of the team leader, Smash. His younger brother Chase is also on the Smash team.

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.


Sultan’s Run brings Senior LPGA tourney back to Indiana

Sultan’s Run boasts that its 18th hole is the most dramatic in Indiana.


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.