Senior LPGA awaits farewell at French Lick

An era of women’s golf is ending this week.  Indiana’s French Lick Resort, a favorite destination for golfers since the 1920s, will host the Senior LPGA Championship for the final time. the The tournament tees off on Friday on the Pete Dye Course.

“This is our ninth year working with the senior women,’’ said Dave Harner, French Lick’s director of golf.  “It’s been a great run for them and a great run for us. This week is bittersweet, and we wish them the best.’’

French Lick, known as the high school home of basketball legend Larry Bird, was the site of Walter Hagen’s first of five straight PGA Championships in 1924 and hosted the LPGA Championship in 1959 and 1960 with Kathy Whitworth and Betsy Rawls the winners.

The little southern Indiana town fell on hard times after that but began a terrific recovery after its Donald Ross Course was renovated and the Pete Dye Course created in 2010. Women’s golf became a focus then. The Legends Tour, created by 25 veteran LPGA players headed by Jane Blalock, was formed in 2000 but never received much support of the LPGA hierarchy.

French Lick stepped forward to create a Legends Championship and Hall of Fame in 2013.  After four playings of The Legends Championship the LPGA agreed to have its own championship for senior women, and the Senior LPGA Championship was first held in 2017. It was the first designated major for senior women, defined as those 45 and older.

Scotland’s Trish Johnson won both the last Legends and first Senior LPGA tourneys.  Players from across the pond – Laura Davies in 2018 and Helen Alfreddson in 2019 – won the next before the pandemic forced cancelation of the 2020 event.

The French Lick farewell will be without the first and last champions of its senior women’s events.  Canadian Lorie Kane, who won the first Legends in 2013, withdrew due to illness and Sweden’s Alfreddson, according to French Lick officials, simply failed meet the entry deadline for her title defense.  Alfreddson won both senior women’s majors in 2020, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open being the other.

Harner announced big plans for French Lick’s stop on the LPGA’s developmental Symetra Tour.  It’s been held on the Ross course the past four years and is contracted for three more.

“Next year it’ll be a four-round tournament (it had been only 54 holes) and it’ll be there stroke play championship,’’ said Harner.  “It’ll also have their biggest purse ($330,000 with $50,000 to the winner).’’


Streelman still alive

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman remained the only Illinois player remaining in the PGA Tour’s season-ending FedEx Cup Playoffs. Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim was eliminated in the weather-delayed wrapup of The Northern Trust in New Jersey.

Ghim, who shot the best round of his rookie PGA season – a 63 – in the third round, couldn’t maintain the hot pace in Monday’s final round.  He tied for 31st in the tournament but wound up No. 86 in the FedEx standings.  Only the top 70 in the rankings advance to the BMW Championship, which tees off on Thursday at Cave’s Valley in Maryland.

Streelman didn’t play as well as Ghim did in The Northern Trust, finishing tied for 64th, but he came into the event with a higher ranking (No. 53).  That number dropped to 64 after Monday’s showing, but he remained eligible to play in the BMW event.


HERE AND THERE:  Illinois men’s coach Mike Small, who will chase his 14th title in the Illinois PGA Championship Wednesday at Ivanhoe Club, has announced his team’s schedule for the 2020-21 season and it has an interesting start.  The Illini opener is the Indiana Collegiate Invitational.  It’ll be played the Hoosiers’ new, well-received Pfau Golf course.  Two weeks later the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational will return for its 15th staging after being canceled because of the pandemic….Architect Greg Martin, celebrating the 30th anniversary of his Chicago area-based design firm, has produced a book, “Magic Is Not Obvious’’ – an interesting series of essays on all phases of the sport….Kevin Lind, formerly golf operations manager at White Pines in Bensenville, has been named general manager at the Vernon Hills nine-holer.