FRENCH LICK, Indiana – The third playing of the Senior LPGA Championship was a weird one, and that was even before eventual champion Helen Alfredsson teed off in Wednesday’s final round.
Alfreddson eventually won the senior Grand Slam, which amounts to winning just two tournaments – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and Senior LPGA Championship. Laura Davies accomplished the feat last year, and Alfredsson completed her Slam on Wednesday with a three-stroke victory over Juli Inkster.
The temperature dipped more than 20 degrees and the wind picked up significantly on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, but Alfredsson finished the 54-hhole test as the only player under par. Her concluding 70 gave her a three-round total of 2-under-par 214 and earned her the $100,000 first prize from a $650,000 prize fund.
Other significant developments were unfolding as Alfredsson was working her way to the victory.
Even before the second round was history Dave Harner, the director of golf at French Lick Resort, confirmed that the tournament won’t be played on its unusual fall dates in 2020 – and won’t have live television coverage because of it.
Then, a few hours before the second round was over, Lee Anne Walker was alerted that she would be assessed a big number of penalty strokes because her caddie had been lining her up on her putts on the putting surface, and she did not step away before making her stroke. The infraction, repeated frequently over Walker’s first 23 holes, wound up as a 58-stroke penalty.
After a discussion the rules officials and Walker’s penalty numbers were added up her scores were 127 for the first round and 90 for the second.
Under new rules a player cannot receive a cash payment without posting a score. In finishing last among the 78 players in the Senior LPGA field Walker received $1,390.
Walker, even without the penalty strokes, was only a minor factor in the tournament standings but the change in scheduling for next season will have long-range effects.
“We just couldn’t take the weather any more,’’ said Harner.
Next year’s fourth playing of the Senior LPGA will be July 27 to Aug. 1. Instead of the Monday through Wednesday scheduling of the last three years the 54-hole event will run Thursday through Saturday after a practice round and two pro-ams kick off the festivities.
The tourney has had weather problems. Temperatures neared the freezing level during tournament rounds in 2018 and Wednesday’s final round of this year’s event began in 47-degree temperatures and never got more than five degrees warmer than that.
There was, of course, much more involved in the schedule change than just cold temperatures. The Senior LPGA went to October because that was the only way The Golf Channel would provide live coverage. That coverage was expensive — $860,000 for this year’s playing – and the viewership (estimated at 100,000 per day) didn’t meet expectations. The cost of the telecasts cut into the charity money that long-time beneficiary Riley Children’s Hospital could receive.
So, the tournament did what few events have done in the past – proceed without TV support – and that move was not met with much reluctance by the players.
“I’m excited about it,’’ said Jane Geddes, now into her fourth month as executive director of The Legends Tour. “(The new dates) will give us a nice stretch of tournaments, which we don’t have now and the weather will be better. Kids will also be out of school. It would be nice to have TV coverage, but we also know that it’s expensive.’’
Harner plans to line up streaming for coverage of next year’s final round.
“As the tournament grows and the tour goes into more market places maybe being on TV would make more sense,’’ said Geddes. “Everyone always wants to be on TV, but is it really worth all that money to have eyeballs on that event? It’s almost $1 million. That’s the reality. We’ve been living with that on the LPGA for a long time.‘’
This year it was the last major championship for any of the pro tours. Next year the Senior LPGA won’t event be the last event of the year for The Legends. Geddes said a new event in Minneapolis will be played the following week, though she withheld details of next year’s sites.
The new dates put the Senior LPGA closer to the only other major for senior women. The U.S. Senior Women’s Open is scheduled for July 9-12 in 2020, at Brooklawn in Fairfield, Ct.. The next Senior LPGA will also come two weeks after French Lick’s other tour stop. The Symetra Tour’s annual tournament here is played on the resort’s Donald Ross Course.
As for Sunday Senior LPGA wrapup, Inkster started the day with a two-stroke lead but slumped to a 76. Most of her problems surfaced on the back nine, and they enabled Alfredsson to take control. It was a two-player duel most of the way.
Defending champion Davies tied for 19th and only Michelle McGann (69) shot a lower final round than Alfreddson.
“`I was a great feeling to win the U.S. Open (at Pine Needles in May) and get a USGA trophy,’’ she said. “but I was most pleased with being able to do it in the end, that I was the strongest then.’’
The Senior LPGA was the last of pro golf’s major championships of 2019 on any of the pro tours.