First it was the LPGA tour staging its first three tournaments of 2022 in the Sunshine state. They were captivating events, too, with Danielle Kang, Lydia Ko and Leona Maguire winning the titles and Annika Sorenstam drawing bigger galleries than all of them playing against top male athletes from other sports in a celebrity competition.
Now – with the women headed to their next tournament March 3-6 in Singapore– all three men’s tours are either in Florida or headed that way. The PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour kicked off its first tournament of the year in the United States on Thursday with the LECOM Suncoast Classic at Lakewood National, on the outskirts of Sarasota.
On Friday PGA Tour Champions holds its first full-field event of the year, the 35th annual Chubb Classic at Tiburon in Naples. Then there’ll be four straight weeks of PGA Tour events – the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra and the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor.
The Korn Ferry Tour is holding its fourth tournament of the year, with the first three being in the Bahamas, Panama and Colombia. The field includes three Illinois Open champions – Brad Hopfinger, Vince India and Tee-K Kelly.
India, who shot 66 in the first round at Lakewood National, had top-15 finishes in both the Bahamas and Panama before missing the cut in Colombia. Kelly had his best Korn Ferry performance in a tie for seventh last week and Hopfinger tied for 13th in Colombia. Rookie pro Michael Feagles, a mainstay for Illinois’ collegiate powerhouses the last four years, is also in the field.
Lakewood Ranch has two 18-holers, and the Korn Ferry players are using the Commander Course. It opened in 2017 and the winners have gone extremely low — 26-under-par in 2019, 23-under in 2020 and 13-under last year – in previous Korn Ferry stops.
More familiar names will be teeing off on Tiburon’s Black Course on Friday in the 54-hole Chubb Classic. Bernhard Langer heads a field that also includes Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Padraig Harrington nd Ian Woosnam. All of them won major titles.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, who won the circuit’s season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship last month in Hawaii, is also competing and former world No. 1 David Duval and Y.E. Kang, winner of a PGA Championship, will be making their debuts in full-field PGA Tour Champions competition.
Tiburon is a special venue, as it’s the only facility to host a PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions and LPGA Tour event in the same calendar year. Tiburon has two courses, both designed by Greg Norman, and the Black Course will be used this week. The other two circuit’s played their events on the Gold Course.
The Chubb Classic is being held for the 35th time and is the longest-standing PGA Tour Champions event held in the same marketplace. The Black Course hosted the event for the first time in 2021 with Steve Stricker winning the title. Stricker, sidelined by a heart ailment in November, won’t defend his title.