Regular visitors to this blog know that I am a fan of the LPGA Tour. Mastery is where you find it and having attended a number of tournaments in person, I have come to appreciate what these players have managed to accomplish as elite players. There is little difference between the men’s game and the ladies’ except for scale. As I reported from the Founders Cup last year, the ball flight looks the same in the air, it’s just proportional.
At one time there was an acknowledged gap between the men’s short game and the ladies’, but they realized it and are putting much more effort into catching up. They look for opportunities to collaborate with PGA Tour players at co-ed, exhibition events or their home clubs and they practice their short game much more than they ever did. But let’s be honest, most of us don’t go to tournaments to watch short games, we go to watch the ball in the air and marvel at how it gets that high that fast…and even more so when we’re watching a 5′ 6″ woman hitting the ball.
Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend the Media Day for the R.R Donnelley Founders Cup which gets its balls in the air for the second year Monday, March 12th. The tournament itself follows all of the practice rounds and pro-ams on Thursday and it’s four rounds. It’s returning to the Wildfire Golf Club at the J.W. Marroitt Desert Ridge Resort in Phoenix, Arizona, a perfect venue for a big-time LPGA tournament.
They’ll be playing a combined course, nine holes of the Palmer Course and nine from the Faldo Course. It’s interesting because of the contrast between the two nines. Palmer meanders through trees while Faldo moves through mounds in open desert. Both nines are very spectator-friendly and offer great views of the play.
The LPGA is engaged in a full-court press to get across their brand message, “See why it’s different out here.” As we look around at our cultural institutions, it’s hard to find one that was founded relatively recently. A group of thirteen founding members put together the beginnings of the Tour in Wichita, Kansas in 1950. Because of their sparse numbers in those early days, they invited amateurs to fill spots in the field.
Marilyn Smith was one of those founders and she was an invited guest at Wednesday’s event. She told stories about what it was like barnstorming the country in their cars back then, “Tough to make it 1,600 miles from Washington State to Tulsa and be ready to play on Thursday.” She entertained the gathering with stories about what they used to do to promote the Tour and sell tickets. She remembered going to minor league baseball games and hitting shots from home plate out into the center field stands. Or going to local fight nights to get up in the ring after the fight and hawk that week’s events. One fight was so bloody, she became light-headed and her partner had to go up in the ring by herself.
Betsy King, winner of 34 tournaments during her career from 1977 to 2005, was also there. Early in her career, she also remembers driving from tournament to tournament and the host communities organizing volunteers to take the players into their homes to help them save money. And she contrasted that with the other LPGA player in attendance, Amanda Blumenherst, who had just arrived back in the country on Monday after playing four tournaments in Australia, Thailand and Singapore. One thing remains a constant: if you want to be an LPGA Tour player, you better love travel because mastering this big piece of your job is every bit as important as mastering the game.
And speaking of mastering the game, Master of Ceremonies, Kraig Kann, Chief Communications Officer of the LPGA, in encouraging Amanda to be patient in the pursuit of her career, shared a story that PGA Tour player, Matt Kuchar, told him. When Kuchar finally got to the Tour from his hotshot days at Georgia Tech, someone told him that it was going to take him ten years to realize his talent in professional golf. Like most impetuous youth, he scoffed at that notion, but sure enough it was his tenth year on Tour before his career really flourished. And the great Betsy King agreed, “It took me seven years to win my first tournament.” That makes the accomplishments of Yani Tseng and 16-year-old, Lexi Thompson, all the more jaw dropping.
And as if to emphasize all of this great play with contrast, my media foursome that had three players who had once been pretty good, proceeded to chop it around the Faldo course for four hours. We were grateful that we didn’t have the challenge of maintaining a high-level golf game and had a wonderful time in the gentle, Arizona sun…and with each other.
If you can find your way out to the Founders Cup, that same possibility is available to you. Call 1-888-LPGA TIX or go to www.LPGAFoundersCup.com. You will be glad that you did and you’ll come away with a whole new prospective on women’s golf. And if you can’t make Phoenix (although Phoenix is lovely in March), the LPGA Tour is now a worldwide tour; here is the link to the LPGA Tour’s 2012 schedule.