Arizona Golf’s Insider’s Guide to the 2012 LPGA Founders Cup
Like the economy, the LPGA seems to be on the upswing these days. Granted, uncertainty remains about the global markets — and this global tour — but at least the ladies will be on American soil for the first time in 2012 when the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup gets under way this week at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix.
Last year — after a one-year layoff in which the tournament went dark due to a lack of title sponsor — the inaugural Founders Cup was won by Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, who edged Paula Creamer and Brittany Lincicome by a single stroke. But with the crowds modest and the women playing for a mock purse in which no pro earned a dime (the money going to charity in an effort to “pay it forward”), players and organizers are hoping for a stronger showing this week.
It’s almost a “gimme” that the gate will go up, as the tournament has been lengthened from 54 holes to 72 holes, meaning there will be one more day of play. Another exciting feature that might stimulate interest is a “real purse,’’ as the ladies who advance to the weekend will be competing for $1.5 million with $225,000 going to the winner. (No wonder nine of the top 10 players in the world will be in the field compared to six out of 10 a year ago.)
Another major improvement that should boost attendance is that general parking, which is free, has been moved from WestWorld in Scottsdale to the Reach 11 Sports Complex off Deer Valley Road in Phoenix. That trip by school bus will now cover about three miles and take approximately 10 minutes rather than the 30-minute treks that attendees endured last year. Yes, those yellow buses will run continuously.
What else do fans need to know about this week’s Founders Cup besides it still has one more year on the contract at Wildfire? Well, without further ado, here are some interesting facts, figures and a few quotes going into this week’s LPGA adventure:
2012 WINNERS IN THE FIELD
Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, the No. 1 player in the world that nobody seems to know about, headlines the group of top-ranked women on the planet, and already is a winner this season having prevailed in Thailand, the second stop of the season. Also on board for Wildfire is veteran Angela Stanford, who revived her career by winning the last stop in Singapore. Unfortunately, the player everybody is talking about, 18-year-old Jessica Korda, who set the LPGA abuzz by winning a record-tying six-woman playoff in Australia, won’t be teeing it up in Phoenix.
For years, teen sensation Michelle Wie, now 21, was the toast of this tournament when it was held at Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club in Gold Canyon and at Papago Golf Course in Phoenix. But for a second straight year, or ever since the tournament moved to Wildfire, Wie will not be in the field. Why? Blame it on academics, as Wie is currently is a senior at Stanford and on track to graduate this spring. That will hurt the gate a wee bit, even if Wie has fallen to No. 20 in the world after going last season without a “W.”
ON THE RISE
As mentioned, the LPGA is bouncing back with 27 tournaments on this year’s schedule even if a couple of them have yet to work out all the details. It’s still nowhere near the 34 events it hosted in 2008, but it’s a nice bump from last year’s total of 23. If you’re doing the math, this year’s schedule is worth $47 million or about $6 million more than last year’s. Of course, $1.5 million of that – 25 percent — was picked up right here in Phoenix after Whan opted for a “real purse.’’
Last year the mock purse got a lot of attention, as players embraced it for its salute to the past and charity, but some resented the fact that only $500,000 of the $1 million total actually went to the USGA-LPGA Girls Club. This year, the entire $1.5 million goes to the players AND the Girls Club still gets its $500,000 share. “That was definitely different,’’ said local favorite Amanda Blumenherst in reference to the funny money. “But we are very fortunate to be able to play golf for a living, so it was nice to give it back, too. Even better, this year we get paid and the Girls Club also gets their $500,000. So it’s a win-win.’’
In all, 132 players will be at the starting blocks Thursday, including nine of the top 10 players on the planet, the lone exception being South Korea’s Sun Ju Ahn, the No. 5 player. Americans in the top 10 include Cristie Kerr (No. 4), Paula Creamer (No. 6), Stacy Lewis (No.8) and Brittany Lincicome (No. 10). Other notables on hand: Laura Davies, a four-timer winner here in Phoenix; Japanese star Ai Miyazato, who brings with her the largest contingent of media focused on the LPGA in the world; and Hall of Famers Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak. Another Hall of Famer, Juli Inskster, is out with an elbow injury that is delaying the start to her 30th season.
For those looking for some local/crowd favorites, the Scottsdale duo of Amanda Blumenherst and Grace Park certainly fill that bill. Another of considerable note is Cristie Kerr, the No. 4 player in the world, who also lives in Scottsdale. Kerr was in the hunt last year, and many expect Blumenherst, a highly rated third-year pro who was all-everything at Duke, to win at any moment. “The last couple of years have been very demanding, but I’m learning more every tournament,’’ said Blumenherst, who starred at Xavier College Prep. “And it would be great if (the first win) came here in my home town.’’ Due to injuries, Park has not won in the past six years after earlier finding the winner’s circle six times. This will be Park’s season debut, why Blumenherst had a tie for fifth last month in Thailand.
There are a handful of former Arizona State players in the field as well as several former University of Arizona alums. That list of players with ASU-UA connections includes former Sun Devils Heather Bowie Young, Jimin Kang, Anna Nordqvist, Grace Park and Wendy Ward, as well as former Wildcats Natalie Natalie Gulbis and Leta Lindley.
BIG HITTER (GUNGA-LUNGA)
Brittany Lincicome was the runner-up here last year, and the way she is pounding the ball this season she might do even better. The LPGA’s big hitter is leading the driving statistical category with a whopping average of 296 yards per drive compared to No. 2 Paige Mackenzie at 278.6 per drive. That’s almost 20 yards farther, which is mind-boggling. “I think it matches (my game) well,’’ Lincicome said of the 6,568-yard Wildfire Course. “It’s a golf course I could see myself winning on multiple years in my career.’’ It also helps to have confidence!
For those who won’t be attending the Founders Cup in person, there’s still the TV broadcast, which is a good news-bad news situation. Because the LPGA inked a bad deal with the Golf Channel under former commissioner Carolyn Bivens, most of its tournaments are broadcast on a tape-delayed basis. That’s what you’ll get for the first two rounds of the Founders, which is set for 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. Fortunately, the TV coverage is live for Saturday and Sunday in the 1 to 4 p.m. time slot, also on the Golf Channel.
BUY A PROGRAM
Even though most fans know that the LPGA likes to market itself as a global tour, you’ll need a program for this tournament, as there are five Lees (Ilhee, Jee Young, Jennie, Meena and Seon Hwa), four Parks (Grace, Hee Young, Inbee and Jane), three Kangs (Danielle, Jaeji and Jimin), three Kims (Christina, I.K. and Mindy), two Chois (Chella and Na Yeon), two Miyazatos (Ai and Mika), two Ohs (Angela and Ji Young), two Paks (Jin Young and Se Ri), two Shins (Jenny and Jiyai) and two Songs (Christine and Jennifer) in the Founders Cup field.
It’s “All Things Arizona Golf” from the Arizona Golf Authority.