'Inaugural' KPMG Women's PGA had perfect champion

By Randall MellJune 15, 2015, 10:47 pm

HARRISON, N.Y. – There are some things LPGA commissioner Mike Whan can’t control . . . like who wins championships, right?

Brought on six years ago to resuscitate a withering tour, the man continues to exhibit a magic touch that makes you wonder if he has some mystical ability in that department, too. Of course, Whan can’t dictate who wins events, and he wouldn’t want to, but Inbee Park was a perfect winner for him and his PGA of America counterpart Pete Bevacqua Sunday at the inaugural staging of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She was perfect because there’s awkwardness in the word “inaugural” in that last sentence.

The only downside for Whan in his tour’s new collaboration with the PGA was the danger that the LPGA Championship’s rich history would be diminished. The KPMG Women’s PGA sounds and looks like a new event in the public’s eye, but not in Whan’s eyes, or in the eyes of so many LPGA founders, pioneers and veterans who helped build the tour. The Women’s PGA is a rebranding of the LPGA Championship. The first LPGA Championship was played in 1955, making it the longest running event staged by the tour itself.

Whan wanted the LPGA Championship’s history kept intact, so the trophy and past champions and records are all preserved as part of this new collaboration.

That’s why Park was a perfect winner for Whan, Bevacqua and KPMG. With Park in the hunt early, the large storyline became whether she could “threepeat,” whether she could join Annika Sorenstam as the only players in the 61-year history of the event to win three consecutive years. Obviously, you can’t “threepeat” in a new event.

It’s almost as if the golf gods endorsed this collaboration by giving Whan and Bevacqaua a “history making” champion.

Park reminded everybody her name wasn’t going to be the first etched on the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship trophy. She reminded everyone of this event’s special foundation.

Park’s victory reminded us all that the great Mickey Wright won this championship four times and that Kathy Whitworth, Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, Patty Sheehan and Se Ri Pak won it three times.

“When I talked to Pete about this collaboration, I said this is one we have to handle with a little fragility, because of the LPGA Championship’s 61-year history,” Whan said. “I don’t want to toss the trophy. I don’t want to forget the history. It was cool the way we were able to get a little bit of yesterday and tomorrow in the feel of the event.”

Whan’s treatment of the women’s majors is another important piece in his grand reconstruction of the LPGA.

When Whan was originally hired six years ago, his first marching order was to rebuild the sagging, anemic tour schedule. The players demanded it. Ultimately, his future was hitched to it, and he did rebuild it.

In his state of the LPGA address late last year, Whan unveiled a 2015 schedule featuring 34 events (including the Solheim Cup) with more than $61 million in total purses. That’s an LPGA record haul for prize money. It’s a robust lineup given the grim state of the schedule just a few years ago, when the tour shriveled to 23 events and $40 million in total purses.

With that strong foundation restored, Whan turned his attention to strengthening the majors. The LPGA Championship was sagging in stature. The Kraft Nabisco was in trouble with the title sponsor departing. Whan brought in ANA to take over for Kraft Nabisco this year and there were some vital upgrades to the event. He announced the collaboration that formed the Women’s PGA Championship, too. This was all added to his previous controversial declaration that the Evian Championship was the LPGA’s fifth major.

Whan’s plan is focused on giving the LPGA majors the stability and history they haven’t had. The men have four majors. They’ve had four majors forever, it seems. The women have had eight different events designated as majors over the years. The Women’s Western Open, the Titleholders and du Maurier have come and gone. The Women’s British Open didn’t get its start until 1976 and didn’t become an LPGA major until 2001. There was a spell in the ‘70s when the women only had two majors championships.

Hinging women’s majors to title sponsors has created problems. Whan’s talks with the PGA were revealing in how focused he was on a long-term commitment. He asked Bevacqua if the PGA would consider a 50-year partnership. Bevacqua said the PGA was only interested in a long-term partnership. KPMG brought clout and a vision, too.

Whan said Evian’s elevation to a major was based on knowing Evian was in the women’s game for the long haul.

“The good thing with Evian is they talk about what they’re going to do 30 years from now,” Whan said. “We don’t have many people who talk about their plans over the next 10, 20 or 30 years.”

With Evian played on a course built on a mountain, Whan envisions that major building a history as a journey. He envisions  young women dreaming of making their way “to the Mountain” for the year’s final major.

“I feel comfortable that our next generation of female golfers will feel deeper roots in our majors,” Whan said.

The KPMG Women’s PGA felt like a deep planting.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.