Major move good for LPGA, hard to reconcile for Rochester

By Randall MellAugust 12, 2014, 10:34 pm

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – This is an awkward week.

There’s no getting around that with the final Wegmans LPGA Championship being staged at Monroe Golf Club.

For 38 years, the Rochester area has been home to an LPGA event, with Locust Hill Country Club host to every tournament played here until this year’s. In news that hit this golf community hard, the LPGA announced 10 weeks ago that it wasn’t just leaving Locust Hill, it was reconfiguring the LPGA Championship as the new KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. And it was taking it on the road, beginning in 2015. It’s partnering with the PGA of America and ending its long association with Rochester.

“It’s definitely bittersweet being here this year, knowing we’re not coming back,” Morgan Pressel said.

Pressel has been staying with the Gorslines as her host family ever since she began playing here eight years ago. Crofts and Jane Gorsline have made her feel like family over the years. Lots of players have created strong bonds with host families. 

“I think we’ll all be emotional come Sunday,” Pressel said. “I love it here. Pittsford is awesome. I have all my favorite spots, my favorite restaurants, my yoga spot, and all those different places I’ve been going to for years. Wegmans has been amazing to us, and it’s really sad that an event that’s been here almost 40 years won’t be here any longer. Hopefully, we can make this the best one and send it out on a good note.”

Still, Pressel and her peers understand what an important major championship upgrade they’re going to get with the PGA of America taking over the event. The PGA has been in the business of putting on majors since 1916. The players appreciate what KPMG and the PGA’s investment in them says about their product.

For the Rochester community, though, the news left it feeling like a spurned lover.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan knew there would be some bitterness to contend with, and it came quickly with a harsh reaction in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle the day after the news was announced.

“It seems surreal,” columnist Leo Roth wrote. “Like we're pulling a 1-iron from our backs. That nearly 40 years of goodwill, friendships, charity fundraising and history meant nothing to an ambitious commissioner with an inflated view of his tour and a new generation of players who've grown up feeling entitled to more.”

Ouch.

The emotion is understandable from a local perspective, from folks who have poured so much into hosting an event since 1977. Looking at the bigger picture, though, this was a terrific move for the LPGA. Wegmans commitment was uncertain. It’s a regional company, and it’s been operating with a year-to-year agreement with the LPGA. The new PGA deal was a chance to lock in this major’s long-term future.

“The PGA told me point blank, 'We are going to go to our board, and we’re going to say, 'Let’s not commit to do this unless we are going to commit to it for the next 50-plus years.'' That’s how they entered this agreement with us,” Whan said.

The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will be played at Westchester Country Club in its first year. The purse will jump from $2.25 million to $3.5 million. A new network TV deal will be in place.

“Sitting on the LPGA board, there’s not a lot wrong with that scenario,” Hall of Famer Karrie Webb said.

With Kraft Nabisco not returning as title sponsor of the year’s first major, Whan is looking at building long-term stability for all his majors to give them all a chance for long traditions like the men have built. The women’s majors have been a patchwork of championships over the years. Eight different events have been considered women’s majors since 1972. There was a time in the ‘70s when the women played just two majors.

“When I started back in 2010, we had a lot of conversations, between myself and the board, about how we have to find ways so our majors can have 50-year runs,” Whan said. “We can’t be in a situation where we are tied to a major but looking for a new contract every three or four years.”

Once a long-term future for the former Kraft Nabisco is secured, Whan likes the way his five-major-championship lineup sets up, with the U.S. Women’s Open, the Ricoh Women’s British Open, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Evian Championship all on apparently stable foundations.

“Some of them might be fresh and new, so they’re still building that tradition, but I think they’re going to be around for a long, long time,” Whan said. “We have a lot of work to do to cement that fifth one in the desert, but we have an opportunity to build tradition that’s been difficult in women’s golf, because we’ve always been kind of tied to the corporate check.

“The majors become majors because of history, not anything else.”

The LPGA is losing some history with its move away from Rochester. It was a regular tour event for its first 33 years, becoming a major in 2010.

Pat Bradley won the first LPGA event staged here in 1977. Nancy Lopez won three of the first five. Patty Sheehan won four LPGA titles in this city. The winners here are a who’s who of women’s golf.

“It’s sad,” Angela Stanford said. “It’s said for the community, and it’s sad for the players.”

Knowing the strong emotion that would follow the LPGA’s decision to leave Rochester, Whan flew here three days after the announcement. He stepped in for a player scheduled to be the center piece of the Wegmans LPGA Championship’s Media Day. He took all the hard questions.

“There were myths vs. reality flying around,” Whan said. “I was glad I went. I’m not saying it was easy, but I loved the fact that people at Rochester were struggling with the decision because they loved the event. I know we struggled with the decision, but that’s why I believe we’ll be back. I think there’s just a lot of love between Rochester and the LPGA.”

With the PGA of America’s relationship with Oak Hill, it’s not a stretch to wonder if this major will make its return to Rochester one year. There’s also the possibility of a Solheim Cup coming to Oak Hill, or a regular event returning here someday.’

“When I started as commissioner, a lot of people told me it’s a shame we won’t be going back to Toledo, and we won’t be going back to Phoenix, and asking why we don’t play in Hawaii anymore,” Whan said. “As I’ve said from the beginning, I know we’re not going to be in Rochester next year, but I personally believe we will be back to Rochester in time. There’s just too much support, too many families, too many volunteers and too much great golf. I don’t know how or where that will be, but if Toledo, Hawaii and Phoenix are any indication, we find our way back to great hotbeds.”

Linda Hampton, the tournament coordinator for the local foundation that runs the Wegmans LPGA Championship, said the aim this week is to celebrate the LPGA’s rich history in Rochester.

“When we heard the news, it was hard to believe,” said Hampton, who has been helping run the event for 35 years. “Coming to the realization that we are parting, that we had outgrown each other a little bit, that was shocking to people, but they’ve come to understand it. It’s been a love affair, and now we have an opportunity to come together one more time and celebrate and to be proud of what we’ve done.”

The local organizing body is going to literally send this event out with a bang. A fireworks show is planned after Sunday’s trophy presentation. At 4 p.m., the gates will open to allow the community to come in for free to watch the championship’s finish. There’s a sweepstakes giveaway planned among the many activities, with iPads, 40-inch TVs and a $5,000 grand prize.

Jerry Stahl, co-chairman of the local tournament foundation, is intent on making the most of this farewell.

“It’s unfortunate for Rochester that we’re losing this event, but things happen,” Stahl said. “We’ve had 38 wonderful years of interaction with the pros, with the community, and we’re going to miss it. Mike Whan is a terrific commissioner, and he did what he had to do. He had an opportunity to raise the financial level of the event for the players and the LPGA. How can you deny them that? You can’t. Sure, it will be emotional, no question, but we’re going to do our best to have a fabulous event.”

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."