HARRISON, N.Y. – The size, weight and scale of the LPGA’s flagship event have been magnified tenfold.
At least that’s how it feels with the LPGA Championship fully transformed as the new KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
The LPGA is trying to preserve memories of the major its tour members created 60 years ago, attaching the LPGA Championship’s history, its trophy and its past champions and records to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, but everything feels so fresh and new this week at Westchester Country Club.
This doesn’t feel like the LPGA Championship is being rolled out under a new name as part of a new partnership. It doesn’t feel like a hybrid event or even a rebirth. It feels wondrously new with the muscle of the PGA of America helping the LPGA give birth to something original to the women’s game. It feels like the inaugural Women’s PGA Championship.
“It’s a spectacular move for women’s golf,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said.
The major assumes a new gravitas with the LPGA partnering with the PGA. The scope of the event is so much larger as it now reaches beyond golf. There is a women’s empowerment theme woven into the week. A powerhouse leadership summit designed to “inspire the next generation of women leaders” is scheduled at Westchester Country Club Wednesday to run in conjunction with the championship.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the featured guest in a “fireside chat” at the conclusion of the summit.
“It’s going to be unlike any tournament we’ve ever had,” said Rolex world No. 3 Stacy Lewis. “I think this week is going to set the bar so much higher for our tournaments going forward.”
Playing in the shadow of New York City also adds a crackle and buzz to the week.
But while the LPGA Championship’s metamorphosis into the Women’s PGA excites pros competing this week, there is a bittersweet dynamic to it.
As much as the tour insists the LPGA Championship is woven into the fabric of the KPMG, this new beginning naturally feels like the end of something.
“I would have liked to have seen the LPGA name remain in the title, but there would have been a lot of P’s and G’s,” Hall of Famer Karrie Webb said.
Webb relishes how this major is being elevated, but she also reveres the commitment and sacrifice the tour’s founders made building women’s golf. She doesn’t want to see the LPGA Championship forgotten.
“I don’t really like to think of it as a new major, actually,” Webb said. “To me, it’s still the LPGA Championship. It’s the same trophy, and we’re carrying over the history. It’s a different name, and that’s great the PGA of America is involved. I think it will make it a bigger and better event than it has been the last few years, but I still think of it having our history.”
The LPGA Championship is the second longest running event in women’s professional golf, trailing only the U.S. Women’s Open. Tour pioneers built and named the major after themselves. Beverly Hanson beat Louise Suggs in the match-play final of the first LPGA Championship in 1955 at Orchard Ridge Country Club in Fort Wayne, Ind. The game’s greatest players put their names on its trophy. Mickey Wright won four times with Kathy Whitworth, Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan and Se Ri Pak each winning three times.
Webb is not alone in reminding fans that the Women’s PGA is built on something special.
“It’s still an LPGA tournament,” said Michelle Wie, the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion. “It’s our major. It’s just kind of bigger and better. It’s not a new tournament, but it definitely has a new vibe to it.”
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan made stabilizing and enhancing women’s major championships a priority last year. He did that in a big way partnering with the PGA. The LPGA Championship was sagging. Wegmans was in a year-to-year commitment with the LPGA as title sponsor of the flagship event. Locust Hill Country Club outside Rochester, N.Y., was a fabulous host to a regular tour event, but it didn’t have the grandeur you want in a major championship venue.
Westchester Country Club has that grandeur, and the PGA has promised future venues also will have that with the Women’s PGA rotating to classic venues much the way the PGA Championship does.
“The PGA says they’re going to take us to venues we’ve had trouble getting on in the past,” Webb said. “A major championship should be won on a quality golf course. Whoever wins this week will definitely feel like they won a major championship.”
The Women’s PGA brings other upgrades, including a new network TV deal with Golf Channel broadcasting Thursday and Friday and NBC on the weekend. The purse has jumped from $2.25 million a year ago to $3.5 million this year. It’s second only to the U.S. Women’s Open purse.
“We talked about building something that really elevated the best female golfers on the planet to really whole new heights, purse heights, television heights, venue heights,” Whan said.
Whan also got a partner in his aim to empower women and grow the women’s game.
“What will be special about this week, at this great historic venue, is that it’s going to be a celebration of women on the golf course and off the golf course,” PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua said.