In Westchester, LPGA takes a big stage

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HARRISON, N.Y. – Sometimes the actor is inspired by the stage.

Sometimes the stage can even define the actor.

Women in professional golf have a special appreciation for how a great stage can help define a great performance because they’ve been relegated to Off Broadway productions in too many of their major championships.

“We’re `On Broadway’ this week,” Christina Kim said Wednesday, admiring the grandeur of Westchester Country Club on the eve of the inaugural KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. “We have five major championships a year, and it’s important they’re played on courses that are on par with that. We need the stage to match the ability of the players out here.”

Westchester is just such a stage, and the pros teeing it up this week are optimistic the PGA of America will continue to deliver classic venues for them to showcase their skills. The women relish getting the chance to play the same celebrated courses the men play.

“Westchester is such a scenic, beautiful, tough-as-nails golf course that we deserve to be on as a tour,” two-time major championship winner Cristie Kerr said. “We are great players, and it’s great to be on a venue that has this much history to it.”

Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Raymond Floyd and Seve Ballesteros have won PGA Tour events played at Westchester. Ben Hogan played his last competitive round on the course that Walter Travis built back in 1922. Howard Hughes, Jackie Gleason, Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan were once members of the club. It’s a big, broad-shouldered beauty of a course winding through hills and woods.


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“It’s spectacular,” said Morgan Pressel, winner of the 2007 Kraft Nabisco. “And it makes demands on every part of your game. Courses like this elevate the prestige of our majors.”

The PGA of America hasn’t announced future venues, but LPGA pros are buzzing over what they’re hearing as possibilities. With expectations KPMG and the PGA will rotate the event in the Northeast, players are speculating about getting to play Bethpage Black, Shinnecock Hills, Oak Hill and other classic venues. There’s hope Westchester is part of a rotation.

“I'm wowed, but at the same time, I feel this is what we deserve,” two-time major championship winner Suzann Pettersen said. “We work as hard as the guys. I don't see why we shouldn't have events like this.”

Women have played classic venues in the distant past. The U.S. Women’s Open was played at Baltusrol’s upper and lower courses. It was played at Oakmont, Winged Foot’s East Course, at Hazeltine and NCR, but the women are beginning to enjoy a lot more opportunities with the Women’s British Open and Women’s PGA joining the USGA in seeking more classic venues.

Lorena Ochoa won the Women’s British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews in 2007, Paula Creamer won the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont in 2010 and Stacy Lewis won the Women’s British Open again at St. Andrews in 2013. Mo Martin won at Royal Birkdale last year and Michelle Wie won an epic U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, an eye opener for women who got to play the course a week after the men played the U.S. Open there.

“I think seeing the U.S. Open at Pinehurst and seeing what the guys get at a major, and then probably what every tournament is like for them, it was kind of like, `Why don't we have this?’” two-time major championship winner Lewis said. “That's something that the LPGA Championship has been lacking the last few years, that big major feel.”

Lewis believes majors should be showcases in every way for the women.

“Our tour, we get the most media, the most eyeballs, five weeks out of the year,” Lewis said. “So those five weeks need to be our biggest and our best.”

Women are taking advantage of those big stages when they get them. Wie put on a terrific show holding off Lewis’ charge to win at Pinehurst. Lewis birdied the iconic Road Hole with a spectacular 5-iron to win at St. Andrews in 2013. Creamer tamed an Oakmont setup many feared might embarrass the women.

“Our majors are supposed to be played at big venues, big-name courses,” Creamer said. “When we’re not on them, it’s a shame. I think we’ve shown we can put on a great show on these courses.”

Creamer made news earlier this year pushing for Augusta National to start a women’s version of the Masters. She believes it would be the ultimate sign women’s golf had arrived.

“Everybody can have a dream,” Creamer said.