Founders Cup growing in importance to LPGA

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2014, 9:00 pm

PHOENIX – The JTBC Founders Cup is old for its age.

In the best way, that is.

It radiates with memories, like a historic event that has been around since the dawn of the LPGA.

This is just the fourth year the Founders Cup will have been played, but it feels so much older because it reaches back so far for its meaning. It reaches all the way back to 1950, when the LPGA was formed. The beauty of this event is that it was built to celebrate the tour’s past, honoring its 13 founders and its pioneers, while also promoting the future of women’s golf. LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf is the charity beneficiary.

Hall of Famer Kathy Whitworth, winner of a record 88 LPGA titles, is a tournament honoree this year. So is Renee Powell, the second black woman to play the tour, having made her start as the civil rights struggle raged across the land.

The Founders Cup is quickly evolving as the most important women’s tournament outside the majors.

“This has become a marquee event on our schedule,” says Heather Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA’s senior vice president of Tour Operations.

“It has become one of the best stops on tour,” fourth-year LPGA pro Gerina Piller said.

All the tour’s stars show up to play the Founders Cup. It boasts the strongest field this season. The top 12 players in the Rolex world rankings will tee it up together this week. No. 1 Inbee Park, No. 2 Suzann Pettersen and No. 3 Stacy Lewis lead the field at J.W. Marriott’s Wildfire Golf Club.

The list of past Founders Cup champs isn’t very long yet, but the quality of the winners speaks volumes about the nature of the event. Hall of Famer Karrie Webb won the inaugural competition in 2011, with then world No. 1 Yani Tseng winning in 2012 and with Lewis winning last year to seize the No. 1 ranking from Tseng.

“The story of this event is remarkable,” Daly-Donofrio said. “We started, basically, with players playing for free, playing for charities. Who else in professional sports would do that? And we’ve built this up to where this tournament is going to be around for a very long time.”

The remarkable story is in the vision LPGA commissioner Mike Whan showed creating the event. It’s also in the risk he took selling his bold idea to his membership. He basically asked his players to play for free that first year, with the entire purse going to charity. The idea was to “pay it forward” to women’s golf while honoring its past.

It seemed like the right idea at the wrong time.

Initially, there was some backlash.

Whan proposed the new event with LPGA pros hurting, with fewer opportunities to play in a shrinking schedule. The tour was down to a paltry 23 events in ’11. There were players who questioned Whan’s Founders Cup plan, not necessarily over playing for free, but over how the charity payoff and “mock purse” were structured.

Whan listened to his players, and he tinkered with his idea, expanding charity opportunities beyond Girls’ Golf to personal player charities.

And Whan pulled it off. He got his players to compete with all the prize money going to charity.

The generosity, the sacrificial nature of the LPGA pros who competed, made a large impression on RR Donnelley, the title sponsor of that first event. In the second year of the competition, the company stepped up, funding not only the charity, but also a real purse.

It was a testament to Whan and his vision of what the tour ought to be. He envisioned his players channeling the spirit of the founders. He envisioned them trying to leave the tour better than they found it.

“When we all first heard about it, it was kind of a shock,” Lewis said. “It was kind of like, `Are you serious?’ We didn’t know if he was actually serious. But I think once people got the concept, we understood.”

Christina Kim said channeling the spirit of the founders was a wonderful concept.

“I am big on never forgetting where you came from,” Kim said. “The founders built this tour from nothing to where now we get to play with logos plastered all over us and with endorsement deals. They didn’t play for much back when they were starting this tour. They were playing for the love of the game. I really felt like some people forgot about that.”

Daly-Donofrio said the founders’ spirit has become a governing principle under Whan.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the 13 founders,” Daly-Donofrio said. “It’s something we talk about at the LPGA on a daily basis, acting like a founder.”

Webb was on the LPGA board of directors when Whan proposed the Founders Cup concept.

“It was definitely bold and risky,” Webb said.

Webb liked the idea, but she didn’t know if a title sponsor would go for it. Now, she believes channeling the founders’ spirit that first year made all the difference in the world with corporations paying attention. The LPGA’s schedule has grown from 23 events to 32 events since the Founders Cup was created.

“Could that be a reason we’ve had such a big turnaround?” Webb said. “Maybe people took notice that we were prepared to do that at a time when maybe we shouldn’t have been prepared to do that, and maybe the positive feedback it got has helped us.”

Webb also points to the growth of LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf since it became the beneficiary of the Founders Cup. Once again this year, $500,000 from tournament proceeds will go to the cause. The Girls’ Golf program has grown six-fold since the Founders Cup was founded, from 5,000 members in 2011 to 30,000 this year.

Though there were title sponsor questions before JTBC stepped in earlier this year, Lewis believes the Founders Cup is here to stay. She gave $50,000 of her winnings here last year to LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf.

“We’re going to keep this tournament going whether we have a sponsor or not,” Lewis said.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.