LPGA news notes Wegmans a major
The LPGA Playoffs with its big-bang finish in an ADT Championship-style finale aren’t in the plans for a return anytime soon . . .
And the LPGA schedule could grow by an event or two despite the unfavorable economic climate . . .
Those were among news and notes garnered in GolfChannel.com’s conversation with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan during the LPGA Tour Championship’s media day Wednesday at Grand Cypress Golf Club.
Here are some highlights:
Major Championship developments: The LPGA Championship, still searching for a title sponsor and permanent home, could be nearer to finding both in the temporary home it found this year.
Wegmans served as a presenting sponsor while hosting the year’s second major championship in June at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y. While it was originally intended to be a one-year deal with Wegmans returning as a regular tour stop next year, Wegmans has made a substantial offer to upgrade to major championship host and sponsor. The LPGA has been looking for a new title sponsor for its major since McDonald’s dropped out last year.
“Wegmans has offered a long-term historic approach to the LPGA Championship,” Whan said. “I told them we are probably not going to make a decision on that until this season is almost over. We’ve had a few people show significant interest. We just want to make sure it’s the right ingredients, the time is right, the course is right, that we can get it televised in a big way.
“I think the good news is Wegmans answers a lot of those questions. It’s a great offer. But whether or not we will put it there, I’m not ready to announce yet.”
The LPGA has a contract with Wegmans as a regular tour stop through 2012 with Wegmans having options for 2013 and ’14.
LPGA Playoffs not on the horizon: With ADT out after 2008 as title sponsor of the LPGA Playoff finale, a popular event that featured the richest first-place check in women’s golf ($1 million), former commissioner Carolyn Bivens floated plans to bring the newly configured format back at the start of the 2010 season.
The ADT-style jackpot format never returned and is not likely to anytime soon.
“That format could come back, but not in the ADT event, and not in the same end-of-the-year tournament spot,” Whan said.
Growing the LPGA schedule:The LPGA schedule features 24 events that count toward official money this season. Though 10 contracts came up for renewal in hard economic times this year, Whan is expecting to unveil a 2011 schedule that could be even stronger.
Of the 10 contracts that expired this year, only CVS/pharmacy failed to renew. The Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic will take a one-year hiatus before returning in 2012 with a contract that runs through 2014.
Whan said he’s confident that work to add at least two more tournaments is coming together.
“I don’t think we will play a ton more in 2011, but we will probably play a little more,” Whan said. “We still have a lot of irons in the fire. I will tell you without any hesitation, we will not play less than 24.”
The LPGA played 34 events in 2008, but the schedule shrank to 27 events in ’09 and 24 this year due to a combination of hard economic times and tough negotiating policies by the previous tour regime.
Asked what he thought was an ideal number for the schedule, Whan said: “My mind says 30. Typically, the top players play 25, maybe 26 times a year. A few will play every event you’ve got. I think when you have 34, 35, 36 events, you start worrying about your fields. While 2010 was a terrible year for a tournament’s contract to end, a reason we did so well, that so many tournaments stayed with us, is that what we were bringing to town was pretty significant. The 30 best players in the world were all coming to tee it up.
“I think 30 to 32 tournaments is a great vision. But as I’ve said to my staff, I’m in no rush. One thing that is different about this job is that, usually, as a CEO, you are thinking about the income statement, growing the value and deciding what the exit strategy is. There is no exit strategy for the LPGA. I get to nourish this thing four, five, six years. My job is not to have a great couple of years. My job is to build this thing so it gets stronger and stronger.
“I’ve said to my staff, don’t rush events. Let’s bring in events that are thought out, so we can be in business with them as long as we’ve been in business with State Farm, Wegmans, Nabisco because that’s what the LPGA deserves, that’s the legacy we need to leave.
“I think a lot of people were expecting us to fall off the map in 2010. We certainly are not going to do that when you hear about 2011. I think it’s slow growth, not because it has to be, but because of the state of the times. Another reason is that I just don’t want to rush something and call it official and then realize it doesn’t have long-term legs.”
Whan has preached meaningful partnerships with sponsors since the day he got the job.
“A comment I made at the beginning is that I want to have more tournaments, but if we were just our own small business, didn’t do golf for a living and wanted more customers, the way we would get more customers is be really great to the ones we have,” Whan said. “It’s the companies that focus on the customers they don’t have that go out of business. I said I think we are a little too focused on the ones we don’t have. So we are going to be great to the ones we have, because if I was a big-time sponsor, and I was thinking of joining the LPGA, the first thing I would do is call Nabisco, call State Farm, call Navistar and HSBC, and I’d say, `Tell me about these guys.’ Any big time sponsor is going to do the same thing. We have to make sure when they get the call, our best fan is the one who is already with us. I think we might have gotten a little bit away from that as an organization. People want to write that as a commissioner thing, but I think it’s organizationally. Back in 2007 and ‘06, there were a lot of new customers knocking on the door. So I think the recession really helped us get back to that.”
The future of the LPGA Tour Championship: The LPGA Tour Championship, which left the Houstonian Golf & Country Club in Houston after one year, will be played Dec. 2-5 without a title sponsor again this year in its move to Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando. The contract is for the club to host one year, though Whan said the tour is in discussions with a potential title sponsor beginning next year and is determined to make Central Florida the permanent home to the season-ending championship.
IMG owns and runs the LPGA Tour Championship, but the contract ends after this year with the LPGA taking over the event. Though IMG is contractually obligated to fund this year’s championship, the LPGA has stepped in to help find sponsorships to help fund the purse and cut expenses.
Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title
STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.
Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?
The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.
“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.
Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.
“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”
Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.
Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.
“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”
After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.
And the Wildcats better rest up.
Alabama looks unstoppable.
“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”
Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.
After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.
They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.
Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.
“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”
They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.
“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”
That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.
The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.
“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.
It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”
Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.
They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.
Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.
“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”
Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.
Pairings, tee times set for championship match
STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.
Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.
“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”
Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.
Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.
Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.
“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.
Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)
3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)
3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)
3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)
3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)
4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)
Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama
STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.
Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.
Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.
Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.
Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.
Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.
“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.
Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”
NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times
The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.
After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.
- Finals: Alabama vs. Arizona
- Semifinals: Alabama def. USC, 3.5-1.5
- Semifinals: Arizona def. Stanford, 4-1
- Quarterfinals: Alabama def. Kent State, 4-1
- Quartefinals: USC def. Duke, 3.5-1.5
- Quarterfinals: Arizona def. UCLA, 3-2
- Quarterfinals: Stanford def. Northwestern, 3-2
- Individual stroke play
TV Times (all times ET):
4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)