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.
New world No. 1 Koepka already wants more
If there’s a knock on Brooks Koepka, it’s that he’s a little too cool.
Gary Woodland, who threw 11 birdies at Koepka on Sunday and still finished four shots back, inadvertently captured that exact sentiment after Saturday's third round.
“You know," he said, "Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much."
In context, Woodland meant that there was little anyone in the field could do to rattle the leader. (He proved himself right, by the way.)
And out of context, the comment speaks to the general narrative surrounding Koepka. That he’s just detached enough for fans to have trouble attaching themselves to him. That he’s just a jock here to cash checks and collect trophies, to kick ass and chew bubblegum.
But for a few moments Sunday in South Korea, it became clear that Brooks Koepka does care. Crouched on the 72nd green with some time to stop and think as Ian Poulter lagged a bit behind, Koepka finally let a moment get to him. Cameras caught the three-time major champion appearing unusually emotional.
Of course, less than a minute later, those same cameras caught him yawning. The contrast was almost too perfect. It was as if he knew he had just been found out and needed to snap back into character – which he did.
He promptly poured in an eagle putt to cap off a final-round 64, to win the CJ Cup by four, and to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.
“To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid,” Koepka said on the 18th green, moments after closing out his fifth PGA Tour victory and third this year. “I don't think this one's going to sink in.”
What is beginning to sink in is the fact that Koepka now unequivocally belongs in the conversation, the one golf fans and analysts have been having over and over since Tiger Woods fell from his perch.
Who’s the best at their best?
In the two years between his first PGA Tour win and his first U.S. Open victory, Koepka was touted as having the kind of talent to compete with the game's elites. It took him a little while for him to get here, but Koepka has taken over as the latest player to look like he’ll never lose again. Just as it was for Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas before him, this is Koepka's moment. This is his run of dominance.
It’s a run that will end at some point. Every one of the guys just mentioned did cool off eventually. Koepka will, too. Maybe it will be fatigue, maybe it will be injury, and maybe it’ll just be golf. This talent pool is simply too deep for anyone to remain on top for too long.
But what Koepka has done this year – in defending his U.S. Open title, in staring down Tiger at the PGA, in claiming the Player of the Year Award, in ascending to the top of the world rankings – is put his name at the forefront of the conversation. If he was unappreciated at times before, those days are gone forever. He's accomplished too much, proven himself too good, to be ever be overlooked again.
And he sounds like he’s far from done.
“For me, I just need to keep winning,” he said. “I feel like to win a few more regular Tour events and then keep adding majors. I feel like my game's set up for that. I've gotten so much confidence off winning those majors where it's incredible every time I tee it up I feel like I really have a good chance to win whether I have my A-game or not. It's something I'm so excited right now, you have no idea. I just can't wait to go play again.”
Watch: Koepka holes out from off the green at 16
Brooks Koepka faced a stiff challenge from Gary Woodland on Sunday in South Korea, but eventually it came time to end the suspense.
Having clung to a slim lead for much of the back nine, Koepka looked as though he was going to have to scramble just to save par when he missed the green at 16.
Instead, caddie Ricky Elliott was able to leave Koepka's putter in the bag.
That holeout combined with a bogey from Woodland at 17 put Koepka ahead by three, allowing him to walk to victory and to the top of the world rankings.
Koepka wins CJ Cup, ascends to world No. 1
Brooks Koepka eagled the 72nd hole Sunday to cap off a final-round 64, win the CJ Cup and supplant Dustin Johnson as the new No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here's how Koepka took over the golf world Sunday in South Korea.
Leaderboard: Koepka (-21), Gary Woodland (-17), Ryan Palmer (-15), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-15), Jason Day (-12), Scott Piercy (-12)
What it means: This is Koepka's fifth career PGA Tour victory but only his second in a non-major, following his maiden win back at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Up four to start the day, Koepka saw his lead evaporate as Woodland rocketed up the leaderboard and kept pace with him for much of the back nine. But every time Sunday's result appeared in doubt, Koepka reclaimed his lead in dramatic fashion. He nearly aced the par-3 13th to go ahead by two and later holed out for birdie at the par-4 16th to go up three with two to play. He finished par-eagle at 17 and 18 to shoot a back-nine 29 and close out his third victory in the last five months. With the win, Koepka ascends to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.
Round of the day: Ryan Palmer set a Nine Bridges course record when he birdied his final seven holes in a row en route to a bogey-free round of 10-under 62 and a solo third-place finish.
Best of the rest: Woodland played his first 16 holes in 9 under par to storm from five back and catch Koepka atop the leaderboard. But his furious Sunday charge finally came to an end when he failed to get up and down for par from the back bunker at 17. He carded his 11th birdie of the round at the 18th hole to sign for 63 and finish solo second.
Biggest disappointment: In retrospect, Woodland called it correctly on Saturday when he said: "You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can. You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number." Woodland put as much pressure on Koepka as he could. He went out and posted that number. Koepka never blinked.
Quote of the day: "To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid. I don't think this one is going to sink in." - Koepka
Watch: Koepka nearly aces par-3 13th Sunday
Just when it looked like he was facing a legitimate challenge Sunday, Brooks Koepka responded with a near-ace.
Up four to start the final round, Koepka saw his lead disappear as Gary Woodland raced up the leaderboard to tie him at 13 under and then 14 under.
Unfazed, the three-time major winner birdied the par-5 12th to regain his outright lead and then followed up with this tee shot at the 218-yard, par-3 13th.
And just like that, the tap-in birdie put Koepka back ahead by two with five to play.