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LPGA offers charitable donations to top five Founders Cup finishers

LPGA Tour _newThe LPGA came out strong Friday in support of the new RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup.

The tour announced today that it will donate $200,000 to the charities of choice for the top-five finishers at the inaugural event to be held March 18-20 in Phoenix.

According to tour officials, before teeing it up each player will be asked to designate a charity she’ll be playing for at Wildfire Golf Club at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort. The tournament will donate $100,000 to the charity of choice of the winner, $50,000 to the runner-up’s choice, $25,000 to the third-place finisher’s choice, $15,000 to fourth-place’s choice and $10,000 to fifth-place’s.
The tournament aims to honor the LPGA’s pioneering founders and will feature a $1.3 million “mock purse” with tour pros getting credit for official earnings on the money list without actually pocketing money. The $1.3 million purse is all imaginary money, uniquely devised by the tour to put the focus on donating back. Tour officials told last week that they were aiming to raise $500,000 for the LPGA Foundation to support the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf Program. The $200,000 donation to player charities is in addition to that LPGA Foundation goal.

Today’s announcements follow news earlier this week that Suzann Pettersen won’t play because of concerns about how the event’s being structured, that Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr are uncertain they’ll play because of similar frustrations with tournament planning, and that Morgan Pressel shares the same reservations. Each of the players expressed support of the event’s cause and charitable ambition but concern over how quickly the Founders Cup final plans were pushed through.

In Friday’s LPGA news release, the tour announced that Rolex Player of the Year Yani Tseng, Natalie Gulbis, Christina Kim, Brittany Lincicome, Angela Stanford and Kristy McPherson are among early commitments to the 132-player field.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said Friday that RR Donnelley is putting up the same amount that other tournament title sponsors put into an LPGA event. Typically, according to tour officials, title sponsors put up as much as $2 million to fund a tour event.

“The great thing here is that RR Donnelley is paying full title sponsor money, including television costs, just like any other title sponsor would,” Whan said. “In this case, we’re able to use some of that money toward the operational costs of running the event and the rest to make a significant contribution to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf.”

Hall of Famer Louise Suggs, an LPGA founder, was quoted in the LPGA release strongly supporting the event. She’s scheduled to join fellow founders Marilynn Smith and Shirley Spork in special activities at the Founders Cup.

“Players have heard me say many times, you only have one goal if you’re a part of the LPGA, that’s to leave the game better than you found it,” Whan said when first announcing the Founders Cup. “With this new tournament, it’s not only a chance to celebrate the women who put this tour on the map, it also gives us a huge chance to pay it forward.”

Nancy Lopez, Betsy King, Pat Bradley and Patty Sheehan are scheduled to play in the Founders Cup pro-am and an 18-hole exhibition match on Friday morning.

“I truly feel like sometimes athletes in general can sometimes forget where we all come from,' Kim said in the LPGA release. “A decade ago, I wasn't playing for money, just a trophy and love of the game. The founders of the LPGA didn't have the endorsement opportunities that we have today. I am so proud of Mike Whan's vision, for remembering it's not just about the future of the game, but also about remembering and honoring the past.”

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell