Risky Founders Cup pays dividends for Whan, LPGA

By Randall MellMarch 14, 2016, 2:24 pm

The difference between a crazy idea and a brilliant one can be as narrow as a tight rope.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan knows this because he walked one creating the Founders Cup.

Five years ago, he teetered with his fate daring to take a radical idea to his membership, but today the Founders Cup is paying dividends even the commissioner couldn’t have seen coming. This unique event looks now like a catalyst that just might secure the future of his tour.

Back in 2011, Whan created the Founders Cup to honor pioneers of the women’s game and asked his pros to play the inaugural event for free. He asked them to donate the entire purse to LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf and other charities. He proposed this as a way to simultaneously pay back and pay forward, to honor the sacrifice tour founders made and also invest in the future of women’s golf.

Whan was bold enough to ask this just 18 months after a player mutiny got his predecessor fired.

Given the bare-boned nature of the women’s tour at the time he proposed the Founders Cup – with full-field, check-cashing opportunities troublingly scarce – Whan’s idea seemed oddly timed. He made some of his membership wonder if he ought to trade in his suit for a strait jacket.

“It was a big risk at the time,” said Jon Podany, Whan’s chief marketing officer and right hand man. “A new commissioner could have been laughed out of the building, coming in and asking players to play for no purse. At that time in our history, it was a pretty bold move.

“But Mike’s a visionary, an idea guy, an innovator. He has a lot of passion for getting behind new ideas, for trying to be different. I think those are among his strongest qualities. He’s willing to take risks, and he isn’t afraid to fail. He will make the bold move, and I think the organization is energized by that.”

Today, the Founders Cup shines as a beacon that illuminates the unique pathway Whan is using to revitalize the women’s tour, a creative route that has captured more than the attention of PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. It also has gained Finchem’s admiration. And that’s a potential game changer for the future of women’s golf.

The LPGA heads back to Phoenix this week for the sixth rendition of the Founders Cup, a concept that deserves revisiting in the wake of news that the PGA Tour has struck a strategic alliance with the LPGA. The risk Whan took creating the Founders Cup is proving to be a catalyst to this formal new alliance with the men.

Finchem alluded to that a week ago at Trump Doral when he pointed out that the growth of girls’ golf is a factor in the alliance.

“The women’s game on the amateur side is perhaps the fastest-growing aspect of our sport, here domestically and certainly around the world and Asia, et cetera,” Finchem said. “The growth of women in the game is crucial, absolutely crucial, to our ability to grow the game.”

After the inaugural Founders Cup in 2011, title sponsors were so enamored with the women’s altruistic efforts, they began funding a real purse in addition to donations to LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf. The program has exploded since linking with the Founders Cup, growing from 5,000 participants in 2010 to 50,000 this year. Tournament proceeds have totaled more than $1 million for Girls’ Golf.

There’s another element of the Founders Cup that indirectly plays into the PGA Tour’s new partnership with the LPGA. The Korean TV network JTBC is title sponsor to the Phoenix event.

Last week, Finchem said he wanted to “applaud the LPGA” for its “very smart” decision to pursue global markets where women’s golf was more popular than men’s golf. He also said the PGA Tour wanted to collaborate with the LPGA in further “tapping into the global marketplace.”

Finchem has noticed how the LPGA has brought its international business success home, not only with JTBC, but with Japan’s All Nippon Airways becoming title sponsor of the LPGA’s first major championship of the year in Rancho Mirage, Calif., with Korean-based Kia continuing to sponsor an event in suburban San Diego and with Japan-based Lotte sponsoring the LPGA event in Hawaii. Plus, there is Taiwan’s Swinging Skirts Golf Foundation, which will be putting on its event in San Francisco for the third year, and Japan-based Yokohama Tires, which will be sponsoring the tour’s Alabama event for a third year.

A $1 million check is presented to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf in 2014 (Getty)

Whan believes a philosophy he adopted from the LPGA founders underlies his reconstruction of the women’s tour. It’s no coincidence the LPGA has grown from 23 events that inaugural year of the Founders Cup to 34 this year.

“If you walk through the LPGA offices today, in almost every hallway, you’ll see a sign that says, ‘Act like a founder,’” Whan said. “It’s amazing what the women who founded the tour left us. The Founders Cup was a chance for us to showcase the philosophies of these women, not just to the public but to ourselves.

“I really believe when I got here, the LPGA did not do a great job of remembering the philosophies that got us here. It doesn’t mean they weren’t still in us, because they were. We just weren’t stepping back to appreciate it. Now, at least once a year, we have an opportunity to come together and remember that, and to do what the founders did, which is to leave the next generation in better shape.”

Whan doesn’t take credit for the “Act Like a Founders” slogan, but he gets credit for making the servanthood theme central to the new LPGA culture. He also gets credit for risking his future on the radical Founders Cup idea.

“There wasn’t unanimous support for the original idea,” Podany said of some player pushback. “There were some issues, but we were able to get through them. I think the overall success and messaging of that first event was better than we could ever have expected.”

In that first year, a couple LPGA stars pushed back.

Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr both said they supported the Founders Cup concept, but they didn’t like that Whan was proposing a $1.3 million mock purse when only $500,000 was going to be given to Girls’ Golf. If they were going to donate all their mock winnings, then they wanted an actual $1.3 million to go to charitable causes, including some of their own favorite charities.

“A couple months before that first tournament, I would have told you I thought I did a pretty good job of listening to players,” Whan said. “This made me realize that maybe the size of my ears weren’t what I thought. These players didn’t have a problem playing for no purse, or paying forward. Their message was that if we were going to do this, we should make sure we are paying a lot more forward. The players reaching out to question me, that pushed me forward.

“The other concern back then was that this was our first domestic event of that year. A couple veterans told me they liked the Founders Cup idea, but for some young players who had fought to finally make it to the LPGA, it was pretty tough to ask them to play their first event for a mock purse. All these things resonated. It forced me and my team to think bigger.”

Whan’s team turned the Founders Cup into an event with a purse and giant charity component. 

“To be honest, the original idea was designed to get players, media and fans to take notice,” Whan said. “We didn’t want to launch the Founders Cup as just another tournament. We wanted something philosophically that would make people go, ‘Wow, I’m not sure other sports would do that.’ I’m not sure other sports had founders like our 13. They didn’t make a lot of money and never really got rich, but they were proud of what they were building. We needed to make a similar statement, to really celebrate that.”

Whan jokes that he may get some big hits with his big swings, but they also often come with big misses. Still, he pushes his staff to think big, to take risks.

“Almost every big choice we’ve made has come with mistakes, some really noticeable, some not so much,” Whan said. “I think if you keep getting three out of five things right and you go back and fix the other two things, you tend to be OK. If you’re going to wait until you can go 5 for 5, you may never end up launching anything.”

Whan might have missed taking his first couple swings with the Founders Cup idea, but he ultimately hit a home run with it for women’s golf.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.