Women's PGA offers new vibe on historical foundation

By Randall MellJune 9, 2015, 6:20 pm

HARRISON, N.Y. – The size, weight and scale of the LPGA’s flagship event have been magnified tenfold.

At least that’s how it feels with the LPGA Championship fully transformed as the new KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

The LPGA is trying to preserve memories of the major its tour members created 60 years ago, attaching the LPGA Championship’s history, its trophy and its past champions and records to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, but everything feels so fresh and new this week at Westchester Country Club.

This doesn’t feel like the LPGA Championship is being rolled out under a new name as part of a new partnership. It doesn’t feel like a hybrid event or even a rebirth. It feels wondrously new with the muscle of the PGA of America helping the LPGA give birth to something original to the women’s game. It feels like the inaugural Women’s PGA Championship.

“It’s a spectacular move for women’s golf,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said.

The major assumes a new gravitas with the LPGA partnering with the PGA. The scope of the event is so much larger as it now reaches beyond golf. There is a women’s empowerment theme woven into the week. A powerhouse leadership summit designed to “inspire the next generation of women leaders” is scheduled at Westchester Country Club Wednesday to run in conjunction with the championship.

KPMG Women’s PGA: Articles, videos and photos

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the featured guest in a “fireside chat” at the conclusion of the summit.

“It’s going to be unlike any tournament we’ve ever had,” said Rolex world No. 3 Stacy Lewis. “I think this week is going to set the bar so much higher for our tournaments going forward.”

Playing in the shadow of New York City also adds a crackle and buzz to the week.

But while the LPGA Championship’s metamorphosis into the Women’s PGA excites pros competing this week, there is a bittersweet dynamic to it.

As much as the tour insists the LPGA Championship is woven into the fabric of the KPMG, this new beginning naturally feels like the end of something.

“I would have liked to have seen the LPGA name remain in the title, but there would have been a lot of P’s and G’s,” Hall of Famer Karrie Webb said.

Webb relishes how this major is being elevated, but she also reveres the commitment and sacrifice the tour’s founders made building women’s golf. She doesn’t want to see the LPGA Championship forgotten.

“I don’t really like to think of it as a new major, actually,” Webb said. “To me, it’s still the LPGA Championship. It’s the same trophy, and we’re carrying over the history. It’s a different name, and that’s great the PGA of America is involved. I think it will make it a bigger and better event than it has been the last few years, but I still think of it having our history.”

The LPGA Championship is the second longest running event in women’s professional golf, trailing only the U.S. Women’s Open. Tour pioneers built and named the major after themselves. Beverly Hanson beat Louise Suggs in the match-play final of the first LPGA Championship in 1955 at Orchard Ridge Country Club in Fort Wayne, Ind. The game’s greatest players put their names on its trophy. Mickey Wright won four times with Kathy Whitworth, Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan and Se Ri Pak each winning three times.

Webb is not alone in reminding fans that the Women’s PGA is built on something special.

“It’s still an LPGA tournament,” said Michelle Wie, the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion. “It’s our major. It’s just kind of bigger and better. It’s not a new tournament, but it definitely has a new vibe to it.”

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan made stabilizing and enhancing women’s major championships a priority last year. He did that in a big way partnering with the PGA. The LPGA Championship was sagging. Wegmans was in a year-to-year commitment with the LPGA as title sponsor of the flagship event. Locust Hill Country Club outside Rochester, N.Y., was a fabulous host to a regular tour event, but it didn’t have the grandeur you want in a major championship venue.

Westchester Country Club has that grandeur, and the PGA has promised future venues also will have that with the Women’s PGA rotating to classic venues much the way the PGA Championship does.

“The PGA says they’re going to take us to venues we’ve had trouble getting on in the past,” Webb said. “A major championship should be won on a quality golf course. Whoever wins this week will definitely feel like they won a major championship.”

The Women’s PGA brings other upgrades, including a new network TV deal with Golf Channel broadcasting Thursday and Friday and NBC on the weekend. The purse has jumped from $2.25 million a year ago to $3.5 million this year. It’s second only to the U.S. Women’s Open purse.

“We talked about building something that really elevated the best female golfers on the planet to really whole new heights, purse heights, television heights, venue heights,” Whan said.

Whan also got a partner in his aim to empower women and grow the women’s game.

“What will be special about this week, at this great historic venue, is that it’s going to be a celebration of women on the golf course and off the golf course,” PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua said.

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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – Five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson has died, his family said Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members on Wednesday morning.

Born on Aug, 23, 1929, Thomson was two months short of his 89th birthday.

The first Australian to win The Open Championship, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by Tom Watson.

On the American senior circuit he won nine times in 1985.

Thomson also served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years, designing and building courses in Australia and around the world, helping establish the Asian Tour and working behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

He also wrote for newspapers and magazines for more than 60 years and was patron of the Australian Golf Writers Association.

In 1979 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were to be announced over the next few days.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.

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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.