CLIFTON, N.J. — The Cognizant Founders Cup always honors the LPGA's 13 founders, but this year, one in particular will be on everyone's mind: Shirley Spork.
Spork passed away on April 12 at the age of 94, leaving Marlene Hagge as the only surviving LPGA founder. Two weeks before her passing, Spork found out she would be inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame.
"It was very important (Shirley knew that she got into the Hall of Fame). Shirley was very special to all of us and we're missing her this week," Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez told Golf Today Wednesday at Upper Montclair Country Club.
"Shirley stood for all that golf embodies," Lopez added. "Great spirit of going out there and being a good sport. Playing the game, enjoying it, loving golf the way that she did. Loved teaching (golf) — that she did in her later years. But just the person that she was. Classy, quality that represented the LPGA Tour and this game the way it should be represented. And for all those little kids out there, they need to learn more about Shirley Spork and really see what a special lady she was. And as my husband tells a lot of people, Google her."
Even in Spork's later years, she made her mark on the LPGA's young stars.
Last year, when Jin Young Ko won the Founders Cup at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, New Jersey, Spork presented the trophy to Ko, a moment the current world No. 1 will cherish forever.
"At the champion's ceremony, last round last year, [Spork] said, 'You have great swing, and you are so beautiful,'" Ko said. "That's a memory that I had from her.
"I'm so sorry to hear she passed away, but she did a lot of things for this tour, so I really want to say I appreciate all the founders."
Even though this week’s winner won't be accompanied by Spork in the winner's circle, her presence will still be felt at Upper Montclair Country Club throughout the tournament.
"Last year was the last time I was able to see her before she passed away," world No. 6 Nasa Hataoka said. “This week, as I'm playing, she's going to be on my mind, and I'm really excited for that."