February 12, 2016 – PHOENIX, AZ
by Candace Oehler
The 6th annual LPGA JTBC Founders Cup (March 15-20, 2016) Media Day was really entertaining, especially for the junior golfers who got to take the morning off school to hang with their idols and, in some cases, even hit balls and putt with them.
The day got off to a high-flying start when, in the middle of LPGA Communications Director Kraig Kann’s welcome, two helicopters circled overhead and (watch) subsequently landed on the range area at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Wildfire Golf Club. Making a grand exit from one were LPGA pros Sadena Parks, Cheyenne Woods, and Lizette Salas from one; with celebrity guests Russ Ortiz (retired MLB pitcher) and Nick Lowery (retired NLF kicker) exiting the other. Waiting for them on the ground were Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee and Morning Drive reporter Bailey Mosier.
It was an appropriately big moment, symbolic of the enormous growth of the LPGA.
Kann briefly detailed the impressive by-the-numbers success the LPGA has achieved from 2011-2016.
- Number of tournaments: 2011 – 25 events | 2016 – 34 events
- Total purse: 2011 – $42 million | 2016 – $65 million
- Event purses of $2 million or more: 2011 – 8 | 2016 – 15
- Televised hours: 2011 – 211 | 2016 – 410+
- Network television weekend coverage: 2011 – 2 days | 2016 – 6 days
- Players from more than 30 countries are represented on the Tour, and tournaments are hosted in 15 different countries. It’s no wonder that the LPGA is now seen in 170 countries
The morning activities included a driving and putting competition between the pros, with Sadena edging Lizette and no winner declared on the putting green. There was also an impressive Cheyenne Woods field goal with Nick Lowery holding. And as the Tour continues to shatter records, the ladies were there to shatter glass, ala Golf Channel’s Big Break style. Sadena, the UW grad with Big Break experience behind her, failed in her attempts. Meanwhile, however, both members of Team Pink (Lizette and partner Russ Ortiz) were successful, as was Bailey, a junior golfer partnered with Cheyenne Woods.
NOTES & QUOTES
The UW graduate and former Big Break Florida competitor is the first African American to earn her Tour card through the Symetra Tour and just the fifth African American to play on the LPGA Tour. The Spanaway native was also the first African American golfer at the UW, where she had three top-10 finishes and twice shot career-low rounds of 66. Her 2015 season was unlike that of any other rookie, with her appearance in ESPN’s Body issue.
Known for her competitiveness, she told the juniors to just enjoy the game and have fun. “Stay present, enjoy it and work hard.”
She also did her best to teach them some of (watch) her wacky signature warmup moves.
Cheyenne Woods, who returned to Q school in 2015 to improve her status:
“Q School is one of the most stressful weeks you’ll ever go through. Going back this year wasn’t my ideal situation, but I wanted to make the most of it and play well. And fortunately going into the last day I had the chance to earn my card back. I had to buckle down the last 9-12 holes and get it done. Fortunately I did and I’m looking forward to the year.”
Woods won the 2014 Volvik RACV Ladies Masters on the European Tour, is a two-time Arizona high school state champion, two-time All-American at Wake Forest, and 2011 ACC Individual Champion. She became the 6th African American golfer on the LPGA (following Sadena Parks) and acknowledged the steep learning curve on Tour.
“It’s like you’re always learning, no matter how long you’re out here. Every year’s different. Every year is an evolution of my game and getting comfortable with my situation and learning how to win and how to play well.”
Lizette Salas, Girls Golf Ambassador, 1-time winner, and 2-time Solheim Cup member
“Being a Girls Golf Ambassador gives you a sense of joy that you’re going something right out here. It definitely gives LPGA tour players a perspective on the next generation. They look up to us and it really gives our job a different meaning.”
On the 2015 Solheim Cup, where her singles victory over Azahara Muñoz was a key in the astonishing US comeback: “It was definitely the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of. And to get my first full point when it was desperately needed, and in front of the entire world watching, looking back at the footage the shots I pulled out, it’s just amazing that 12 girls with different stories, all had the same goal and had the biggest comeback in history. I’m ready for my trip to the White House!”
Nick Lowery (Nick Lowery Youth Foundation @ nicklowery.org)
The former kicker’s advise to the girls was simple.
“You have to manage your stake; be aware that you are in charge of your little office. It’s the same thing for me, 3 yards by 4 yard as a kicker between you and the ball, it’s slightly smaller for you all over the ball. In the end you take care of that and don’t worry about anything else.”
About the Tournament
The 6th annual JTBC Founders Cup will be played March 15-20, 2016 at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Wildfire Golf Club. The event has a $1.5 million purse up for grabs. The JTBC Founders Cup was created to honor the 13 women who started the LPGA in 1950. Today the Founders Cup has a strong charitable component that speaks to its roots, helping the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program to the tune of over $3 million raised. The money helps bring the program to new markets and expand the scope in existing markets.
More information available at: lpgafounderscup.com