Next month’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was officially introduced on Monday at Westchester Country Club, the site of the inaugural event. Well, sort of. As organizers and executives from all parties, KPMG, the LPGA, and PGA of America, pointed out, this tournament is not replacing the former 60-year-old LPGA Championship in the major line-up, but instead, the new partnership is elevating it.
The event has been bestowed a new identity — a plan that came together over a phone conversation between LPGA commissioner Mike Whan and PGA chief executive officer Pete Bevacqua. The following day, the two, along with their teams, met midway between their headquarters in Vero Beach, Florida, to discuss the possibility of forming a partnership to revamp a major — so that it would resemble the template of the men’s PGA Championship.
“We talked about that we were dealing with something that was both fragile and exciting at the same time,” said Whan in the press conference on media day. “Fragile in the fact that let’s not forget that this is an over 60year major history and there’s women’s names on that trophy we don’t want to forget and there’s an elevation that a major has always brought to the women’s game so we want to respect that history. Exciting because we could really build something that had not been built before.”
The parties quickly decided to bring the idea to KPMG, which sponsors world no. three Stacy Lewis, into the fold. Next, they took it to NBC-owned Golf Channel to get a major network involved. Finally, what appears to be the beginning of a beautiful partnership was formed and will materialize the second week of June.
“This was just easy, because everybody was likeminded,” said Bevacqua. “It was an easy conversation with Mike. It was an easy conversation with Molly Solomon and her team at NBC and the Golf Channel, and really I think what we are most appreciative of, it was an easy conversation with John Veihmeyer and KPMG, because everybody realized that we had to celebrate the women’s game. We had to bring attention to the women’s game.
“What I think what will be special about this week at this great historic venue, it’s going to be a celebration of women on the golf course and off the golf course, and I know I speak for The PGA of America where we are just ecstatic to play our role and to do our part for the game.”
So, with the new-old tournament, it means that Inbee Park is still the defending champion — she’s won this major two years in a row. She agrees with the executives that the women’s game couldn’t be in a better place at the moment.
“I think it is really in the greatest level right now and, I think it’s really exciting,” said Park, a five-time major champion and current world no. 2. “Every week the competition is great and the variety of the players are great. I think it’s fun to watch and obviously we are a lot more friendly maybe (laughter).
“I think we are somewhat similar — all the amateurs, when I play the Pro-Am, they say you are somewhat closer to us. When they experience men’s golf, they play in the men’s Pro-Am, they just say that they drive it a hundred yards by us. We play from the same tee and our drives are similar. I think we can create a lot more fun to the amateurs and talk about a lot more things together and we can relate a lot more.”
Unlike the former Wegmans LPGA Championship, which was held in Rochester every year, the Women’s PGA will rotate among venues, like the men’s version. All parties agreed that the event deserves to be hosted by an esteemed course — again, similar to what the men enjoy. For the kick-off, Westchester Country Club, which is less than an hour from Manhattan, fits the bill. (Yes! Home game!)
“Well, KPMG kind of asked me what we needed and I said we needed a big venue, a big purse and network TV,” said Lewis. “Those are kind of the three big things that I thought if we could get to all of our majors, really, eventually, that would really put us on the map. The big thing with this tournament I was most excited about was the venue.
“Starting here at Westchester but then going to courses that we traditionally haven’t played on as opposed to PGA Championships or Ryder Cups or whatever, going to golf courses that are too short for the guys now will be perfect for us.”
What are some courses that the ladies would like to see the event held? Well, places where the men’s majors are played.
“I always watched men play on Pebble Beach and I would love to play over there,” said Park.
Added Lewis: “Pebble is definitely on the list, for sure. Merion, I think would be a good one, Baltusrol. Just go over the list of the last men’s majors and you could probably pick a few.”
Expect the watch the ladies take on a challenging, old-school course that will certainly test all facets of the game and exude an atmosphere fit for a championship of this caliber.
“A lot of it depends how long they get the rough,” said Lewis, referring to the setup. “I think that’s going to be the big factor. But it definitely looks to me like a shotmaker’s golf course. You’re going to have to hit shots to keep it in the fairways, hit into certain spots on greens. “
I chatted with Lewis using Periscope about the event. (Yes, the LPGA is working on getting approval for media to use the live-streaming app during practice round days, which I was told almost immediately after I arrived at dark-o’clock this morning.)