The LPGA Tour touches down in the United States for the first time this week. The venue is Wildfire Golf Club at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa and the occasion is the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
The tournament was launched in 2011 to salute the 13 courageous women who founded the PGA Tour in 1950. The living Founders have traditionally been honored guests at this event. Three of the 13 are still alive; Marilynn Smith, Marlene Bauer Hagge and Shirley Spork.
Sei Young Kim comes to Phoenix as the defending champion. The 24-year old Kim is a five-time LPGA winner. Last year finished the 72 holes at 27-under par 282, putting her five shots clear of Lydia Ko. Kim’s effort tied an LPGA scoring record for lowest score relative to par that was originally set by Annika Sorenstam in 2001.
“(Tying the scoring record) means a lot,” Kim said. “After that experience I have a new goal: I really want to shoot 28under and break the record … I making new goal. “
The tournament is something of a salute to the LPGA’s history and provides younger players with the chance to get a sense of what the organization is all about.
“I wasn’t familiar with LPGA Founders until I played this tournament,” Kim said. “Yeah, at this tournament I learn about the Founders and what they done for woman golfers.
“I’m very thankful and very honored to them. After finish last year, after last putt I say ‘Thank you’ to them. We had a little bit conversation. Yeah, was a great experience.
“In Korea, I don’t know how much pioneers, but there is couple pioneers. Everybody knows Se Ri Pak.”
The field here is a strong one, it includes nine of the top 10 players in the world and 96 of the top 100, including Americans Lexi Thompson, Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, Gerina Piller, Brittany Lang, and Jessica Korda.
Lexi Thompson is the top-ranked American in the field at No. 7 in the world as the LPGA Tour plays on U.S. for the first time in 2017. Changes in Thompson’s game, specifically her putting, have attributed to a fast start for the 21-year-old who ranks 18th on Tour in putts per GIR (49th in 2016) and 57th in putting average (139th in 2016).
“I’m hitting it a lot more consistent and just trying to have a nice good tempo swing, 70%, 80% . Then I changed a lot in my putting. Moved a lot closer and got my eye more over the line, and it’s been helping me out a lot.” Thompson has top- 4 finishes in two of her first three start and is looking for her first win since the 2016 Honda LPGA Thailand.
Amateur Hannah O’ Sullivan is in the field on a sponsor’s exemption. O’Sullivan, who turns 19 in May, won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2015 and represented the United States in the Curtis Cup last year. She played in this tournament a year ago and finished tied for 33rd with help of a second-round 64.
While O’ Sullivan likely could have earned a tour card last fall she is committed to going to college. She’ll enroll at Duke in the fall.
“I’ve said all along that I wanted to go to college first,” she said. “Last year I did want to take some time to really consider all my options and see what was best for me.
“I was very fortunate to play in a couple LPGA events last year; played in some of the majors. I loved it. I know that’s what I want to do in the future. It’s my dream to be on the LPGA Tour.
“I also realize this is my one shot to have a wonderful college experience. I wasn’t willing to give that up. I know everyone is different. Some people works great for them to turn pro at 17, 18. They’re doing excellent out on tour.
“But I figured that the college experience is very important to me. I think the tour will always be there. I want to go to college first, have a great experience, get a great education, and really enjoy that part of my life.”