Mike Whan’s mantra to players – leave the tour better than you found it – will come to life on a large scale at this year’s RR Donnelley Founders Cup. Not surprisingly, Whan was peppered with questions surrounding the charity-driven event, at which players will compete for a “mock purse,” during his Jan. 6 “state of the tour” address.
The Founders Cup gives the tour 25 events for 2011, one more than last year. Thirteen of those events are domestic, including three majors. The season kicks off Feb. 17 at Honda LPGA Thailand and will end in November with the Titleholders at Grand Cypress in Orlando, Fla. Players should be pleased with this move as they did not like dragging the season into December.
Whan first floated the charity idea by players at a meeting last June and received a standing ovation. He told them to remember why they’re standing when it came time to pack their bags in 2011. Whan FedExed a letter last night to the four living founders telling them his vision was now a reality. Marilynn Smith called Whan to leave a message and broke down sobbing in the voicemail.
“I sent that voicemail to every member of the LPGA and said if you’re wondering if we’re doing the right thing, listen to somebody 60 years ago who made it better,” Whan said.
The event will benefit the LPGA Foundation that runs the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program. Whan hopes to double the foundation’s resources in the first year.
Several players told Golfweek they’re on board with the concept. Brittany Lincicome said she’d do whatever she could to help the tour. Nicole Hage, who finished 136th on the money list last year with $15,840, tweeted that it would be nice to get paid, but “giving back is even better.”
Not everyone who finished near the top of the money list in 2010 shares that enthusiasm, though they’re unwilling to share those views publicly, for obvious reasons. No one wants to look stingy.
Natalie Gulbis was particularly pleased to hear that players can earn Solheim Cup points, along with all the other stats that go toward year-end awards. Players will receive financial help for travel expenses and caddie fees. The three-day event will be held March 18-20 at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge and feature a field of 132 players.
The move fills a key market for the LPGA, which attracted record crowds at nearby Superstition Mountain when Safeway was sponsor of the former event. Whan acknowledged that the event might not stay in Phoenix, however, as RR Donnelley has expressed an interest to move closer to their employees.
“Youll see a tournament or two in Arizona in 2012, but it probably wouldn’t be Founders,” Whan said.
After spending three consecutive weeks in the Southwest (one in Arizona and two in California), the tour takes a two-week break in April before heading to Mexico for the Tres Marias Championship on April 21-24. Whan confirmed that the Morelia event continues to be a question mark, however, due to heightened drug violence in the area.
Players will want to peak in the six-week summer stretch that features three majors. A new event in China is on the back end of the Evian/British Open swing, and the field could suffer after such a tough stretch of majors.
After the Navistar LPGA Classic on Sept. 15-18, the tour leaves the continental U.S. and doesn’t return until the Titleholders in November. That international run starts with the Solheim Cup in Ireland on Sept. 23-25 and moves to South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan and Mexico. There’s a week between Taiwan and the Mizuno Classic, bad news for the field in Japan.
The Titleholders, to be held Nov. 17-20, replaces the bloated 120-player Tour Championship. The 75-player Titleholders will consist of the top three players from each qualifying event. If a high finisher already has qualified, the tour would skip down to the next top finishes to get three from each week. The $1.5 million purse will boast the tour’s richest first-place prize: $500,000. Caddies will wear bibs featuring the LPGA logos from the tournament from which the players qualified.
The HSBC Brazil Cup, an unofficial event, is sandwiched between two tournaments in New Jersey. Missing from the 2011 schedule is the Mojo6, which debuted last year as a 16-player exhibition.
“We’re pleased that ‘golf’s global tour’ was able to withstand the economic downturn by securing 23 of its existing 24 events from 2010, a reflection of our renewed commitment to our partners,” Whan said.
The 2011 LPGA schedule:
Feb. 17-20: Honda LPGA Thailand, Siam Country Club (Pattaya Old Course), Chonburi, Thailand
Feb. 24-27: HSBC Women’s Champions, Tanah Merah Country Club (Garden Course), , Singapore
March 18-20: RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, Phoenix
March 24-27: Kia Classic, Pacific Palms Resort, City of Industry, California
March 31-April 3: Kraft Nabisco Championship, Mission Hills Country Club (Dinah Shore Tournament Course), Rancho Mirage, Calif.
April 21-24: Tres Marias Championship, Tres Marias Golf Club, Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico
April 28-May 1: Avnet LPGA Classic, RTJ Golf Trail (Magnolia Grove, The Crossings), Mobile, Ala.
May 19-22: Sybase Match Play Championship, Hamilton Farm Golf Club, Gladstone, N.J.
May 28-29: HSBC Brazil Cup, Itanhanga Golf Club, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
June 3-5: ShopRite LPGA Classic, A Dolce Resort (Bay Course), Galloway, N.J.
June 9-12: LPGA State Farm Classic, Panther Creek Country Club, Springfield, Ill.
June 23-26: Wegmans LPGA Championship, Locust Hill Country Club, Pittsford, N.Y.
July 7-10: U.S. Women’s Open, The Broadmoor (East Course), Colorado Springs, Colo.
July 21-24: Evian Masters, Evian Masters Golf Club, Evian-les-Bains, France
July 28-31: Ricoh Women’s British Open, Carnoustie Golf Links, Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland
Aug. 4-7: Imperial Springs LPGA, Imperial Springs Golf Club, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China
Aug. 19-21: Safeway Classic, Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club/Ghost Creek Golf Course, North Plains, Oregon
Aug. 25-28: CN Canadian Women’s Open, Hillsdale Golf and Country Club, Mirabel, Quebec, Canada
Sept. 9-11: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, Pinnacle Country Club, Rogers, Ark.
Sept. 15-18: Navistar LPGA Classic, Alabama RTJ Golf Trail (Capitol Hill, The Senator), Prattville, Ala.
Sept. 23-25: The Solheim Cup, Killeen Castle, Dunsany, Ireland
Oct. 6-9: LPGA Hana Bank Championship, SKY 72 Golf Club (Ocean Course), Incheon, South Korea
Oct. 14-16: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Oct. 20-23: LPGA Taiwan Championship, Sunrise Golf & Country Club, Yang Mei, Taoyuan, Taiwan
Nov. 4-6: Mizuno Classic, Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club, Shima-shi, Mie, Japan
Nov. 10-13: Lorena Ochoa Invitational, Guadalajara Country Club, Guadalajara, Mexico
Nov. 17-20: Titleholders, Grand Cypress GC, Orlando, Fla.
Dec. 9: Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge, Rio Secco Golf Club, Henderson, Nev.