Welcome to the LPGA’s spring training
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Major League Baseball players have the Cactus League to prepare for the regular season. LPGA players have the Cactus Tour.
With only three LPGA events being played thus far this year, the pros have had to find other places to compete before the year’s first major, this week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship.
The Cactus Tour is an Arizona-based mini-tour. Players put up about $600 per event with the hopes of earning a first-place check of $2,200. It’s not a place to get rich. Just to get practice. It’s usually a last resort for players who’ve failed to gain status on the LPGA or Futures Tour.
The Cactus Tour isn’t the only mini-tour that’s getting its fair share of LPGA players. Of the first six events on the Florida-based SunCoast Ladies Series, five have been won by players in the Kraft.
“If you can get in those competitive situations, it’s a lot better than sitting on the range hitting balls,” said four-time LPGA winner Wendy Ward. “It’s really hard to duplicate (competition).
Ward played one Cactus event, at Papago Golf Club two weeks ago, and finished second to Stephanie Louden. Louden is married to Ward’s caddie, Mike Louden. He didn’t caddie for Ward in the Cactus event.
“He had to do daddy day care,” Ward said. “It’s good, we kept it in the family.
“I was more fired up about the Cactus event than I probably was about the first two LPGA events over in Thailand and Singapore, just because I felt like, ‘I should probably play pretty well in these.’ You’re the player to beat.”
Alena Sharp finished third in that event, followed by Paige Mackenzie. Both are in the Kraft field. Mackenzie didn’t get into the LPGA’s first two events in Asia, so she used the Cactus events to test new equipment.
Mackenzie has changed from Nike to Scratch Golf. She was introduced to Scratch by fellow Washington native Ryan Moore, who’s part-owner of the Chattanooga-based club company. She also switched balls, from the Nike One Tour ball to the Callaway Tour i(s).
In four Cactus events, Mackenzie has finished first, T-2 and fourth twice. Mackenzie made her first LPGA start of the season at last week’s Kia Classic (she missed the cut). It was the tour’s first domestic event, and first full-field tournament.
Stacy Lewis has played in all three LPGA events, as well as the Women’s Australian Open and ANZ Ladies Masters. She has one top-25 on the LPGA this year, but was in the top 10 in both Down Under events.
Lewis also earned $2,200 for winning a SunCoast Ladies Series at West Orange Country Club in Winter Garden, Fla.
“It just doesn’t feel like it’s almost April,” said Lewis. “We just saw some people for the first time last week.”