Senior LPGA Championship gives 45-plus crowd a major shot
FRENCH LICK, Ind. – This fact might surprise you: One of America’s professional tours still has a major championship remaining in 2019.
The Legends Tour season finale is the third annual Senior LPGA Championship, which begins today on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort here in southern Indiana, on the edge of the Hoosier National Forest (tee times). The event tends to get lost on the golf calendar, and not just because it’s so late in the season. The Monday-through-Wednesday scheduling isn’t the norm, either, but it has enabled the circuit for women 45 and older to gain live TV coverage on Golf Channel.
LPGA stars of the past had trouble finding tournaments until Jane Blalock created the Legends Tour in 2000. It grew slowly, but in the past few years these senior women received some long-overdue signs of respect.
The Legends Championship became their premier event when French Lick’s hierarchy created it – along with a Legends Hall of Fame – in 2014. That championship is no longer held, having been replaced with a bigger and better version when the LPGA finally got involved directly with its senior circuit.
England’s Trish Johnson became the first champion of a senior women’s major when she won the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course in 2017.
The U.S. Golf Association, after three years of deliberation following an initial announcement, staged its first major tournament for senior women last year – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill. England’s Laura Davies, the 2018 Senior LPGA champion, won that inaugural Senior Women’s Open by a whopping 10-stroke margin to conclude an emotional week that was more important for the creation of the event than it was for who won.
Since then, things have been quiet on the senior women’s front. The most notable development was Blalock’s departure as executive director of the Legends Tour and the hiring of Jane Geddes as the circuit’s chief executive officer. This could be significant down the road, but Geddes has been on the job only three months and hasn’t put her plans into effect yet. In fact, she hasn’t announced any of them but says she has some significant things in the works for 2020 and beyond.
The big difference is that Blalock was both the head of the Legends Tour as well as its tournament promoter.
“Janie wore two hats,’’ said Geddes, who was asked by LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to take the job. “There was no governing body. I am the governing body, with no conflicts.’’
Blalock still might create tournaments for the Legends, but Geddes takes a broader approach for the circuit.
“I look on it as the Legends experience more than the Legends Tour,’’ she said. “We’ll have camps, travel trips. We don’t play [tournaments] week in and week out, but we can have pro-ams or challenge events, excursions or clinics. We’re a great group of women who bring great value. It’s fun to watch us play, and we have the ability to interact. That’s what my era does best.’’
Like Blalock, Geddes was a top LPGA player who has competed in the Senior LPGA Championship and U.S. Senior Women’s Open. She took a different path after her full-time playing career wound down. Geddes spent time working for the LPGA, then – armed with a law degree – she left to become chief of staff in professional wrestling.
“It was very fun,’’ she said. “The wrestlers are sports actors. I was there four years, and it was a 24-hour job. I wanted to get back into golf.’’
So now she’s back, and how she transforms the Legends Tour next year will largely determine the circuit’s future.
For now, though, the show is all about the estimable Davies and her supporting cast in the third Senior LPGA. The purse will be $650,000, with the champion receiving $100,000.
In May, the second U.S. Senior Women’s Open drew a big crowd to Pine Needles in Southern Pines, N.C., where Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson won.
Over the weekend, Hollis Stacy was inducted into the Legends Hall of Fame. The Senior LPGA Championship field will undergo only minor changes from a year ago. England’s Karen Stupples and American Laura Baugh will compete for the first time, with Stupples forgoing Golf Channel’s broadcast booth to compete.
Dave Harner, director of golf at French Lick, added two special exemptions, for Lori Atsedes and Clarissa Childs, after scrapping the onsite qualifying round. The starting field will be 78 players compared with last year’s field of 80.