Mobile Bay LPGA Classic
RTJ Trail, Magnolia Grove, The Crossings
Pre-tournament Notes and Interviews
May 14, 2013
Dr. David G. Bronner, CEO of Retirement Systems of Alabama
Connie Hudson, Mobile County Commissioner
Bill Gillespie Jr., City of Prattville Mayor
Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner
Stacy Lewis, Rolex Rankings No. 2
Lexi Thompson, Rolex Rankings No. 25
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail will serve as the backdrop for this week’s Mobile Bay LPGA Classic, where 144 pros will tee off on The Crossings Course at Magnolia Grove. With the total purse at $1.2 million, the winner will take away the $180,000 first-place check and etch their name next to four past champions that include Angela Stanford (2008), Se Ri Pak (2010), Maria Hjorth (2011) and Stacy Lewis (2012).
Lewis’ victory in Mobile last year was the first of four in 2012, which kick started her campaign for Rolex Player of the Year honors. She became the first winner of the 2012 season to capture a title with all four rounds in the 60s, ending the week at 17-under par and fighting off a Sunday charge from teenage standout Lexi Thompson. The Woodlands, Texas native went on to win the ShopRite LPGA Classic, the Navistar LPGA Classic and the Mizuno Classic and notched a total of 12 additional top-10 finishes. She has carried on that success this year as she leads the Tour in top-10s with seven and claimed back-to-back victories at the HSBC Women’s Champions and RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup.
Rolex Rankings No. 19 Angela Stanford enters the week after tallying her second top-5 finish of the season at the Kingsmill Championship. The inaugural winner of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic is in her 13th season as an LPGA Tour professional and is seeking to capture her sixth career victory.
Twice as nice: A group of LPGA notables and Alabama dignitaries gathered at Magnolia Grove on Tuesday to announce a promising future for the Tour in the state of Alabama. Dr. David G. Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, did the honors by announcing that the LPGA will return to Prattville in 2014 for the newly-named Alabama LPGA Classic and the renewal of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic through next year.
LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan, Rolex Rankings No. 2 Stacy Lewis, No. 25 Lexi Thompson, Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie Jr. and Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson joined Bronner on stage for the announcement.
“Clearly the most important thing is to get recognition around the world and the LPGA does that,” said Bronner. “The LPGA is what I consider the Tour event that really unites people across the world. There is no other one that really operates in Europe, Asia, and the United States. No other Tour does that.
“So we're especially proud to be able to announce today that the Tour will be returning to Alabama in 2014, both in Mobile and in Prattville, Alabama,” Bronner added. “We really feel that that gives people like Alexis and people like Stacy a chance to win two in one state and that gives them pride to carry for us around the world. So we really appreciate them coming back and we look forward to them.”
Lewis, who won the ‘Alabama Slam’ last season and notched two wins in the state, made her allegiance to the Trail clear and said that her win in Mobile was the exact stepping stone she needed to jump start her breakout year.
“I am more than excited to be back in Prattville and Mobile because obviously I've had a lot of success, so definitely I'm excited to be back and these golf courses are tremendous,” said Lewis. “These are the best courses we play all year, so I am really excited to be back. And going back to last year, this tournament really kind of helped springboard me into the year that I had and continue to have so it's unbelievable.”
Tee Time: After clinching her first-career win in the state of Alabama in 2011, Lexi Thompson (@Lexi) has always held it a place close to her heart. One of the most fan-friendly players on Tour, Thompson is always one to recognize an opportunity to give back. For the second-straight year and with help of one of her sponsors, Thompson hosted Red Bull Tee Time with Lexi on Monday afternoon. The event invites high school and college golfers to come out to the course receive free instruction, have the opportunity to try out new Cobra equipment and take part in a Q&A with the 18-year old LPGA star.
“They can pretty much just ask me any question golf related and it's important to give back,” said Thompson.
When asked what advice she typically gives young players, she likes to keep it simple.
“What I say the most is just have fun with what you do, do what you love and just keep practicing,” she added. “It takes a lot of hard work to be out here and to play against the best in the world, but most important thing is just to have fun with it and do what you love and you'll always enjoy it no matter what.”
Battleship challenge: The Mobile Bay LPGA Classic designated Hope for the Warriors as its official charity for this week’s event and four lucky servicemen got a unique opportunity to mix a little bit of military with golf on Tuesday in Mobile. LPGA Tour pros Michelle Wie (@themichellewie) and Christina Kim (@TheChristinaKim) were joined by 1st Sgt. Frank Armenta, Cpl. Nickolas Buchhaas, Former USMC John Davison and Sgt. Jared Mount on board the USS Alabama battleship for a putting challenge.
The historic landmark provided a rare backdrop for the competition where each team went head-to-head from three different distances on their own putting strip. With plenty of trash talk and laughs to go around, Team Michelle came out victorious, hitting the 20-point mark first. All four of the military participants held their own, consistently sinking putts from long range, and will take their games to the course in tomorrow’s pro-am at The Crossings Course at Magnolia Grove.
Tweet of the Day: Goes to LPGA Tour rookie Julia Boland
“Feeling very blessed to get to be involved with a clinic today for deaf kids #supercool” --@juliabolandgolf
Quotable: “If you want to see nice on steroids, you come to Alabama because there's no better nice than this market.” LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan on the hospitality and welcome in Alabama
TOURNAMENT UPDATE PRESS CONFERENCE
Dr. David G. Bronner, CEO of Retirement Systems of Alabama
Connie Hudson, Mobile County Commissioner
Bill Gillespie Jr., City of Prattville Mayor
Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner
Stacy Lewis, Rolex Rankings No. 2
Lexi Thompson, Rolex Rankings No. 25
KRAIG KANN: Well, good morning, everybody. It is a true pleasure to be here representing the LPGA. It's fantastic to be back in Mobile, Alabama and the state of Alabama.
My name's Kraig Kann, I'm the chief communications officer for the LPGA, and I'll introduce the dignitaries on the stage here in just a second.
Around these parts, you all know this far better than I know it or the commissioner knows it, but the saying Roll Tide gets said quite a number of times. I know some people say War Eagles, but Roll Tide gets the dominant amount of love, and I hope that by the end of this news conference everybody here feels like the LPGA and the state of Alabama is on a bit of a roll as well. We feel like we have some very nice news to share.
Let me introduce those dignitaries that I was talking about. Let's start here to my right, second in from the player we all recognize, Dr. David Bronner, the CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama. Thank you very much for being here.
My flying companion this morning, the commissioner of the LPGA, Mike Whan.
To my left, from the Mobile County Commission, Connie Hudson is here. Thank you very much.
And from the City of Prattville, Alabama, the mayor, Bill Gillespie, is here as well. Thank you.
Also on the stage back to my right, two recent winners in the state of Alabama on the LPGA, two of our stars, the faces you all recognize, ambassadors in every sense of the word as well, last year's winner here in Mobile and also in Prattville, the Alabama Slam, if you will, No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings right now, Stacy Lewis.
And to my left, far left, last year's runner-up in Mobile, the 2011 winner in Prattville, welcome Lexi Thompson.
So I think it's fair to say that Alabama and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail have been terrific partners for both LPGA and women's golf. Great, great partners, in fact. And today we're about to jump to another level with an announcement that elevates that partnership, should bring joy to all the fans of golf in the state of Alabama and definitely make the LPGA and all of our members quite proud. So without further ado, I'm not going to make that announcement, I'm going to let the man who's really made that happen make the announcement, Dr. David Bronner.
DAVID BRONNER: The LPGA means a great deal to the Trail, means a great deal to the state of Alabama. Most people in Alabama don't recognize that when we started the trail 20 years ago, we're in our 21st year, the tourism in the state was a $1.8 billion industry, today it's a $10.7 billion industry. So $8 billion a year evolves from golf in the state of Alabama and all of our tourism efforts throughout the state.
Clearly the most important thing is to get recognition around the world and the LPGA does that. The LPGA is what I consider the Tour event that really unites people across the world. There is no other one that really operates in Europe, Asia, and the United States. No other Tour does that.
So we're especially proud to be able to announce today that the Tour will be returning to Alabama in 2014, both in Mobile and in Prattville, Alabama. We really feel that that gives people like Alexis and people like Stacy a chance to win two in one state and that gives them pride to carry for us around the world. So we really appreciate them coming back and we look forward to them. Thank you very much.
KRAIG KANN: Now, when you have tournaments, you need logos, right? You need to show the world what that tournament exactly is, and to help us with that, Connie Hudson and Stacy Lewis will handle Mobile, and the mayor, Mr. Gillespie, and Lexi Thompson will handle Prattville.
I'm guessing we've got Mobile and Prattville, landing an airplane right here, runway 11. On the count of three, we'll do this, okay? Let everybody get that photo op. Why don't we do Mobile first over to the right, make this real easy. And now to the left, one, two, three. Thank you very much.
Connie, I'm going to let you come speak on behalf of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic, which I know is not only here this week but we've added another year with an extension. Great news for everybody.
CONNIE HUDSON: Well, good morning, everyone. It is my great pleasure to be here today representing the Mobile County Commission and my colleagues, Commissioners Merceria Ludgood and Jerry Carl, and welcome you or I should say welcome back. This is such a wonderful event for our community. We are so pleased and so happy to have you here and to this beautiful Magnolia Grove golf course. We are so proud of this. Spring is such an exciting time of the year with all the events and activities in Mobile, but none are more eagerly anticipated than the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic and giving us the opportunity to host over 140 of the top female professional golfers in the world here this week. This is a tremendous opportunity for us. We are very, very grateful to 55 Water Street for being the title sponsor this year. And also because of 55 Water Street is owned by our Retirement Systems of Alabama under the direction of CEO Dr. David Bronner, we are especially grateful to the Retirement Systems for the LPGA Classic, but also for all of the investments throughout Alabama and in Mobile.
The influence here has been tremendous, I think, not only in economic development and I think you mentioned $10.7 million in tourism throughout the state, which is amazing, but also in the quality of life for our citizens. This Classic gives Mobilians and people throughout our region an opportunity to come and have an upclose and personal experience in looking at some of the best golfers, the celebrities and championship golf here this week. And I think the weather is going to be great.
We are so proud to be part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. I think The New York Times described the Trail as being some of the best public golf on earth and that is quite a lot to crow about. So I'd like to also congratulate the mayor of Prattville for the Classic returning to your city to be part of the Tour and so now we have two opportunities here in the state and that's wonderful. So everybody have a great week. I think it's going to be an exciting one for everyone.
KRAIG KANN: Thank you, Connie. Prattville's been home to the LPGA for a number of years. Unfortunate that it couldn't be on the schedule this year, but we are very proud to be back, better than ever in 2014. Let's bring up the mayor, Mayor Gillespie, to make some comments on the return to Prattville.
BILL GILLESPIE: Well, thank you, and to start this off, I'd really like to say thank you to Dr. Bronner. Because of his foresight, his vision, he's really put Alabama on the map, Mobile, Prattville. And any time you can get your name out there to the world, and this is one thing that this event does do, it brings so many people to our local venue that eventually come back. And maybe the particular weekend that the event would be in Prattville or Mobile, that is a big event, but then also you've got to look at the residual effect over the whole year, what actually comes in after that. So it's a lot, lot bigger than just this weekend or the weekend of that actual tournament. It's so, so big to our communities.
But also not only the economic impact, I think it's also the personal touch that has actually been received and given by our community and also by the players, because talking directly to these two up here, Prattville has really come to love you guys and we're really very glad that you've going to be able to come back again. Hope we can continue this love affair, I guess you might as well say it, but Prattville definitely does love the LPGA. I feel like the LPGA does love Prattville. So this is a big event, glad that they're coming back and hope that we can continue it again and again. Thank you.
KRAIG KANN: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. It is exciting to go back and to have two events in the state of Alabama, and along with Dr. Bronner helping to make that happen, certainly another man behind closed doors who was able to bring it back to Alabama as well and that's the commissioner, Mr. Mike Whan. I know you've got some comments as well about this new relationship.
MIKE WHAN: Well, for those of you who've heard me speak before, one, I don't usually need to be amplified, I speak loud enough, and two, I usually have my little notecards. This is the first time in probably four years I haven't had notecards because this one doesn't require them as far as I'm concerned.
Usually I talk about the LPGA, the way we're going, but I think this press conference really requires us talking about you and not us.
True story, a little embarrassing, but twice now Dr. Bronner has been my write-in vote for president. No offense to President Obama, but if you want to grow a country, a state or a county, I've met the guy that can do that. I've got a story that we don't have a better business partner on the LPGA than RSA and Dr. Bronner. I don't ever tell you that, so I wanted to say that in front of TV cameras and streaming worldwide because I think it's true. We know why we're in Alabama and we know it really starts with RSA, so thank you very much for that.
You know, it's funny, every time I come here I hear the term Play the Trail and I hear people talk about greatest public golf courses. I think for the fans worldwide that hear about coming to play the Trail, there's nothing about these courses that feels public expect that it's public access. These are the greatest private country clubs in the world, and because of what the RSA has done with the state of Alabama, we can all play them and we're looking forward. Last year we played the Trail and again in 2014, between Prattville and Mobile, we're going to play the Trail. That's exciting not only for the players, that's exciting for the 160 countries of fans worldwide that watch us all the time.
Last year at this time we had about 240 hours of TV coverage for the LPGA and this year we'll have about 350 hours, so that comes from people like Alabama getting behind the LPGA and us getting behind them. We couldn't be more excited to be back, not only Prattville, but to be back in Mobile, whether it's the River Region -- when I got off the plane with Kraig today, I said, We're going to Felix's tonight, we're staying at The Battle House. I mean, we're home.
I've heard people talk about "Minnesota nice," I get that. But I can tell you folks from Alabama there is not a nicer group of people in the world than the people of Alabama. And every player will say there's no better hospitality than the hospitality we get when we cross into Alabama.
So on behalf of all of us at the LPGA and all of you watching here either on local TV or around the world, if you want to understand nice, you can go to Alabama -- you can go to Minnesota. If you want to see nice on steroids, you come to Alabama because there's no better nice than this market.
So on behalf of all of us, not only some of the best players around the world, the 160 countries that are watching this around the world, but the players all around the world that are striving to get to this level and they're going to be watching you on TV this week and two times next year, let them strive for this because great golf, great sponsors and great people make for truly outstanding events. We just couldn't be happier.
Kraig, when this is over, I'd like us to have a little group hug in the middle for the cameras because I feel like this event deserves a group hug. Thanks for having us.
KRAIG KANN: Bill Lang, if you could coordinate that with me, we'll get the group hug after. We've got a lot of folks -- I was hope to get through this press conference without talking about steroids but that topic's already come up as well. You can get your comments with Mike about that afterwards, I guess.
Let's move on and talk about some of the other stars of the show. We couldn't roll into Alabama without bringing the best and we've got two of the very best, not just on the ladies Tour but in all of golf representing the game, and I say that because I have the proud pleasure, and I know Mike would say the same thing, of working with these ladies quite often, week to week, even when they're not playing, picking up the phone and we talk a lot on the LPGA about see why it's different out here and they're the reasons it's different, is because players of Lexi and Stacy who might send you a text message while you're out on the golf course and say, "Hold the face and swing left on the tee." I got that the other day and I was able to shoot 37 on the back and I owe it all to Stacy Lewis. I forgot my swing thought and I was really proud of that. You've got to do it when you can do it. I've got a lot of golf balls around this course, too.
It's true, they're here because they're ambassadors. They do the right things, they say the right things, and I don't think it's any secret that over the last two years we've garnered eight new events on the LPGA schedule and our TV ratings are up more than 60 percent in North America and the United States and when we've added 12 new marketing partners and when our social media's doubled each of the last two years and Twitter and Facebook and all those things are growing, it's much because of the players and not because of the commissioner or people who work inside the building. It's the fans who see what these players have to offer.
So we're very fortunate to have them here this week and I know you all know their faces and their names because they've won your tournament. I thank them both for being a part of this.
Stacy, let's start with you. We've got a microphone, right, so we'll pass the baton. They've gotten very good at this as well.
Pretty much you won both events last year, you dominated Alabama even though you went to Arkansas and that's not easy to do really. You've won a lot of things over the last two years. Talk about how Alabama and the Tour events that you've won have really kind of helped you to springboard your career to the level it's at right now, No. 2 in the world?
STACY LEWIS: First, I think we need to say thank you to Jonathon and his team because they worked hard to get to this point, I think they deserve a big thank you. And I am more than excited to be back in Prattville and Mobile because obviously I've had a lot of success, so definitely I'm excited back and these golf courses are tremendous. (Inaudible) these are the best courses we play all year, so I am really excited to be back. And going back to last year, this tournament really kind of helped springboard me into the year that I had and continue to have so (inaudible) it's unbelievable, so we're definitely excited to be back.
KRAIG KANN: How is your game? You've had a little bit of time off and maybe we need to fill people in on what you have to do now in your weeks off because it's changed quite a bit for you.
STACY LEWIS: I've had three Top 10s in a row and people think I'm struggling. I guess I set the bar a little too high, but my game's in a good place, so getting back to a course that I'm comfortable is really nice.
You know, I'm busy. I've got things planned every week and I'm doing TV shows and interviews and photo shoots. I've got a lot of exciting things come up. I've got Feherty coming up next Monday and it's busy now, it's all good things.
KRAIG KANN: Very good things. What do you remember about Mobile and the event last year?
STACY LEWIS: You know, I came here just kind of searching for another win and searching to kind of get going on the right foot and I just remember kind of (inaudible) my lead on the back nine is unfortunately what I remember and Lexi was coming after me. But just to get that second win like that was huge for me, and to think, you know, how different of a place I'm coming in from this year. Last year I was searching for my 2nd win and now I'm looking for my 8th and that's pretty crazy. I don't know how many people can say that over the last few years.
KRAIG KANN: Mike talked about the hospitality that we feel in the state of Alabama and I mentioned some of the things going on at the LPGA, and I think week to week we go to different communities and not everybody knows just kind of the momentum run that we're on right now and that you all are really leading the way on.
Can you share with these folks kind of your inside-the-ropes view of the LPGA product that is now giving us two events in this state in 2014?
STACY LEWIS: Yeah, I think this is the perfect timing for Prattville coming back and Mobile coming back. Right now on Tour we've got some young talent that I'm very excited about because they're young Americans and Lexi is one of them. We've got Lizette Salas and Jessica Korda (inaudible) Inbee's playing really well, we've got a battle going on for No. 1, so we've got a lot of good storylines right now and it's really a perfect time for this event, for this announcement.
KRAIG KANN: I'm going to have you take a seat. Does Lexi have a microphone? I'm going to give this one to you, Lexi. We'll take some questions from the audience here in just a second.
Lexi, sometimes at these pro-am parties, she's got the heels on and Whan and I are like this. Okay, I appreciate that. Your first win came at Prattville. What was that like for you? What do you remember?
LEXI THOMPSON: It was amazing to get my first win in Alabama, so I love coming back here. But what I remember most is just coming up to the 18th green and just embracing all my fans cheering for me and just realizing that all my hard work paid off. To have that event back for next year is just a huge honor.
KRAIG KANN: This community has embraced you, Prattville certainly has because of your victory there, and you've also given a lot back. Talk a little bit about yesterday and the Red Bull Tee Time right here and everybody kind of coming together and what you were able to do.
LEXI THOMPSON: Yeah, actually last year the Monday after the event I had a Red Bull Tee Time with Lexi, that's what it's called. I get together, college students, high school students, I think the ages are like 5 to 18 years old, and they come ask me advice, I hit balls. They can pretty much just ask me any question golf related and it's important to give back.
KRAIG KANN: What's the biggest advice you would give to an 8-year old girl who wants to be the next Lexi Thompson or Stacy Lewis?
LEXI THOMPSON: An 8-year old?
KRAIG KANN: We can make it --
LEXI THOMPSON: All right. What I say the most is just have fun with what you do, do what you love and just keep practicing. It takes a lot of hard work to be out here and to play against the best in the world, but most important thing is just to have fun with it and do what you love and you'll always enjoy it no matter what.
KRAIG KANN: What about a 48-year old? Talk about these two events and coming together and the Trail and what you can share with everybody about the experience of playing the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail from a professional's perspective.LEXI THOMPSON: Yeah, like Stacy said, Robert Trent Jones golf courses are always amazing and especially these two. They're always in perfect shape and very challenging. But what's the best about this event is just the hospitality, all the volunteers, the food they put out for us is amazing, but they're two of the most well-run events ever I've played it. Like I said, I don't know why many people aren't playing in this event this week, but I sure am and I'm happy to be here in Alabama again, happy to be playing here and next year.
KRAIG KANN: We're glad to have you here. Do you have any message that you would like to share for Stacy since you were on her tail last year? And I'm not asking you to go Tiger-Sergio here, but --
LEXI THOMPSON: No, no, it's been an interesting week. It's going to be very exciting.
Q. How hard was it to move forward after losing Navistar as a sponsor?
DAVID BRONNER: It's always difficult to find major sponsors, so what we put was a coalition together in the Montgomery region, which consists of Prattville and Montgomery and a half a dozen other smaller sponsors, so what we did was really substitute a whole group for one fine sponsor.
Q. Mayor Gillespie, how worried were you that you wouldn’t have the LPGA back in Prattville?
BILL GILLESPIE: Anytime you know you've got Dr. Bronner working for the City of Prattville, he's been a great partner. So yes, we were concerned. Worried, no. Like I mentioned earlier, it's been a little bit of a love affair with Prattville and the LPGA, so I knew there was a lot of support for Prattvillians about this coming back. So we had some concerns but we were not panicked about it because we knew there was a good team out there. Thank you all.