By Brian Hewitt, Courtesy of GolfChannel.com Insider
REUNION, Fla. - The golf on the course was sizzling. The elephant in the room was large.
It was Tuesday at the Independence Course of the Ginn Reunion Resort. And four of the best and most appealing female golfers on the planet paired up in an 18-hole exhibition that felt more like an official LPGA event because of the high quality of play at the end of what was a long, windy and chilly round.
The team of Natalie Gulbis and world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa defeated the team of Paula Creamer and former world No. 1 Annika Sorenstam by one shot when Gulbis gutted a 6-footer for par on the final hole that topped a 12-footer by Sorenstam moments earlier.
The match culminated the third and final day of an event called the "Annika Celebration" which was meant to honor the retiring Sorenstam. But on this occasion, Gulbis, who also teamed with Ochoa briefly at the University of Arizona earlier in this decade, was the star of stars.
She birdied the 14th, 16th and 17th holes - all with putts of less than 4 feet - before making the winning par putt on 18 that left the victors with an 8-under total of 64 on a day when the women played a scramble format the first nine holes and best ball on the inward half.
"I was really a good cheerleader on the back nine," Ochoa quipped. The winners each took away $30,000 for their day's work. The runners-up earned $20,000 apiece.
"I didn't come here to grind," said Sorenstam, who doubled as the event's host.
"All I can say is, 'Sorry partner,'" said a contrite Creamer.
That selection of the Ginn Resort as the venue for the Annika Celebration was fitting because it doubles as home to Sorenstam's golf academy. But it was more than a little awkward due to the events of last Wednesday.
That's when Ginn Sports Entertainment, LLC and Ginn Development Company, LLC announced jointly that they had ended their participation in professional golf.
For the women, this meant there would be no Ginn Open at Reunion, one of the LPGA's premier events, scheduled for the middle of April.
In a statement released last Thursday the LPGA said it was "extremely disappointed and surprised" by the Ginn decision.
What made this potentially even more uncomfortable is the location of Sorenstam's Academy at a property run by a company that could end up in court with the LPGA.
"This is awkward only in the sense that we heard about it (Ginn's pull-out) from the press release," said Mike McGee, Annika's husband and the managing director of her business brand. "We were shocked. It's not the way we would have wanted to hear it."
Added McGee: "The people here at Reunion have been great." One highly-placed source predicted that Ginn could turn over its golf operation to a different management company.
Kevin Baker, the director of golf at Reunion, didn't respond to that possibility. But, he said, "there are other management companies."
"I would think," McGee said, "that the Annika Academy would represent a pretty good amenity for whoever owns the property."
The players were mostly low key about the loss of the Ginn Open. Ochoa said she, too, was disappointed and surprised at the news last week.
"Hopefully the Ginn people will be back with a tournament in the future, because we appreciate the relationship they have had with the LPGA," Ochoa said.