LPGA TOUR KICKS OFF 70TH SEASON WITH 2020 DIAMOND RESORTS TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
The offseason is officially over. The 2020 LPGA Tour kicks off this week with the second playing of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. Winners from the 2018 and 2019 seasons have gathered at Tranquilo Golf Course at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club, led by 2019 DRTOC winner Eun Hee Ji, 19-time LPGA Tour winner Inbee Park and six players in the top 10 of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings in No. 3 Nelly Korda, No. 4 Danielle Kang, No. 5 Sei Young Kim, No. 6 Nasa Hataoka, No. 8 Brooke Henderson and No. 10 Lexi Thompson.
The exciting field also includes 49 celebrities from the worlds of sports and entertainment, teeing off alongside the LPGA Tour stars all four days. Notable celebrities include defending DRTOC celebrity winner and World Series champion and 2018 U.S. Senior Open competitor John Smoltz, reigning Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, NFL star Larry Fitzgerald and actors Michael Pena and Jack Wagner.
LOOKING TO OLYMPICS, INBEE PARK OPENS SEASON EARLIER THAN USUAL
The last time Inbee Park teed it up in January came in 2016, when she opened her year at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic. Fast forward to 2020 and Park is competing at this week’s Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, opening her season nearly six weeks before her usual first appearance in Thailand or Singapore.
So what sparked the change? 2016 and 2020 have one very special thing in common that brought Park to the course earlier – they’re both Olympic years. 2016 saw Park inspirationally battle through a recurring thumb injury to earn the gold medal in Rio in golf’s return to the Olympics after a more than 100-year absence. This year, the 31-year-old would love nothing more than to again represent the Republic of Korea on arguably sport’s largest stage when the Games are played in August at Kasumigaseki Country Club outside Tokyo.
“That's definitely a goal for me and definitely a goal for a lot of fellow Korean players,” said Park, who sits 16th in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. “I think that will definitely motivate us really well this year, especially because the rankings cut off in June. So I think I wanted to play as many events as I can before and give myself some opportunities and try to play some good golf before then. So I feel like I'm in good shape.”
The cut-off to make the women’s team roster for the 2020 Olympics comes June 29 following the completion of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The top 15 world-ranked players will be eligible for the Olympics, with a limit of four players from any given country. As of this week’s Rankings, Park is the sixth eligible player from Korea, behind No. 1 Jin Young Ko, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park, No. 5 Sei Young Kim, No. 7 Jeongeun Lee6 and No. 13 Hyo Joo Kim.
To make up that Rankings deficit, Park is coming out of the gate with an aggressive early schedule. She will tee it up at next week’s Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio and then head to the ISPS Handa Vic Open and ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, the first time she will play Down Under since 2014, followed by two of three events in the Spring Asia Swing. And all so she can again experience the rush of the Olympic experience.
“After I experienced one, I definitely felt like this is something that I should take first priority in my golfing career. Yeah, I think it was definitely worth it,” said Park. “I definitely wanted to take this Olympic opportunity as a big priority in my career and probably my last one, I'm thinking, if I get an opportunity. I'm just happy to be where I'm positioned. It's good that I have an opportunity. Whether I'm in or not, I think it's worth having a go.”
For more information on 2020 Olympic qualifying, visit https://www.igfgolf.org/olympic-games/tokyo-2020/tokyo-2020-qualification-system/.
BROOKE HENDERSON RECHARGED AND READY FOR DIAMOND RESORTS
Brooke Henderson ended 2019 on a high note with a fifth-place finish at the CME Group Tour Championship and took a much-deserved break in the offseason, enjoying the warm weather at her residence in Florida and visiting her friends and family in her native Canada. It was a perfect time for the 22-year-old to reflect on a triumphant year that included becoming the Canadian with the most professional wins on the LPGA and PGA Tour when she won the Meijer LPGA Classic for her ninth career victory.
“I feel like 2019 was a really successful season for me and my sister (and caddie Brittany Henderson) as well,” said Henderson. “We were really happy with how everything went. I felt like I improved in a lot of places, which was good. I think a key thing for me is scoring average and keeping it below 70, which I did last year.”
Henderson returns to action at the biggest party on Tour at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, alongside a host of Hall of Fame athletes and celebrities. Despite the fun nature of the week, she said it still feels just as competitive on the course as it does at any other event.
“I feel like playing with some of the best athletes in the world here, you're just always pushing each other to be a little bit better and trying to hit a little bit further and make a few more birdies,” said Henderson, who finished T6 in the inaugural tournament in 2019. “It's really a unique experience as it's maybe not as intense right off the get go, as it is on the regular LPGA Tour week, but definitely it has that same intensity once you get going, and it has maybe a little bit of fun added to it.”
With the start of season play just a few days away, Henderson said she is already prepped to execute her 2020 goals, which includes continuing her streak of four straight years with at least two wins.
“I'd love to keep that streak alive. It's been pretty important to me the last few years, especially with how dense the field is in terms of talent,” said Henderson. “It's really important to me to keep that going, and I feel like to get another major championship win is hopefully on my radar, and hopefully I can get it done maybe this year and in future years.”
NOTABLE FIRST-ROUND GROUPINGS
Defending LPGA DRTOC winner Eun Hee Ji will tee off at No. 1 at 8:30 a.m. with NFL stars Patrick Peterson and Case Keenum
Defending celebrity DRTOC winner John Smoltz will tee off No. 1 at 9:10 a.m. with Brooke Henderson and fellow MLB player Josh Donaldson
Leading American Nelly Korda will begin her season at 9:30 a.m. off the first tee with World Series champions Justin Verlander and Roger Clemens
Playing in her first event since giving birth to daughter Emery in July 2020, Brittany Lincicome will tee off No. 1 at 9:40 a.m. with NBA stars Ray Allen and Grant Hill
2020 RACE TO THE CME GLOBE BEGINS AT #DIAMONDLPGA
Starting this week at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando, LPGA Tour Members will accumulate points in every Official LPGA Tournament to get into the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship with an equal opportunity to take home a $1.5 million bonus, the biggest prize in women’s golf.
The LPGA Tour’s 2020 Race to the CME Globe competition continues through the event held immediately prior to the CME Group Tour Championship. All tournaments have the same point values except for the five major championships, which carry 25 percent more value, and two additional events. For the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, points will be awarded to the top 20 and ties, and for the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, points will be awarded to members who make the cut. For all events with a cut, points are awarded to members who make the cut, while for events without a cut, points are awarded to members who finish in the top 40 and ties. Only LPGA Tour Members are eligible to earn points in the Race.
After the event immediately prior to the CME Group Tour Championship, points earned during the season will be eliminated and no points will be allocated at the CME Group Tour Championship. Instead, the top 60 players in the Race to the CME Globe (plus ties) compete on an equal playing ground for an official purse of $5 million, with a first-place prize of $1.5 million.
Since the competition began in 2014, four LPGA Tour players have earned the title of Race to the CME Globe champion – Ariya Jutanugarn (2016, 2018), Sei Young Kim (2019), Lydia Ko (2014, 2015) and Lexi Thompson (2017).
IN OTHER NEWS – GOLF COMES TOGETHER TO SUPPORT AUSTRALIA BUSHFIRE VICTIMS
Golf’s global tours and federations have pledged their support to help those affected by Australia’s bushfire crisis.
Earlier today, the Australian Golf Industry Council (AGIC), a collaboration of Australia’s golf industry bodies, created the Australian Golf Bushfire Fund. In support of this effort, five major tours – the LPGA Tour, the Ladies European Tour, the ALPG, the European Tour and the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia – have joined forces to donate $100,000 USD to the cause. All five tours are competing across Australia in the coming weeks.
In a joint statement, executive leadership from the five tours said, “Australia’s golf community and courses are among the finest in the world and our tours always look forward to playing in the country. Golf is known for its commitment to charity, and this fund provides a way to encourage additional contributions by golfers worldwide. All of our best wishes go to everyone who has been affected by these horrific fires.”
Those wishing to contribute to the Australian Golf Bushfire Fund can do so via a GoFundMe page as well as a designated bank account. The AGIC will direct distribution of the funds. More than 50% of the total raised will go to the Disaster Relief Recovery Fund run by the Australian Red Cross, with the remaining funds distributed to other bushfire-related charities, including wildlife funds, and to golf clubs impacted by the disaster.
WHO’S IN THE DIAMOND RESORTS TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS FIELD
26 LPGA Tour Winners from 2018 and 2019
Marina Alex (2018 Cambia Portland Classic), Celine Boutier (2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open), In Gee Chun (2018 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship), Cydney Clanton (2019 Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational), Georgia Hall (2018 Ricoh Women’s British Open), Nasa Hataoka (2018 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, 2018 TOTO Japan Classic, 2019 Kia Classic), Brooke Henderson (2018 LOTTE Championship, 2018 CP Women’s Open, 2019 LOTTE Championship, 2019 Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give), Mi Jung Hur (2019 Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open, 2019 Indy Women in Tech Championship), Eun Hee Ji(2018 Kia Classic, 2019 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions), Ariya Jutanugarn (2018 Kingsmill Championship, 2018 U.S. Women’s Open, 2018 Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open), Moriya Jutanugarn (2018 HUGEL-JTBC LA Open), Danielle Kang (2018 Buick LPGA Shanghai, 2019 Buick LPGA Shanghai), Sei Young Kim (2018 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, 2019 LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship, 2019 Marathon Classic, 2019 CME Group Tour Championship), Cheyenne Knight (2019 Volunteers of America Classic), Jessica Korda (2018 Honda LPGA Thailand), Nelly Korda (2018 Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA, 2019 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, 2019 Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA), Bronte Law (2019 Pure Silk Championship), Brittany Lincicome (2018 Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic), Pernilla Lindberg (2018 ANA Inspiration), Gaby Lopez (2018 Blue Bay LPGA), Annie Park (2018 ShopRite LPGA Classic), Inbee Park (2018 Bank of Hope Founders Cup), Angela Stanford (2018 Evian Championship), Jasmine Suwannapura (2018 Marathon Classic, 2019 Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational), Lexi Thompson (2018 CME Group Tour Championship, 2019 ShopRite LPGA Classic), Amy Yang (2019 Honda LPGA Thailand)
Marcus Allen, Maurice Allen, Ray Allen, Josh Beckett, Lee Brice, Joe Carter, Roger Clemens, Richard Dent, Mark DeRosa, Josh Donaldson, Mardy Fish, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Flaskey, Colt Ford, Terry Francona, Eric Gagne, Tom Glavine, Denny Hamlin, John Hart, Ben Higgins, Grant Hill, Case Keenum, Jon Lester, Derek Lowe, Greg Maddux, Brian McCann, Kevin Millar, Mark Mulder, Phil Nevin, Bud Norris, Blair O’Neal, Michael Peña, Patrick Peterson, Chad Pfeifer, A.J. Pierzynski, Alfonso Ribeiro, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Sterling Sharpe, John Smoltz, Cole Swindell, Larry The Cable Guy, Brian Urlacher, Justin Verlander, Frank Viola, Jack Wagner, Tim Wakefield, Michael Waltrip, David Wells, Deron Williams
Professionals: 26 players; 72 holes, stroke play, no cut
Celebrities and amateurs: 49 players; 72 holes, Modified Stableford scoring format, no cut
UPDATED MODIFIED STABLEFORD SCORING FORMAT
Double bogey – 0
Bogey – 1
Par – 2
Birdie – 3
Eagle – 5
Hole-in-One – 8
Double Eagle – 10
Tournament: @DiamondResorts (Twitter and Instagram), #DiamondLPGA
LPGA: @LPGA, @LPGAMedia (Twitter), @lpga_tour (Instagram)
TV TIMES (all times Eastern)
Thursday, Jan. 16 – 12-3 p.m., Golf Channel
Friday, Jan. 17 – 12-3 p.m., Golf Channel
Saturday, Jan. 18 – 2-3 p.m., Golf Channel; 3-5 p.m., NBC
Sunday, Jan. 19 – 2-3 p.m., Golf Channel; 3-5 p.m., NBC