STACY LEWIS MAKING AUSTRALIAN RETURN
Two-time major champion Stacy Lewis last teed it up Down Under in 2014, when she tied for sixth at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. It was the start of a season-of-a-lifetime for Lewis, who captured three victories and became the first American to take home all three season-ending awards since Betsy King in 1993.
Much has changed for Lewis since 2014, two years before her marriage to Gerrod Chadwell and four years before the birth of her daughter Chesnee. It was never easy to make the 16-hour flight from the United States to Australia and leaving her family at home for two weeks made getting on that plane even more bittersweet. Ever the competitor, Lewis knows that by doing her job on the golf course, she’s setting an example for Chesnee and the next generation of female golfers.
“My last concern at night is thinking about my golf score that day. Just helps put things in perspective of what's important and kind of motivated me with my things off the golf course, kind of what I'm doing of trying to give more opportunities to women and to little girls,” said Lewis, whose last win came at the 2017 Cambia Portland Classic before sitting out much of 2018 on maternity leave. “I want things to be better for my daughter and I don't want her to have to answer the same questions that we're talking about today.”
ISPS HANDA VIC OPEN – MORE THAN JUST GOLF
In 2018, Stacy Lewis sparked headlines beyond the sports world when she announced that KPMG, the professional services company that Lewis has represented since 2012, was honoring her full contract through her maternity leave. That moment sparked other companies to fulfill contracts through the recent LPGA Tour Baby Boom (15 active Moms on Tour, with two players expecting in 2020) and further heightened the value that Smucker’s brings to the Tour’s Child Development Center. So it makes perfect sense that Lewis feels that this week’s ISPS Handa Vic Open, which has men and women competing together on the same courses for the same prize money, is a boon for sports equality.
“I hope this tournament sends a message across the world to let's do more events like this,” said Lewis. “I've had a lot of fun this week so far. I played a practice round with three guys yesterday and just doing it a little different than I normally do it. But I think we need more events like this. Obviously, we've got some of the top females here, but we need more of the top guys here to step up and say, you know, this is important. It just sends such a great message for supporting men's and women's golf. One of the guys I played with yesterday talked about how us coming on board has elevated their purse as well. So I think it's a win-win for both tours.”
Australian Geoff Ogilvy has long met Lewis’ challenge to step up, having been an ambassador for gender equality in sports for years. The 2006 U.S. Open champion pointed to the 2014 U.S. Opens, played back to back at Pinehurst No. 2, as a prime example of how men’s and women’s sports can co-exist. Just talking about the consistency of players like Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu brought a slightly jealous smile to his face.
“It's more than just guys in the world who play golf or play sport. I'm a golf tragic, so when I come to a golf tournament, I'm watching other people play just as much as I'm playing myself,” said Ogilvy. “This week I found last year all I wanted to do was watch the women and how they went about it. Some of them are just machines, they just don't hit bad shots and they hit hybrids on to the green 10 feet all day. When I hit a hybrid, I'm happy to hit it within 30 yards of the green. It's just a different style. There's something to be learnt from both sides and there's enjoyment in watching both styles of play.”
More events like the ISPS Handa Vic Open are indeed on the horizon. In June, the European Tour and Ladies European Tour will host the inaugural Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik & Annika, which will feature 78 men and 78 women competing for one purse. The Jordan Mixed Open and the ISPS Handa World Invitational also inaugurated mixed competition in 2019, and Australia’s golf hero Karrie Webb pointed to the business upside that these events make for potential title sponsors.
“I think going forward it could be a great model for companies that want to make sure that their money's spent equally in sport,” said Webb. “You can say that automatically if you have a men's and women's event for the same purse. You don't have to justify that to your board or to your investors, you're equally helping out men's and women's sport in one event.”
KARRIE WEBB SHIFTING GOLF FOCUS
Seven-time major winner Karrie Webb admits that she’s slowing down. The 45-year-old made just nine LPGA Tour starts in 2019, choosing instead to focus on family and friends back home in her native Queensland, Australia.
“I just didn't have the heart to put in the full commitment that was needed,” said Webb, the winningest active LPGA Tour player with 41 victories. “I felt like I was missing out on life by playing a full schedule. So it's been a good mix of the both.”
Webb has moved her golf focus to her burgeoning golf-course architecture firm with business partner Ross Perrett. She has also invigorated her work on grassroots development programs with Golf Australia. Since 2008, Webb has sponsored a scholarship program that brought Australia’s two leading female amateurs to the United States for a week to experience a major championship.
Perhaps the most fulfilling moment of that program came in 2019, when past scholarship recipient Hannah Green captured her first major title at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. And it certainly seems that of all Webb’s major wins, she might treasure Green’s victory even more.
“My give-back to golf, this is greater than what I actually personally achieved because I think when I'm doing that, that isn't about giving back to golf, that's taking from golf and doing something that I personally set out to do,” said Webb. “But my give-back for what golf has given me has been as rewarding, if not more rewarding.”
NOTABLE FIRST-ROUND GROUPINGS
Defending champion Celine Boutier will tee off No. 1 on the Beach Course at 12:40 p.m., playing with Olympic gold medalist Inbee Park and leading Australian Minjee Lee.
Australia’s Hannah Green, who won the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, will tee off No. 1 on the Beach Course at 1 p.m., alongside fellow major champions Jeongeun Lee6 and So Yeon Ryu.
Sarah Kemp, the Australian who shot a final-round 65 at the 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open to jump into a tie for second, will tee off No. 10 on the Creek Course at 7:20 a.m., playing with American Elizabeth Szokol and 2015 ISPS Handa Vic Open winner Marianne Skarpnord.
MAREE MILLS NOMINATED FOR LPGA’S AXA LPGA VOLUNTEER SERVICE AWARD
The AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award is a program launched in 2018 to recognize exemplary volunteers at each LPGA tournament. This week’s award recipient is Maree Mills, who manages the local caddie program at the ISPS Handa Vic Open. Mills is an 18-year member at the host venue, 13th Beach Golf Links, and has volunteered for seven years.
After the 2020 season, the name of one AXA LPGA Volunteer Award recipient will be drawn in a random selection. That winning volunteer’s tournament charity will be awarded $10,000 on behalf of AXA.
For more information on the AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award, visit here.
Staged at 13th Beach Golf Links on Australia’s Bellarine Peninsula, men and women play on the same courses, at the same time, for equal prize money of $1.1 million USD. For the second consecutive year, the ISPS Handa Vic Open is jointly sanctioned by the LPGA Tour, the ALPG, the European Tour and the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia.
A field of 144 men and 144 women will play one round on each of the first two days across the Beach and Creek Courses. After the second round, the field will be cut to the leading 60 players plus ties for both men and women. A second cut will be made after the third round to the leading 35 players plus ties for both men and women. The third and fourth rounds will be conducted on the Beach Course.
Tournament: @VicOpenGolf (Twitter and Instagram), #VicOpen
LPGA: @LPGA, @LPGAMedia (Twitter), @lpga_tour (Instagram)
TV TIMES (all times Eastern on Golf Channel)
Wednesday, Feb. 5 to Thursday, Feb. 6 – 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Thursday, Feb. 6 to Friday, Feb. 7 – 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Friday, Feb. 7 to Saturday, Feb. 8 – 9:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Saturday, Feb. 8 to Sunday, Feb. 9 – 8:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.