Fifty years ago – in November 1970 – the Grateful Dead released its iconic song “Truckin’” with the even more iconic line: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” Fittingly, no one person took credit for the song, with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Robert Hunter all sharing writing honors. History sometimes serves up sweet ironies. This is one.
The collective process by the Grateful Dead that produced “Truckin’” perfectly captures the spirit of this turbulent year. When the LPGA Tour season began at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in January, who suspected the 70th anniversary campaign would exemplify the resilience of the oldest professional sports organization for women. COVID-19 made sure of that.
And what organization embodies the “we are all in this together” spirit needed to tackle adversity better than Volunteers of America? In its memorable TV commercial, a young man grapples with himself in hand-to-hand combat in the middle of a street, ending with the tagline: “Moral injury is a war inside that no one should have to fight alone.”
As personal as the Drive On spirit is, it is also a collective process. Golf is about individual initiative; the LPGA Tour is about collective effort. The Tour collectively presents doors of opportunity that individual women kick open. This Drive On season began in Florida, went to Australia and then went on hiatus for five months.
Now, in a month in which it wasn’t supposed to be playing, this week’s Volunteers of America Classic at The Colony near Dallas exemplifies adaptability and determination. Originally scheduled for Oct. 1-4, the VOA Classic changed dates, modified its format to exclude spectators and still provides women with what it is all about – opportunity.
“VOA serves on the frontlines of our nation’s COVID-19 response, helping those most at risk during the pandemic,” said Volunteers of America National President Mike King. “We know how important it is to take all necessary precautions to keep people safe, and holding this year’s tournament without spectators was the best thing to do.”
The mission statement of Volunteers of America is to help those in need live healthy, safe, and productive lives. Since 1896, its ministry of service has supported and empowered America’s most vulnerable groups, including veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, at-risk individuals, the homeless, and those recovering from addictions.
Somehow, it is appropriate that an organization with such a mission is sponsoring an event that is ushering in the end to a year that will be remembered for its challenges – and for the way people responded to them.
“We’re happy that play will continue as planned, since this event has become such a valued tradition both for the LPGA players and for our organization,” King said about the VOA Classic. “We look forward to welcoming spectators back to the course in future years.”
Appropriately, the VOA Classic opens the door to the two most lucrative first prize checks available to women golfers this year: $1 million at the 75th U.S. Women’s Open in Houston next week and $1.1 million at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburón Golf Club in Naples, Fla., the following week.
And there is more than money at stake as the season sprints to a close. The top three in the race to be Rolex Player of the Year are Sei Young Kim with 106 points; Inbee Park with 90 and Danielle Kang with 87. The Vare Trophy tussle for lowest scoring average is between Kim at 68.111 and Brooke Henderson at 69.207.
Kang has accumulated the most Race to CME Globe points with 1,937, trailed by Park with 1,610 and Kim at 1,554. Kim has a slender lead of $66,699 on the money list over Park with $1,133,219 to $1,066,520. Kim also has a chance to end the year as No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, sitting in second place with 7.38 points to 7.79 by Jin Young Ko.
There will be no Louie Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year in 2020. Everyone’s Tour status carries over to 2021, so those who are rookies this year will be rookies next season as well.
One of the most revealing statistical categories, which perhaps offers a glimpse of the future for the LPGA Tour, is driving distance. Five years ago, Joanna Klatten led the Tour in distance off the tee at 274.42 yards. She was the only player averaging more than 270 yards, with Brittany Lincicome second at 269.409.
This year Bianaca Pagdanganan leads at 286.440 yards followed by Anne van Dam at 281.849 then Maria Fassi at 281.036. In all, seven players are averaging more than 270 yards per drive. The distance revolution has come to women’s golf.
For more than 120 years, the Volunteers of America has been all about helping those in need, telling them they are not alone. This year, the VOA Classic is a perfectly placed tournament with timely inspiration.
Without a doubt, the words of Volunteers of American ring loud and clear over a tumultuous 2020: No one should have to fight alone. Without a doubt, this season has been a long, strange trip. Still, we all Drive on. That’s the spirit of the LPGA Tour; That’s the message of Volunteers of America.