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LPGA announces 2011 tour schedule

In the first of 13 U.S. stops, the inaugural LPGA Founders Cup, golfers will play for 'mock' prize money to pay honor to the 13 women who founded the tour. The campaign begins Feb. 18 in Thailand.

January 06, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Says LPGA veteran Cristie Kerr: "I think the 2011 schedule is encouraging when we take into account the global financial situation."
Says LPGA veteran Cristie Kerr: "I think the 2011 schedule is encouraging… (Reinhold Matay / Associated…)

After weeks of delay as officials feverishly tried to lock in more sponsors, the LPGA on Thursday finally announced its 2011 schedule — one that underscores its growing presence overseas. And in the first of 13 U.S. stops, players won't be taking home any hefty checks.

The LPGA season begins Feb. 17 in Thailand, the first of 12 tournaments outside the U.S., one more than last year. The list includes Mexico (twice) and Asia (seven times). Overall, the tour will offer $43.65 million in prize money, $3 million more than a year ago.

But come March 18-20 in Phoenix, once home to one of the LPGA's most popular tournaments, the U.S. portion kicks off with the inaugural LPGA Founders Cup in which the golfers will play for "mock" prize money to pay tribute to the 13 women who founded the tour.

The $1.3 million in real prize money will go to the tour's own charity: the LPGA Foundation and its LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program. RR Donnelley, the event's title sponsor, will also provide hotel rooms for the players and cover their expenses.

There still is plenty at stake: the money and points the players would have earned will still count toward standings and world rankings.

Brittany Lincicome, who finished 15th on the 2010 money list, said she had mixed emotions about the addition of a U.S.-based event without official prize money.

"Whatever helps the tour," she said. "If they think it will bring more exposure in the U.S., I'm for it. I will play and I'll want to win and do my best, but I know there are some girls who aren't excited about not playing for money.

"At the end, it's good to be going back to a place where we had such good support."

The popular LPGA stop at the Superstition Mountain course ended after the 2009 season when no sponsor could be found.

While the 2011 schedule brought Arizona back to the list, two mainstays are missing — the Jamie Farr Classic in Toledo, Ohio, and the CVS Pharmacy Challenge in Danville, Calif. According to LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan, the Farr event will return in 2012. New tournaments will be held in China and Taiwan instead.

"We are a lot like a lot of the business partners that sponsor us. A lot of times they'll say, 'Mike, in the last 10 or 15 years we used to have all of our business in America and not a lot overseas. Now we have a lot of overseas and a little bit in America.'

"I'm a lot less worried after a year in the job. I've seen an interest in domestic title sponsors."

Marilynn Smith, one of the five surviving founders of the LPGA, said she hopes players use the Founders Cup as a way to show appreciation for what they have.

"I gave 4,000 exhibitions around the world," Smith, 81, said, "just to keep the tour going. I hope all these women realize that they have an awful lot — millions of dollars — available to them. It's possible for them to earn a living."

Christina Kim, who finished 25th on the LPGA money list and whose best finish was a tie for second at the Jamie Farr tournament, said she would definitely be in the Founders field and that she was happy to forgo prize money for a week.

"I'd like to prove the LPGA isn't just about money," Kim said. "We're about basic fundamentals, and we're about showing some appreciation to our sponsors and fans. I think this is a bold move, a beautiful move to conduct an event like this.

"We need to be playing in cities like Phoenix, and for me at least, I still do this for the love of the game. If it means we do this for the progression of the game, if we have to step back to move forward, we do that. Who are we when, in an economy like this when there were a lot of cities, a lot of companies, who laid off hundreds, thousands of people, to not be willing to do something like this?"

Cristie Kerr, who finished third and was the top American on the 2010 money list, understands the economic complexities.

"I think the 2011 schedule is encouraging when we take into account the global financial situation," she said. "We have to work to get more domestic events and be in more markets like New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Texas where golf fans are. As far as the Founders, we just learned of the event this week and we don't have enough information yet to comment on it."

Whan, however, said he told players of the possibility last summer and received enthusiastic support.

"I explained why it's the right thing to do," he said. "At the end of my presentation there was no discussion and all the players applauded. It was a strange and exciting instant reaction."

Whan does acknowledge the tour has dead periods where there once were tournaments.

"I can't lie to you," he said. "There are some long breaks I'd like to see go away. There's more work to be done."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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