A few bumps in the road at first 2023 LPGA event — Must-click women’s golf links
The IX: Golf Thursday with Addie Parker, Jan. 19, 2023
Happy Golf Thursday! The first LPGA event of the 2023 season, the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in Orlando, FL is here and things have been…interesting to say the least. For the last couple of weeks, the major storyline has been which top players are missing from the season debut.
World No. 1 Lydia Ko was confirmed for an event in Saudi Arabia, but not for HGVTOC. As it turns out Ko is on her honeymoon after getting married right before the New Year.
Seven of the top 10 ranked players won’t be in action this week in Orlando. Only Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson are in the field. Jin Young Ko had registered but withdrew due to an injury she has been dealing with since the end of 2022.
Lexi Thompson, who is ranked No. 6 in the world is also missing from the field, due to her being ineligible to play as she hasn’t won on tour since 2019.
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But these top players “skipping” out on the tour’s first event may cost them in the long run. The LPGA’s 1-in-4 requirement stipulates that players in the top 80 of the CME points list compete in a domestic event once every four years. Minjee Lee and Jin Young Ko haven’t been participants in the TOC field for a couple years now, and would’ve had to compete this year in order to avoid a potential $25,000 fine. Now, players have the right to appeal, and the final decision would be made by the commissioner.
The 1-in-4 rule came to inception during the domination era of Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak and only applied to domestic (US-based) events only. The tour felt it was necessary to implement the rule as a way to get major talent to play in events, as well as to protect sponsorships of events.
In order to play in the HGVTOC, you must win — after all it’s meant to be a celebration of the tour’s recent winners. But, to apply to 1-in-4 rule to this event that has such a specific entry policy seems a bit strange. Representatives of the tour state that it’s merely an incentive and reward for excellence. You play good, you win, you get to compete.
There’s an added layer to why the tournament field may be lacking. With such a segmented schedule, it doesn’t really make sense for players from Asia and Australia to start their season off in Florida an entire month before an Asian-dominated leg of the schedule in February and March.
The “off season” is just under two full calendar months, and for players like Nelly Korda, who participated in the QBE Shootout and PNC Championship in late 2022 — there wasn’t much time away from golf. Players are opting out of the first event for the sake of having more time to rest.
But wait, we’re not finished!
There have been mixed feelings about the locker situation across the tour and golf media.
Ryan O’Toole, who is playing in the event shared her thoughts on the situation. “I’m not mad at the club; I’m not mad at the sponsor. I’m annoyed at the LPGA for that just being an overlooked factor.”
Annika Sorenstam, who lives on Lake Nona and is a long-time member of the club said, “It’s unfortunate that that story is kind of being discussed. I just want to focus on the game, and hopefully they can sort all the logistics out and we can focus on what’s important.”
Other players have echoed a similar sentiment.
The LPGA released the following statement in response to the situation:
“Hilton Grand Vacations has been an incredible partner in supporting the LPGA to expand and enhance amenities and accommodations for our players. With the return of hospitality this year, the tournament informed us that due to a need for public bathrooms, there would not be a private and secure locker room available for the LPGA players this week. There was an option presented to have temporary lockers added to a space within the clubhouse that did not include a bathroom area. Due to a prioritization of space for other player uses, our tournament team made the decision that it was not in the best interest of the players and the event to pursue that option. Players have access to a locker room, although the space is not entirely private. We are always open to player feedback and work with our tournament partners to allocate finite space. We will continue to do so with our amazing partners from Hilton Grand Vacations moving forward.”
This is proving to be a turbulent start to the season, but now that the tournament is underway officially (follow along here), I think everyone will be able to look past these minor bumps and enjoy a fun week of golf as it was intended.
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This week in women’s golf
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Korda isn’t the only one with new partners…Brooke Henderson officially signs with TaylorMade
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For my podcast listeners, The Golfstat Podcast is weekly podcast that discusses news and highlights in and around the world of college golf
Five at The IX: Quotes from HGVTOC
Ahead of tournament play, some fan favorite players spoke with the media about the format of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, the conditions of the course, the 2023 schedule, and more!
Having been a champion, how excited are you to interact with the celebrities and be a part of this tournament in general?
LEONA MAGUIRE: Yeah, it’s definitely a cool format. It’s very different to any event we play all year. Yeah, I don’t know who I’ll be playing with yet, but there’s obviously a real mix of people from music, sports people, actors, all of that. So yeah, hopefully we’ll get a fun group.
The season is underway, just your approach or mindset entering this new season?
MARINA ALEX: Yeah, I think this is a great first week to the year. We’re all pretty fortunate to be able to play this event as Tournament of Champions, but it’s a fun week, and it’s a great way to get started. A little less intense than a normal week, so I think it’s just a great kickoff, and I’m really looking forward to the ’23 season.
This is one of the probably best golf courses in Orlando, arguably the best. Winning at a venue like this, what does that mean for you?
DANIELLE KANG: I believe that winning at good golf courses means you’re a good player. Winning anywhere does. But it’s extra meaningful for me because I’m very particular about golf courses.
What do you make of this year’s schedule?
NELLY KORDA: There is a lot of thought that went into this year’s schedule. That’s why I kind of sat down and my team and I decided that it was really important to focus on my body, being able to be fresh…Obviously it’s a Solheim Cup year; two majors on completely different coasts of the U.S. It’s going to be tough for sure. I think a lot of girls are probably going to focus on being fresh for the entire season, because at the end of the day, when you’re traveling so much, it burns you out.
What advice would you give to a junior girl today?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM: It’s all about having fun. Enjoy the game. Go out there, you can meet a lot of great friends. But it’s a game for life. Teaches you a lot about the life skills that are out there. Just give it a try and have a good time. Be outside and enjoy what’s it has to offer.
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