The IX: Golf Thursday with Sarah Kellam, April 1, 2021
ANA Inspiration and the Augusta National Women's Amateur — Interview with Leia Schwartz — Must-click women's golf links
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It’s the ANA Inspiration and ANWA week!
It doesn’t get any better than this for fans of women’s golf.
With the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the ANA Inspiration on tap, all eyes are on the women’s game this week, meaning increased media coverage and publicity for both the amateurs and the LPGA Tour. Rarely is women’s golf afforded such an opportunity so, for those of us who are tuned into this side of the game week in and week out, it’s exhilarating to have so much to follow.
With that being said, there are a myriad of storylines to keep up with so I thought I’d provide a few things to have your eye on during this incredible few days of nonstop women’s golf.
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur, or ANWA, needs no further explanation since it has become the premier event for women’s amateur golf since its inception in 2019 and the return of the event to the calendar in 2021 has been a relief to those that weren’t able to participate in the inaugural edition. The tournament consists of 36 holes of stroke play at Champions Retreat Golf Club and the top 30 competitors after Thursday’s cut will move on to play Augusta National on Saturday.
If you recall, Maria Fassi and Jennifer Kupcho gave the world an unbelievable show two years ago in the final round at Augusta National, showcasing the best parts of women’s amateur golf with their sportsmanship and camaraderie coming the stretch in spite of the intense duel t to take home the maiden title. Kupcho would go on to best Maria and both are now having successful careers on the professional tour.
If you’d like to look into the crystal ball and see the future of women’s professional golf, watching ANWA is the best way to do so. Today’s amateurs become tomorrow’s stars and there’s no better way to see what’s on the horizon for the LPGA Tour. Do yourself a favor and make sure to tune in on Saturday to the final round. You won’t regret it.
The ANA Inspiration, one of the LPGA Tour’s five majors, is on the opposite side of the country at Mission Hills and the stars are out in California. The biggest story of the week so far has been the removal of the grandstands and the controversial blue wall from behind the 18th green, making it a true island green for the players.
Many have spoken about the wall’s eradication with some players being excited for the challenge of deciding whether or not to go for it in two and others thinking it won’t make much of a difference. Regardless, the absence of any sort of backstop opens the door for many balls to find the water, and come Sunday when an eagle or a birdie on the 18th could clinch a victory, it’s going to be entertaining to see who chooses to risk it or lay up.
2013 champion Inbee Park is also making headlines after a wire-to-wire win at the Kia Classic last week, making for her first career title in the event and the 21st of her LPGA Tour career. The current world number two is in solid form coming into this major championship and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her victoriously leaping into Poppie’s Pond at the end of the week.
Michelle Wie West is back in the field this week at the ANA Inspiration, an event that she began playing in 2003. A two under 70 to kick off the tournament is a vast improvement from the 81-74 she fired last week to miss the cut, but Wiezy is clearly getting back in the swing of competing on the LPGA Tour. Makenna was brought along on the trip to the desert and listening to Michelle speak following her first round, you can tell that she’s feeling happy and comfortable in her second start on Tour since 2019.
Also of note, this will be the last ANA for LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan as he is set to transition to his new role with the USGA in the next couple of months. Both Tour staff and players are sad to see him go and it seems that reality is finally sinking in with his final appearance at Mission Hills this week. While Mike will definitely be successful in his new endeavor, it’s hard to see such a champion for women’s golf leave an organization that he’s impacted so heavily.
Lastly, it’s the 50th anniversary of the ANA Inspiration and even without the presence of fans, the event still has the same elevated energy surrounding it. Most players believe this tournament is the women’s equivalent of the Masters and being on-site this week, you can tell that there’s something unique about this major championship in particular, just through the aura around the golf course.
Every female golfer has dreamt of plunging into Poppie’s Pond and it’s the exceptional former champions and the meaning behind this event that make it such a sought-after title. Whoever takes that leap come Sunday will effectively solidify their place forever in the history books, joining one of the most elite companies in golf, earning their place on Dinah’s Wall of Champions.
Thus, it’s an incredibly important week for women’s golf for both the professionals and the amateurs. Tune into the coverage, click on the links, and post on social media. Do your part to support the women’s game and make sure people know that all of this great golf is being played this week.
There’s plenty to watch, plenty to read, and plenty to follow. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on the incredible moments that are sure to come.
This week in women’s golf
(Reminder: First: the underlined words are the links. Second: CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. ESPECIALLY NOW, as newsrooms are forced to make difficult choices. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers, and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! email@example.com.)
Beth Ann Nichols sits down with 1976 ANA Inspiration champion Judy Rankin to reflect on the history of the event. (via Golfweek.com)
How will the island green at 18 affect the drama coming down the stretch at the ANA? We will have to find out. (via Golfweek.com)
Lewis and Lexi will both be feeling good vibes at Mission Hills for the ANA Inspiration. (via LPGA.com)
Here’s who to watch at the first major championship of the season. (via Golfweek.com)
After a runner-up finish at the Kia Classic, Amy Olson appears to be in form as she heads to Mission Hills, a course she’s had prior success at. (via LPGA.com)
The Dinah Shore Tournament Course has never been in better shape according to many of the players. (via LPGA.com)
Bianca Pagdanganan is making her first start in a major at the ANA Inspiration. (via Golfweek.com)
It’s been three years since Pernilla Lindberg won the ANA Inspiration and she’s still learning how to handle being a major champion. (via GolfChannel.com)
Yealimi Noh was given a $10,000 fine after slow play at the Kia Classic. (via Golfweek.com)
This rookie was slapped with a hefty fine for slow play at the Kia Classic. (via GolfDigest.com)
Inbee Park earns her 21st LPGA Tour victory last week. (via Golfweek.com)
Despite missing the cut, Michelle Wie West was happy with a 7 shot improvement between the first and second rounds at the Kia Classic. (via Golfweek.com)
Michelle Wie West’s return to professional golf last week was a bit lackluster. (via Golfweek.com)
Wie West kept her head up even though it was an 81 in her first round back on Tour since 2019. (via GolfDigest.com)
Hyo Joo Kim is back out on the LPGA Tour. (via LPGA.com)
Zoe Campos, a 2019 ANWA participant, is back for the 2021 edition. (via Golfweek.com)
Alexa Pano is another familiar face you’ll see at ANWA again. (via Golfweek.com)
Amari Avery has dropped the “Tigress” nickname and is in the field at ANWA. (via NYTimes.com)
Emilia Migliaccio has rethought her plans to turn pro, leaning towards writing professionally instead. (via Golfweek.com)
Aline Krauter chose the ANA over ANWA. (via GOLF.com)
This Arkansas women’s golfer will be channeling Maria Fassi at the ANWA. (via Golfweek.com)
Here are the top ten collegiate golfers at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. (via Golfweek.com)
Three Texas players have withdrawn from ANWA with positive COVID tests.(via Golfweek.com)
Kaitlyn Papp was not able to play ANWA because of a positive COVID-19 test. (via Golfweek.com)
This Texas standout had to WD from the ANWA after a positive COVID-19 test. (via GolfDigest.com)
This ANWA participant was reunited with her father at the event after 15 months apart. (via GolfChannel.com)
Even after an 88 in the first round, this ANWA participant is still enjoying herself. (via GolfChannel.com)
A recent report says that fans will not be allowed at Olympic Club for the USWO. (via Golfweek.com)
Check out this Q and A on Instagram with Lizette Salas. (via LPGA.com)
Amy Rogers and Adam Stanley talk the “Stop Asian Hate” movement with Lydia Ko. (via GolfChannel.com)
Tweets of the Week
Five at The IX: Leia Schwartz, Integrated Content Manager for the LPGA Tour
How did you get your position with the LPGA Tour? What is it like working in social media for a major sports league?
I can personally attest to the power of internships. The summer after my sophomore year at Stetson University, I was an Event Management & Marketing intern with the LPGA. As a female golfer, I fell in love with the mission, the culture, and everything the LPGA stands for. Throughout my final two years of college, I kept in touch with my internship supervisors, including Chief Teaching Officer/LPGA Foundation President Nancy Henderson. Nancy tried to convince me to graduate early so I could come work for the LPGA full-time. Two years later, and a few months before graduation, I asked her if there was still a place for me. I started full-time in May 2018 as Communications Coordinator for the LPGA Foundation. A year later I was promoted to Content Producer, and a couple of months ago I began my latest role as Manager, Integrated Content.
Whenever I explain my job, working for a major sports league, I talk about how each day is different – which I love. I have worked on running social media, fundraising, broadcasting, press releases, interviews, video production, newsletters – but more importantly, I have been able to work with, learn from, and meet some incredible people along the way.
On the social media side with the Tour, live tournament coverage certainly gets the adrenaline pumping! From playoffs and breaking news to live highlights and current events, there is no lack of excitement. There is always a new story to tell, interesting people to meet, and new adventures to embark on.
How does the work that you do connect golf fans to the women’s game?
My role includes leading social media strategy and digital content efforts across several of our LPGA areas, especially what we call our “non-Tour” groups: the LPGA Foundation, LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, LPGA Amateur Golf Association, LPGA Professionals, and the LPGA Women’s Network.
I am lucky enough to see the impact across ages and stages in the game. Each one of our players has a unique story to tell, as do our juniors, amateurs, and educators. Being able to find the connection between those groups while guiding our fans to be able to see themselves in our players and members is one of the favorite parts of my job.
When we talk about the approachability of our players, it’s also that transparency and truly humanizing them through our storytelling. They aren’t just athletes. They are inspiring women from various backgrounds who #DriveOn every day to achieve their dreams.
Through social media and our digital platforms, fans can become part of the story and get a “front seat” to the action. It’s also about making our non-Tour members feel like they are part of the LPGA family. Our LPGA Amateurs are the women’s golf community that provides opportunities for all women to connect, learn, play, and belong. Our LPGA Professionals are educators, leaders, and game-changers dedicated to growing the game of golf for everyone.
Our LPGA Women’s Network is the online “voice” of these groups, providing advice for your game and inspiration for your life. And then there is LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, a joint initiative between the LPGA Foundation and the USGA that continues to empower young girls and our future leaders through the game of golf.
With the LPGA, we also have another important mission: “To be a recognized worldwide leader in sport by providing women professionals the opportunity to pursue their dreams in the game of golf.” It all comes down to growing the game and giving women and girls a platform to be empowered and inspired.
How do we continue to engage golf fans within the women’s game? Are we making progress in closing the gap between men’s and women’s golf coverage?
Something that I love most about the LPGA is how personable our players are. Their games are relatable, their personalities are engaging, and their stories are inspiring. As someone with a passion for storytelling, I view our players and members as our greatest asset with engagement. “If you see it, you can be it.” The more that little girls can see someone who looks like them on Tour, the more that fans can relate to swings and stories, and the more that we can celebrate our history while partnering for greater success, the better the future of the game will be.
I like to say progress is a process. In talking with some of our LPGA Founders, they could have never imagined that the LPGA would be where it is today. For them, it was about just trying to promote the fact that there could possibly be a professional women’s association. Now we have a global Tour with over 30 events in North America, Europe, and Asia. TV viewership is up more than 30% from last year, with social engagement up more than 40%. In 2021, we are playing the Olympics and Solheim Cup, venues like The Olympic Club, Atlanta Athletic Club, and Carnoustie. We have over 90,000 girls being engaged through LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, with over 75 alumnae currently playing on the LPGA and Symetra Tours. 36% of juniors playing the game are female. Since 1995, female golfers between the ages of 6 and 17 have increased by more than 135%, leading to approximately one-quarter of on-course golfers today being women.
But there is definitely a lot of work to still be done. I think our Commissioner Mike Whan said it best in his press conference this week at the ANA Inspiration: “It’s a battle. It’s a struggle. It’s one of the reasons, quite frankly, why I’m glad I took the job because, as a male, certainly as a white male, it would have been really easy for me to glide through life and never pay attention to this challenge. I also raised three boys, not girls. I never thought about, as a father, the future of the game of football or baseball they were playing. I’ll never be able to think about sports or life like that again because these athletes are in my head and in my life.”
Having champions like Mike Whan to help elevate the women’s game is how we will continue to close the gap. 7% of corporate sponsorship dollars are invested in women’s sports. We have some incredible sponsors and partners who are changing this statistic through their investments, advocacy, and support. As we look to the future of the game, the work has really just begun.
What has been your most rewarding experience since working for the LPGA?
It’s so hard to pick just one… being able to interview three of our LPGA Founders (Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork, and Marlene Bauer Hagge) is something I’ll always cherish. I’ve also been able to work with legends like Nancy Lopez and Annika Sörenstam on continued efforts to grow the game.
I am blessed to have met some incredible people while working for the LPGA. In 2019, I interviewed Girls Golf and LPGA Leadership Academy alumna Amy Bockerstette along with her mother and sister just a month after Amy’s viral moment with Gary Woodland at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. That interview turned into a friendship that I am so grateful to have. From FaceTime calls to virtual karaoke sessions, Amy inspires me every day to know “I got this.”
LPGA*USGA Girls Golf is definitely a passion project. As a Girls Golf alumna myself, any interaction with our members is always a rewarding experience. Golf has given me so much, and I love being able to give back just a little bit. I managed the LPGA PR around last summer’s Race Fore Unity and the establishment of the Renee Powell Grant, continuing our work to “change the face of golf.” I have also produced several of our PSAs and #DriveOn spots, including one on Girls Golf member Claire Hollingsworth, whose “Small but Mighty” mantra and infectious positivity are so inspiring. It’s always rewarding to see things come to life, and they did at the LPGA Drive On Championship – celebrating all areas of our LPGA family in the spirit of #DriveOn.
It’s also always rewarding to work with our partners. As a partner advocate for St. Jude on the communications/content end, my passions for golf and children’s health combine, and there are no words to explain that feeling.
You recently wrote a story for LPGA.com about your relationship with Shirley Spork. How did that friendship begin? What is the best piece of wisdom that she’s shared with you?
Shirley is incredible. I had the chance to speak with her on the phone a couple of months after I started working for the LPGA full-time, thanks to some special projects for Girls Golf. We finally met in person on September 30, 2018, at the Marilynn Smith Charity Pro-Am, where she officially welcomed me into the family with open arms. Our relationship truly developed after I had a chance to interview her in March 2019 at the Founders Cup. That interview was more like an hour-long conversation with my grandmother, followed by adventures at Top Golf and continued bonding.
In my story, I mentioned “emails with YouTube videos and stories that she thinks you would enjoy and just had to share.” She’ll often send advice pieces and stories on inspirational people that I can learn from.
Shirley has no lack of wisdom and advice. Some things I’ve learned from her: Time stops for no one. Take advantage of every moment. Keep moving and persevering and enjoying life.
“In golf, you have to play your mistakes,” Shirley once told me. “Golf is not a game of perfect. Golf is a game of playing your mistakes – and the same can be said about life. Sometimes you can top the ball and it will roll right up on the green. Or I can remember playing in the LPGA Championship and hitting a ball starting out of bounds and it hit a tree and went on the green and I made a birdie… so you have to have luck along the way.”
Shirley has also taught me so much about “acting like a Founder” and leaving the game better than we found it. As she once told me, “We have to support those that are out there that have not had the opportunity, the same experiences that we have had.”
As I said before, it all comes back to how we #DriveOn for the future of our game.