The IX: Golf Thursday with Sarah Kellam, February 11, 2021

Sponsors and ANWA and Annika…oh my!— Interview with Hally Leadbetter — Must-click women's golf links

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Sponsors and ANWA and Annika…oh my!

Since the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, there really hasn’t been much going on in women’s golf and, to be honest, with no LPGA, LET, or Symetra Tour play, things have felt a little bit sluggish. News is very hard to come by when no golf shots are being hit so it didn’t seem likely that there would be a lot happening until later this month. 

Boy was I wrong.

From the GOAT making a competitive return to new sponsors and increased purses to revised Tour rules to finalization of fields, the last 72 hours have been chock full of exciting announcements concerning the women’s game so I wanted to break down everything that has made headlines with so much being crammed into the last few days.

Monday saw the alteration of the LPGA Tour’s policy concerning non-member major winners, a change coming after the controversy surrounding Sophia Popov’s win at the AIG Women’s Open.

If you aren’t familiar, Popov wasn’t a card-carrying member of the Tour when she won her first major championship and, because of this, she was not allowed to play the following week. Nor did she earn any points from her victory that would’ve allowed her to play in the next major and the CME Group Tour Championship. 

Even though Sophia did accept LPGA Tour membership shortly thereafter, the points that she earned at the AIG Women’s Open could not be retroactively applied, resulting in arguments over whether or not she should be given an exemption into the ANA and Tour Championship. 

Unfortunately, nothing could be done at the time because the rule was firm and fast, but, with the beginning of a new season in 2021, the LPGA can make the necessary adjustments to the system to ensure this doesn’t happen again. And that’s just what they’ve done.

Now with the new changes, any winner of a major championship that doesn’t already have LPGA Tour status will be given a five-year membership following their victory and the money and points that their win is worth will be awarded to the player after membership is accepted. That winner, following their acceptance of membership, will also be eligible for the event the week following the major championship. 

After all of the confusion surrounding Popov’s exclusion from both the ANA Inspiration and CME Group Tour Championship, I’m relieved to see these rules being changed. When the issue first arose, the LPGA Tour couldn’t immediately fix the problem since they were still in the middle of the season and, later in the year, Commissioner Whan had alluded to pushing for amendments to these policies so this situation wouldn’t happen again. 

Not surprisingly, Mike kept his promise and the ship has finally been righted for non-member major winners. Great job, LPGA Tour!

Tuesday’s headlines brought the heat as well, starting with Cognizant, a business technology company, announcing new partnerships with both the LPGA and PGA Tours for the Founders Cup and Presidents Cup. 

Usually, sponsorship changes aren’t particularly groundbreaking because they happen so often, but the Founders Cup isn’t just getting a new sponsor, but an increase in purse size as well. The company has elected to pony up $3 million in prize money for the event, giving the tournament the largest purse size of any event, excluding the majors and CME Group Tour Championship.

It’s a big deal when any company decides to sponsor the LPGA in any way, simply because the Tour needs all of the exposure and support that it can get. However, to have a company that has a large amount of global influence and prowess like Cognizant that is also a Fortune 500 organization is HUGE! 

Choosing to sponsor both Tours and not just the men tells me that they clearly see the value of women’s golf and, with the increased purse size, are committed to elevating the women’s game. Money talks and it’s refreshing to see Cognizant speak loudly. Things like this have such a tangible impact on the success of women’s golf.

Also on Tuesday, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur field was released (as if you need another reason to get hyped up for early April). The second edition of the event is on track to have a much larger field than 2019 and will feature superstars like U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Rose Zhang, Emilia Migliaccio of Wake Forest, and junior golf phenom Alexa Pano.

ANWA is must-watch television for all women’s golf fans, highlighting the incredible talent that’s present in amateur women’s golf and is often a springboard for many players to gain both notoriety and fan bases that will benefit them in their ensuing professional careers. 

If the 2021 edition produces even an ounce of the final round drama that the 2019 ANWA gave us, we certainly won’t be disappointed. 

Last but certainly not least, ANNIKA IS BACK! Ms. 59 has decided to tee it up again in an LPGA Tour event for the first time since her retirement in 2008.

Annika is, was, and will forever be the GOAT of women’s golf and to have her inside the ropes again competing with the LPGA’s best, having just recently turned 50, is not something I was expecting. It very much helps that the Gainbridge LPGA is being hosted at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club where Annika is a member and a resident so I expect that home-course knowledge will be on full display later this month.

Despite the controversy that has surrounded Sorenstam since her acceptance of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump the day after the January 6 attacks on the Capitol building, I think her return to professional play, even if it is a one-off, will be monumental in generating buzz around women’s golf and boosting television ratings for that tournament. I’m not holding my breath for her to make a full return to the LPGA Tour because of her duties as a mother and dedication to the ANNIKA Foundation, but I’m wondering if this means she’s considering playing more on the Legends Tour. 

Either way, I’m even more so looking forward to the end of February because of Annika’s commitment to play. It’s going to be an incredible watch and I can’t wait to see the GOAT yet again move the needle in women’s golf. 

*catches breath* So, needless to say, there’s a ton going on in women’s golf at the moment even without tournament play. I predicted back in January that 2021 would be a historic, banner year for women’s golf and, with everything that has happened in the first two months of the year, that prediction has proven correct. 

The end of the month and the LPGA’s return to play can’t come soon enough, but, for now, are you not entertained?

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!

Check out the incredible story of Taneka Mackey, the only Black female caddie on the LPGA Tour. (via

Annika Sorenstam will tee it up at the Gainbridge LPGA, her first professional start since 2008. (via Golfweek)

Annika is returning to professional golf, teeing it up later this month at the Gainbridge LPGA. (via

Sorenstam set to play at home course in the Gainbridge LPGA, her first time playing as a professional since 2008. (via

More on Annika teeing it up in the 2021 Gainbridge LPGA hosted by Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. (via

What ever happened to Yani Tseng? Beth Ann Nichols chronicles the phenom’s recent years. (via Golfweek)

Business solutions company Cognizant has announced a new partnership with the LPGA and PGA Tours. (via Golfweek)

Beth Ann Nichols explains what the Cognizant sponsorship should signal to other potential Fortune 500 companies that want to sponsor golf events. (via Golfweek)

Cognizant is the new sponsor for the Founders Cup and has increased the event’s purse size to $3 million. (via

Here’s more on the increased purse size and new sponsorship for the Founders Cup. (via

There will be no amateurs in the field at this year’s ANA Inspiration. (via Golfweek)

The LPGA has changed the rules for non-member major winners in the name of Sophia Popov. (via Golfweek)

More on the policy changes that the LPGA Tour recently made so that a Sophia Popov situation never happens again. (via

Sophia Popov’s win at the AIG Women’s Open and subsequent exclusion from the ANA Inspiration and CME Group Tour Championship have resulted in rule changes for the LPGA Tour. (via

Here’s who has accepted their invitation to the 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur so far. (via Golfweek)

The 2021 ANWA will have a larger field than the 2019 edition, with 85 women committed to play. (via

The ANWA field list for 2021 has been released with 85 players having accepted their invitations. (via

More on the field list that was released for the 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur. (via

Commissioner Mike Whan writes about what the next 70 years of the LPGA Tour will mean for diversity and inclusion with the game of golf. (via

Learn more about Cheyenne Woods and her journey in professional golf. (via

Gabriela Ruffels has decided to turn professional this month instead of playing collegiately in her final semester at USC. (via Golfweek)

2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Gabriela Ruffels will make her professional debut later this month in Orlando. (via

2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up Gabriela Ruffels is turning professional. (via

The 19 2020 LPGA Tour rookies will maintain their rookie status heading into the 2021 season. (via

Minjee Lee and her brother Min Woo are both professional golfers. See what they have to say about growing up with each other and what it’s like to have a sibling playing professional golf. (via

Alena Sharp and her caddie Sarah Bowman are married. Steve Eubanks chronicles their relationship both on and off the course. (via

Angela Stanford uses her foundation to give back to children affected by cancer after her mom’s diagnosis in 2009. (via

Check out the latest Local Knowledge podcast from Golf Digest all about Jan Stephenson and her LPGA Tour career. (via

This Symetra Tour player missed out on her card by less than $400. This is how she’s fighting hard to make her dream come true. (via Golfweek)

Volvik is sponsoring the LPGA Drive On Championship taking place in March in Ocala, Florida. (via

The 2021 Women’s Leadership Summit taking place on February 24th has announced the women slated to speak at the virtual event. (via

USC captures individual and team honors at the Lamkin San Diego Invitational despite Ruffels news. (via Golfweek)

More on USC winning team and individual honors in spite of losing Gabriela Ruffels. (via

Golfweek’s women’s college golf team of the week is Virginia after their win at the UCF Challenge. (via Golfweek)

Golfweek’s women’s college golfer of the week is Karen Fredgaard of the University of Houston after her individual win at the UCF Challenge. (via Golfweek)

Tweet of the Week

Five at the IX: Hally Leadbetter, Senior Producer and Host for Digital Content at Golf Digest-Discovery Golf

How did you get your start in the golf social media space? What message do you try to convey with your content?

I got my start in the golf social media space as the social media coordinator for Golf Digest. I decided I didn’t want to play professionally and put all my efforts towards networking within golf media. I played a round with Ashley Mayo, formerly at Golf Digest now running things over at Golf Magazine, and we became fast friends. A few months later over drinks in New York City, she told me they had an opening and the rest was history.

Where do you get ideas for your content?

For Golf Digest content, I spend a lot of time looking at what other top brands are doing in other sectors, be it sports as a whole, beauty, tech etc. That combined with brainstorming sessions with our social media team usually results in some pretty great ideas. A good idea can become a great idea when you talk it out with another person.

What’s the funniest/best thing you’ve done as a content creator, both for your personal brand and for Golf Digest/GOLFTV?

For my personal accounts, I enjoy taking what I call “Pretty Ugly” selfies. Basically, it’s two back-to-back photos, one is a selfie where you look your best and the next one you try to look as unattractive as possible. Everyone, including myself, usually shares only the best moments, so I like to do that just to break down that wall a bit. For Golf Digest, I’m really proud of our weekly show Shot by Shot, but I’d say the funniest think I’ve got to work on was a tour of the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse where I pretended it was my home. I wore a bathrobe and gave a tour. The best part was there were people playing the course that day, so I got quite a few funny looks.

According to social media, you have quite the “girl gang” made up of so many successful women working in golf. Why is it important to support other women in this field?

It’s important for women to support women in whatever industry they’re in but especially in golf as it’s such a male-dominated space. We look out for each other and hype each other up. Golf is such a niche, so it’s nice to have a group of women that understand the industry so you can bounce ideas off of them and you know they always have your back.

Where do you see the golf industry in 5 years? What about golf social media content?

I’m so excited for where golf is headed. There are definitely some growing pains, but a changing of the guard is occurring. People with new ideas and progressive mindsets are in positions to make decisions that will really affect the direction of golf and the way it’s perceived by the general public. In terms of golf social media, we’ll see the rise of more creators and personalities. A cell phone is a camera and a social media account is a distribution platform. You don’t have to wait for anybody to give you a break. You can make your luck if you’re creative enough and work hard.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Sarah Kellam @sarahkellam, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by The IX Team