It’s not the Phoenix Open, but it’s still a party at LPGA Founders Cup
PHOENIX -- Yani Tseng is World No. 1, and Natalie Gulbis (pictured) is a Sports Illustrated swimsuit star, but there were more photos snapped of (and autographs signed by) the two players in the group behind them, Lexi Thompson and Paula Creamer. Either way, it’s simply nice to see the planet’s best women golfers competing on U.S. soil again.
I followed play Friday at the RR Donnelley Founders Cup in Phoenix, the first LPGA event in the U.S. in 2012, and it was a blast. Players are easy to get close to, easy to talk to and easy to relate to. The ladies are actually grateful that you’re there. If the PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open is golf’s biggest frat party, the LPGA offers a well-attended happy hour. It’s sipping white wine versus draining a keg. The buzz is hardly electric, but it’s mellow and pleasant.
In a way, that’s damning the LPGA with faint praise. The product seems to get better and better and nobody notices. There couldn’t have been more than 5,000 hardy souls gathered to watch the play (a pure guesstimate, I admit), fewer folks than at any spring training baseball game in town today, and likely a smaller number than the crowd gathered at the range on a Phoenix Open Monday. Here’s what the absentees missed:
-- Yani Tseng birdied her 17th to take the lead, then showed her skill with a superior greenside bunker shot at 18 that bit and spun back with Luke Donald-like precision.
-- Paula Creamer departed the interview room after her 68 that left her tied for seventh and insisted on holding the door open for a photographer and his assistant. Can you picture Monty doing that?
-- Natalie Gulbis closed with a spectacular birdie at 18, but it followed a horrific nine at 17, which guaranteed a missed cut—yet posed for every fan photo requested.
-- Lexi Thompson finished with a disappointing bogey, but she smiled for 15 straight minutes while signing a plethora of visors, flags and paper scraps.
I asked Lexi how it felt to be a rock star. “It’s so much fun out here," she said. "It’s great.”
I then queried whether dealing with all of these new fans gets in the way of playing or preparing. “No, not at all,” she responded. “It’s part of being out here. In fact, it’s my favorite part of it. To think that people have taken the time to come out to watch us play is great.”
How refreshing. And Lexi Thompson just turned 17.
No, there’s nobody on this tour who will drive it into the stratosphere, or muscle a 175-yard 9-iron out of the rough. There’s also no star that will snarl “later, kid” to a young seeker who just wanted one up-close, lasting memory.
Go out and see an LPGA event this year. At the very least, watch one on television. These girls are good—and they’re good people.
(Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)