PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Cristie Kerr knows the LPGA Championship is going to feel different, not only because it’s staged at a new golf course.
The LPGA announced in May that the tournament was getting a new name, two big partners, a lot more exposure and a change in venue outside New York City.
Hello KPMG. Goodbye Wegmans Food Markets, and goodbye to the greater Rochester area in upstate New York, a staunch supporter of women’s golf since the tournament began in 1977.
Rest assured a few tears will be shed.
“I’m definitely sad if it is (the last time),” said Kerr, who won the 2010 LPGA Championship at Locust Hill Country Club by a record-breaking 12-stroke margin. “They knew they weren’t going to get major status forever. All the players on the tour were hoping they would remain. It’s one of the best tournaments on tour, even if they weren’t a major. It’s up to them, but that would be really sad.”
Next year’s tournament will be called the Women’s PGA Championship. It will be the first women’s major run by the PGA of America and staged at Westchester Country Club in the northern suburbs of New York City. It will be televised on NBC during the weekend, only the second time a tour event has been on network television.
Wegmans has been a sponsor of the tournament for more than three decades and became title sponsor in 1997 when the event needed one to survive. In 2009, when the LPGA lost the title sponsor for the LPGA Championship, one of its majors, Wegmans increased its financial commitment and brought the championship to Rochester.
But higher purses and other factors will effectively double the cost for title sponsorship, too much for the supermarket chain to consider. The purse will increase in 2015 to $3.5 million, up from $2.25 million this year.
The tournament was played at Locust Hill for 37 years. The final LPGA Championship begins Thursday at nearby Monroe Golf Club for the last time under its old name. The plan is to move it around the country.
“The ball’s in our ballpark,” LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan said. “We just have to find the next hero.”
A return to Rochester in the future is something both sides seem to want.
“It would be strange for me to say we’re not going to be back in Rochester long-term,” Whan said. “I’ve seen it happen. Rochester has just become part of our fabric. This is where we belong. You almost took it for granted that we’d be in Rochester every year.
“We need to find somebody who says Rochester is important to us, so that we can make it important to them.”
Inbee Park won last year in dramatic fashion at Locust Hill, with players having to play 36 holes on Sunday because of a first-round postponement due to rain. Park nearly squandered a one-shot lead with a final-round 75 that included bogeys on three of her last five holes. But when Catriona Matthew forced a playoff with a final-round 68, Park rallied with a 20-foot birdie on the third playoff hole to win her second straight major.
U.S. players have won the first three majors this year: Lexi Thompson took the Kraft Nabisco Championship; Michelle Wie won the U.S. Women’s Open; and Mo Martin surged to victory in the final round at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. The last time the first three majors in the LPGA were won by American players was in 1999, and not since 1992 have Americans won them all.
Wie already is out of contention for this one. She’ll miss the LPGA Championship because of an injury to her right index finger.