ORLANDO, Fla. — Covering an LPGA Tour event is much different than a PGA Tour event. While it’s fun to see the best players in the world do their thing… wait, actually, these are the best players in the world.
The LPGA Tour’s season opener — this year with a new sponsor and contested at a new golf course — is a unique combination of celebrities from sport and screen along with winners from the past two years on Tour (including in 2022, as a special invite returning from maternity leave, Michelle Wie West).
That makes for a heck of a party to start the season.
The golfers who aren’t touring pros aren’t slouches, either.
Derek Lowe, the former MLB all-star who won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 won the celebrity division — over Annika Sorenstam — carries a 0.2 index. Now, his final score was nothing compared to eventual tournament winner Danielle Kang (Kang shot 16-under, Lowe shot 7-over), but it’s a fun way to see your favorite athlete in a way you’ve likely never seen before.
Seeing some celebrities up close is just one thing that makes the LPGA’s season opener unique. Here are some inside-the-ropes observations from the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.
The Stars of The LPGA are really (really) accessible
While attending a PGA Tour event you may have a thrill in seeing Bryson DeChambeau bomb a drive, Rory McIlroy carve an approach into a tight pin, or Tiger Woods unleash a furious fist-pump.
But have you ever tried to get an autograph after the round?
While many of the PGA Tour’s top players are super fan friendly, all of the LPGA Tour’s best are willing to sign, take pictures, and just chit-chat with fans — and at the opening event of the year, that includes during tournament play.
Male golfers can learn a lot from the female pros
Let’s not get it twisted — if you’re playing off scratch, you are a darn good golfer. But this week proved that the ladies of the LPGA Tour are in an entirely different league, and despite what some keyboard warriors may believe, a low-handicap male player will most definitely not beat an LPGA Tour golfer.
The tempos, the way the LPGA Tour’s best approach each hole, and how they prepare are all things that men could take plenty of cues from. You don’t really realize the kind of things you could do better until you see their actions up close.
Canadians are everywhere
Canadian Brooke Henderson finished second to Kang at 13-under for the week, but given the full-throated spectators following her around for four days, you would have thought she won the thing.
Henderson is Canada’s winningest golfer on either the LPGA or PGA Tour, and January is a pretty good time to be escaping the Great White North (and I would know, I’m Canadian, too). Despite Henderson being in the third-to-last group on Sunday, her gallery was loud and hoping with all their might to carry Henderson across the finish line.
Perhaps the most fun moment came on Saturday after Henderson made a birdie on No. 14 and a group behind the green broke out into the country’s national anthem. Henderson said she heard them singing ‘O Canada’ and flashed a big smile.
A party atmosphere is OK!
Golf still holds a stigma on its rules and stuffiness. There is, of course, a time and place for all of that. But many events — and especially on the LPGA Tour — have pivoted to include as much fun as possible.
The Tournament of Champions features plenty of local food and drink vendors along with a DJ on the 18th hole. For someone trying to win the tournament in may be a little jarring, but there was no denying — the crowd was loving it.
Sports brings people together
With this event taking place in the heat of the NFL playoffs — and with so many sport stars in the field (Roger Clemens, Vince Carter, Larry Fitzgerald and tons more) — it was neat to see how many fast friends were made by those in the gallery wearing the same kind of team’s gear.
Whether it was Buffalo Bills hoodies on Sunday, Green Bay Packers jerseys on Saturday, or pick-a-hockey-team gear following Brooke Henderson, a quick nod or cheer or high-five made you realize that despite the COVID-19 pandemic still very much being part of our lives, sports has helped people through.
Kids get to be kids
While there is so much excitement for the adults in the crowd — the aforementioned food and drink vendors, the music, and more — what you really notice is how much joy young kids get out of following the stars of the LPGA Tour.
Despite the season opener being a star-studded affair, there still wasn’t the heaving galleries one may see on the PGA Tour. That means youngsters from strollers to teenagers could get up-close-and-personal with the stars of the LPGA Tour.
And when you think about how young some of the fans were, perhaps one day they will recall fondly the exact day at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club when they knew they wanted to follow in their heroes’ footsteps.