The next-to-last major of the professional golf season – and the LPGA Tour’s goodbye to Rochester – begins Thursday at Monroe Golf Club.
The Wegmans LPGA Championship promises to be a bittersweet event. For 38 years, Rochester has hosted an LPGA event – the last five of those as a major.
Economics have caused the impending separation. Wegmans, the title sponsor, decided it either could not or did not want to bear the rising costs of putting on a major tournament, leaving LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan to find a new sponsor.
He did in KPMG – an international audit, tax and advisory firm – which plans to move the tournament to different courses around the country. The first such stop will be downstate at Westchester Country Club in 2015. KPMG is making a heavy investment in the tournament, which will be renamed the Women’s PGA Championship, including increasing the purse size from $2.25 million this year to $3.5 million.
None of that, however, makes leaving what has been traditionally one of the Tour’s most popular annual stops any easier.
“I know it’s tough, and I think I would actually be disappointed if the people in Rochester weren’t disappointed and I’m glad they are,” Whan said when making the announcement. “My players have texted me about how excited they are, but also, ‘find us a way to get back to Rochester as soon as you can,’ which is how I feel.”
How that happens remains to be seen, and can be worked out at another time. This week, the focus will be on Monroe – which is hosting the tournament for the first time after 37 years at Locust Hill Country Club.
The field of 150 players has started to get its first look at the 6,717-yard, par-72 course, which was first designed by Donald Ross in 1923.
“Being the first year for it, it’s everybody’s first look. So there’s not really any advantage for anybody,” said world No. 6 Lexi Thompson. “I think Locust Hill was a little bit tighter, and the rough was probably a good amount thicker, but we did get some rain every time in the beginning of that week. So it grew up pretty flush, and it was hard to get out. It’s kind of like the same layout, maybe just a little wider and not as tree lined, but is an amazing layout and really good for a major championship.”
Playing a new course will present some specific challenges this week for the field.
“There are a certain amount of subtleties that you have to learn on the go. Also, we had some rain today, but how does the course drain? Does it stay soft? Does it stay soft for long? Do the winds get tricky? Little stuff like that we all don’t know yet,” said Women’s British Open winner Mo Martin. “So we’re all just going to be learning this week, and that’s going to be the challenge.”
Thompson and Martin will be two of the American players in the field hoping to help accomplish something that hasn’t been done since 1992. That was the last time American players won the season’s first four major tournaments (a fifth has since been added).
“That would be great for women’s golf in general, but I think we’re all just trying not to really think about that going into the week, putting extra pressure on ourselves,” said Thompson, the season’s first major winner at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
American players have won 11 of the season’s first 18 events on the LPGA Tour.
“I think it’s really fun for America to watch, and I’m very proud to be American,” Martin said. “The greatest thing about this tour is the diversity. So I think that adds so much to it.”
One American who won’t be in the field is U.S. Women’s Open winner Michelle Wie. She withdrew to allow a finger injury to heal. Wie is the only player in the top 10 in the world rankings and on the LPGA’s money list to not be in the field.
World No. 1 Stacy Lewis will be after her first major of the 2014 season after finishing third, second and tied for 12th in her first three tries of the year. Were it to come in Rochester, it would be even more special.
“It’s just one of those places we’ve been going to for so long; it’s just really comforting and nice to go there,” she said. “We are not done with Rochester. There’s too many players that love that area and there’s too many fans that want us to come back, so I think we will be back. Don’t write us off yet.”
The tournament airs on Golf Channel from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday, then 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
• Colden’s Kim Kaul qualified for the United States Golf Association’s Women’s Mid-Amateur by shooting a round of 79 late last month at Medina Country Club in Medina, Ohio. Kaul was one of five to advance through sectional qualifying at Medina, while Amherst’s Julie Murphy is an alternate after shooting a round of 81. The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur will be held from Sept. 6-11 at Harbour Trees Golf Club in Noblesville, Ind.
• Tom Rajczak shot a 66 at Arrowhead in Akron on Aug. 2, breaking the course record of 67 held by Lonnie Nielsen.
• Congratulations go out to 87-year-old Caz Soron, who shot his age Saturday at Crag Burn. Soron carded a 39 on the front nine with some “amazing putting” according to playing partner Eric Bloom, then had a 48 on the back. Soron and Bloom have been playing together for 26 years.
• Congratulations also go out to Ron Raccuia, the president of AdPro Sports. Raccuia hit a hole-in-one during the recent Wanakah Invite … winning himself a BMW X5 in the process. Raccuia used a 5-iron on the 185-yard fourth hole for the ace … so if you need a ride, hit him up.
• Local golf news of note is welcome at the email address below.