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Late dramatics provide one more good memory for Rochester golf fans

PITTSFORD – For a few passing moments Sunday evening, the spectators surrounding the 18th green at Monroe Golf Club were so engrossed in the theater starring Brittany Lincicome and Inbee Park that they seemed to forget about the curtain falling on women’s golf in Rochester.

Really, they couldn’t ask for a better finish than the drama that unfolded in the LPGA Championship. Lincicome had the tournament all but wrapped up before her nerves emerged on the final hole in regulation. Park stuck around long enough and defended her title for her fifth career major.

It eventually came back to golf, the very reason the region supported the women’s tour for nearly four decades before money, as it often does, ruined a good time. The whole week amounted to a long goodbye. The bonus hole provided one final farewell before the moving trucks were packed up until who knows when.

“So many people had so many great memories,” Park said. “It’s good that we have this kind of community that loves golf and is supportive of golf. It’s just really good coming here. We’ll be missing Rochester. We definitely want to come back here for another event.”

Lincicome ultimately, and unintentionally, provided the breathtaking conclusion after failing to manage her adrenaline. They say the toughest thing in golf is making two putts to win a tournament, a theory she confirmed when she left a 25-footer from the fringe 7 feet short in regulation.

Sure enough, back on the 18th for the first playoff hole, her second shot landed inches away from her approach in regulation. She chipped 5 feet past the hole, burned the edge on the putt coming back and left the door open. Park chipped to 4 feet and calmly made her putt for the win.

You had to feel for Lincicome, an engaging and colorful fan favorite who was looking for her second career major and sixth win over 11 seasons on tour. She had a two-stroke lead with two holes to play. Park, in the group ahead, rolled an 8-footer for birdie on No. 17 and made a long par putt on 18 to finish 11-under.

“I was shaking like a leaf,” Lincicome said. “It’s not a fun feeling. I’m human. It’s part of life and growing. Hopefully, I can learn something from it.”

Still, it made for a captivating finish.

Understandably, loyal fans and some 1,200 volunteers who had been showing up all these years were slow leaving Monroe Golf Club. It was as if they were helplessly left behind, waving from the side of the road while a dear friend pulled away. That reality had been hanging over the tournament all week.

“They’ve been so supportive for so long,” Stacy Lewis said. “Everybody is sad that we’re leaving, but I think we’ll be back here in a few years. You know, these crowds today just showed that we should be playing here.”

Women’s golf could return. Perhaps it will even play host to the LPGA Championship, which no longer is anchored after five years in Pittsford. It remains one of the great venues. Attendance has been strong for years, and they came out under ideal playing conditions Sunday.

Rochester losing its place on the LPGA tour is yet another example of large corporations swallowing up mom-and-pop operations. Wegmans has been on the other side, so let’s not kid ourselves. It expanded into six states and had a heavy hand in closing many a corner convenience store.

The LPGA would stay in Rochester if it could, and Wegmans would continue sponsoring an annual tour stop if it made sense. The supermarket chain already rationalized enough after shelling out $5.8 million – or nearly $1.5 million per day – for the LPGA Championship.

Women’s golf has been in Rochester since 1977, when the first Bankers Trust Open was held at Locust Hill Country Club. Total purse: $75,000. Pat Bradley captured the event and took home $11,000, pennies in the ashtray when compared to the $337,550 winner’s paycheck Sunday.

The money was always a factor, but for years it wasn’t all about the money. The annual stop evolved into a charming event, a communal treasure in a passionate golf community. Six championship courses can be found within six miles of one another, five in Pittsford.

You know about the rich history at Oak Hill, which counts the 1995 Ryder Cup, two PGA Championships and two U.S. Opens as its major events. The women’s game had sustained success and carved its own slice of history with repeat winners such as Nancy Lopez and Patty Sheehan.

For years, interest trumped finances.

Ultimately, interest wasn’t enough.

KPMG is taking over next year and moving the LPGA Championship to Westchester Country Club outside of New York. It will include a $3.5 million purse. The international auditing firm can justify the expense when it’s reaching massing audiences tuning into NBC starting next year.

Wegmans would have the same exposure if it came up with the money, and perhaps it would have stayed in Pittsford. But international publicity does little for a company without a store in 44 states and none outside the U.S. It’s remarkable that Wegmans lasted as long as it did.

“It’s a business choice,” Wegmans vice president Bill Strassburg said “How can you justify the expense? You aren’t an international player who can use the international exposure. … We’re getting exposure in 55 countries or 100 countries throughout the world, but it doesn’t really mean anything to us.”

Understood, but the title sponsor doesn’t mean much to everyone else. Spectators watch because they appreciate the sport and its participants. The women aren’t concerned about who pays them so long as they get paid. The LPGA Tour isn’t much different than any other sport when it comes to money.

It’s an international game fighting for space in a world economy. Every once in a while, we forget about the almighty buck and enjoy the competition in its purest form. In this case, it’s the golf. And that’s what people witnessed on the final hole in the final round, twice, before saying farewell.

For now.


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