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Champions tourney to kickstart LPGA season

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Gaby Lopez of Mexico plays a shot during the final round of the Blue Bay LPGA golf tournament in Sanya on China’s Hainan Island on November 10, 2018. AFP

Champions tourney to kickstart LPGA season

The LPGA launches its 71st season January 21 with plans for a 34-event global campaign paying a record $76.45 million in prize money but a lame duck commissioner.

A field of 25 women will gather with celebrities for the LPGA Tournament of Champions at Four Seasons in Orlando to begin the 2021 campaign after a 2020 season that endured a five-month shutdown due to Covid-19.

“In many ways, this past year – with all the pandemic challenges – was also the LPGA’s most triumphant,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said.

“We’re entering 2021 on a wave of momentum – a strong schedule with record purses, new events and sponsors, double-digit viewership growth and a talented team that demonstrated exceptional skill, resilience and capability to lead through challenging times.”

The LPGA makes a comeback with revived tournaments that went unplayed last year, but will lose Whan, the tour’s commissioner since October 2009.

Whan announced on January 6 he was stepping down this year, but would remain in the job indefinitely to help ease the transition.

“As the longest-serving LPGA commissioner, I look back on these 11 years with enormous pride and satisfaction at what we’ve accomplished,” Whan said.

“I simply wouldn’t leave the LPGA if I thought the future was uncertain or not trending straight up.

“In fact, even after the challenges in 2020, the LPGA has never been more financially secure . . . The LPGA is poised for even greater heights.”

The Tournament of Champions, modified this year to include event winners from the past three years due to Covid-19, will see Mexico’s Gaby Lopez try to defend her title after a 25-foot birdie playoff on the seventh extra hole brought her the 2020 title.

The three North American members of the world rankings top 10 – No4 Nelly Korda and No5 Danielle Kang from the US and Canada’s sixth-ranked Brooke Henderson – are in the field.

Kang has struggled with a move to Las Vegas and exposure to Covid-19 since the 2020 season ended a month ago.

“It wasn’t really a break,” Kang said. “There were two moves. I moved, then I got exposed to coronavirus twice. Had to quarantine twice. Take six tests in the last two weeks.

“It has been a little hectic.”

Solheim Cup in September

Full field events begin in February with the Asian swing delayed from past years until April and May after the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration at Rancho Mirage, California, on April 1-4.

Two Australia events have already been postponed to 2022.

The schedule also features a new match-play event in May, the US Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco June 10-13 and the Women’s PGA Championship in Georgia June 24-27.

The Tokyo Olympics tournament will be staged August 4-7 between two LPGA majors, the July 22-25 Evian Championship in France and the Women’s British Open at Carnoustie August 19-22.

The Solheim Cup matches between Europe and the US will be staged at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, on September 4-6, with the season ending at the Tour Championship on November 18-21.

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