By Rick Woelfel
For all Mike Whan has accomplished as the LPGA’s commissioner, the establishment of the JTBC Founders Cup stands as perhaps his greatest achievement. One that transcends even the International Crown and the return of golf to the Olympic movement.
The Founders Cup, which is being played for the sixth time this week, is an ongoing salute to the 13 brave, hardy, and committed souls who found the LPGA in 1950. The tournament was launched in 2011 at least in part to guard against the possibility that the Founders’ accomplishments would be lost in the mists of time.
Whan envisioned the current crop of LPGA players donating the entire purse of the inaugural Founders Cup to charity, an idea that received decidedly mixed reviews at the time but at the urging of veterans like Karrie Webb the players agreed to the idea. (they did receive credit for they money they earned via the Official Money List).
Fittingly enough Webb, who has a deep and abiding respect for the LPGA’s history, was the first Founders Cup champion. She won the tournament a second time in 2014.
Traditionally, the Founders who are well enough to do so attend the tournament each year along with later generations of players who were once among the brightest stars in golf.
We were fortunate enough to attend the Founders Cup in 2012 and it remains one of our fondest memories in golf. Three of the four living Founders attended that year, Marilynn Smith, Louise Suggs, and Shirley Spork, and we had the opportunity to speak with all three. We spoke with the fourth, Marlene Bauer Hagge after the tournament. All four offered recollections of what the early days o the LPGA were all about, recollections we found illuminating and entertaining.
Smith recalled that the early tour was very much a do-it-yourself operation. “We did all the things we play people to do now,” she said. “We had a tournament committee who would make rulings, we had a pairings committee, that would make the pairings. We had a social chairman. “We had a treasurer who would give checks out Sunday night to the players.”
Suggs passed away last year but Hagge, Smith, and Spork are still alive and are living monuments to the history of their sport. It’s common to see players leave the final green at Wildfire Golf Club and take time to greet the Founders who are invariably watching from greenside.
The LPGA has done as much as any sports organization and more than most, to maintain ties to its past, to it’s everlasting credit. Some of today’s players, Stacy Lewis among them, have made it a point to spend time with the Founders and hear their stories. They in turn will share those stories with the players who come after them.
The Founders Cup is not officially a major championship. But in terms of its importance we think it is every bit as significant as one.
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