Clutch shots, drama, controversy, four different world number ones, near misses, slumps, hot streaks, redemption, and first-time winners. What a year 2017 was on the LPGA Tour.

At each tournament, there are many things going on, and covering an event can become hectic. Finding the correct shuttle to the course, checking into the media center, looking at player schedules, it can be overwhelming.

The 2017 LPGA Season was my first year covering events, I had plenty to learn. Luckily, my father was a photographer at our local newspaper for over twenty years, and those years following my Dad around helped tremendously. The LPGA staff and players were also very helpful.

Brooke Henderson KPMG Ben Harping for Womens Golf
The  2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship produced many incredible moments, and Brooke Henderson was inches away from creating its greatest one. The closing hole at Olympia Fields Country Club, a par five, was the perfect hole to finish a major championship. The 18th was the ideal length, that if in the fairway, players could go for the green. However, a great shot with a long iron, or fairway wood was required to reach the green (for most). Brooke reached in two and had an uphill putt, with a couple feet of break, for eagle. Down two strokes to Danielle Kang, Henderson went into the last needing the eagle to tie. However, before Henderson struck her putt, Kang bogeyed the 17th hole. This meant an eagle would give her the lead by one! Brooke sent the eagle putt right on her intended line, the speed looked perfect, and then one rotation from going into the cup, it stopped. This picture shows her reaction to almost making the tournament’s defining shot. (Henderson tapped in for birdie, tying the lead for a moment before Danielle wrapped up her first win with a birdie of her own on the 18th hole.)

I’d like to write a little about what it’s like to take pictures at an LPGA tournament, and some things I noticed while covering events this year. When taking pictures at any event, courtesy is advisable, and at a golf tournament, it’s vital. Giving players the proper space is important, and staying out of their direct line of site is a must. Another important aspect of taking photos is taking the picture at the appropriate moment, and the top of a players’ backswing is not that time. Imagine being interrupted at the peak of your concentration. Whether that’s a big business meeting or parallel parking, that distraction could lead to disastrous results. So erring on the side of caution is something I learned right away.

Lydia Ko signing autographs Ben Harpring my year on the LPGA tour
This photo, from the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, makes my list of favorite pictures because of everything that is going on. Lydia is reacting to a fan with a huge smile. The mom is giving her daughter a high five because she just got Lydia’s autograph. To top it off, Lexi is in the background responding to fans with a giant smile as well. The picture tells the whole story.

Each tournament is unique, with different course layouts and different ways of sending out groups of players to start their rounds. So, I like to map out a rough outline of where I’m going before venturing out to the course. I check to see when players are teeing off and make a decision whether to go out on the front nine, or back nine. This can vary slightly depending on the course. At a course like Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago, Illinois, the front nine and back nine intertwine. I could jump from watching a morning wave of players to an afternoon wave very easily. At the Tibúron Golf Club in Naples, Florida, the front nine and back nine go different directions. So, I had to make a decision on which nine holes to walk, and which players to follow.

Solheim Cup 2017 fan My Year on the LPGA Tour
This picture is from the 2017 Solheim Cup. Fans play such a vital role in the team competition, pitting the United States against Europe, and this woman was one of Team USA’s biggest fans. She was completely decked out in team USA attire, and I feel as though this photo captures her intense passion for the event. Not only was she immensely spirited, but she was a leader as well. Firing up all the team USA fans that surrounded the first tee.

The time of day also matters, and which direction the sun is shining. The optimum position is with the sun at my back, shining toward the players. However, capturing a cool silhouette can make a great picture, and this requires the primary light source at the players back. There are so many factors that have to be accounted for when taking pictures, and each day presented its own unique challenge. That was part of the fun!

Prima Thammaraks Ben Harpring Womens Golf
This picture I took of Prima Thammaraks at the inaugural Indy Women in Tech Championship is my favorite by far. The setting, the silhouette, the details that show where she is playing, and what hole, it all makes for a really cool shot.

Along with taking photographs, I did some player interviews as well.  Nearly every player I talked to elaborated extensively and did so with a smile. The level at which Lydia Ko went into detail was astonishing. Lexi Thompson had just completed five or six interviews, and still took the time to answer my questions. Angel Yin is one of the funniest individuals I’ve ever met, and her sense of humor made every interview fun.

Of course, there’s usually a reason why the players are so happy when they’re being interviewed. Interviews generally take place after a great round. This would appear to be common sense, but I learned a bit on the fly this past summer. If a player plays poorly, don’t expect an interview. Even if they would be willing to do one, giving them their space is the right thing to do. I remember the days of competing in high school sports. If our team had a bad game, or if I played poorly, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I tried to keep that in mind when I requested interviews.

Danielle Kang Ben Harpring My Year on the LPGA Tour
I love this picture from the final green of the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship because of the emotion Danielle is showing. It is a mixture of happiness, relief, and joy. She’s hugging her Mom just seconds after sinking a birdie putt on the 72nd hole to win her first career LPGA tournament and major championship.

To wrap things up, I’d like to mention one of the most interesting and rarely talked about things I noticed on tour. The number of parents that are following their daughters around the course each week is astonishing, as well as admirable. There are many parents that travel from city to city, and even country to country, with their daughters, and will follow every hole they play. There are notable parents such as Mr. and Mrs. Wie, who follow their daughter Michelle. During practice rounds, it’s not uncommon to see Mr. Wie taking video of her swing. At the Solheim Cup, I watched Mrs. Wie raking bunkers after a few of Michelle’s practice shots. Now, most parents are not involved to that level, but parents helping daughters is very common. Many of these young women are just that, young women. Venturing away from home, traveling the world. How scary would that be to do alone? So, many parents will go on tour with their daughters, to give them a sense of peace, and a helping hand. If you’ve ever attended an LPGA event, I can virtually guarantee you’ve crossed paths with your favorite player’s parents.

2017 was an exciting year on the LPGA Tour, and I am very thankful to have been a part of it. I am really looking forward to an amazing 2018 Season!

Feature Image: This photo of Lydia Ko, from the CME Group Tour Championship, showed her ability to recover from a slight miss off the tee, as well as capturing some of the crowd that follows her week in and week out.

Ben Harpring for
Ben Harpring

A lifelong golfer and fan, Ben Harpring, from Columbus, Indiana is currently finishing up his Business degree at Indiana University – Purdue University Columbus.
Ben hopes to qualify for the Indiana Amateur this year.

“I enjoy writing about things I’m passionate about, and I hope I can help grow the greatest game in the world!”

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