As a professional golfer on the LPGA tour, players have many decisions to make. Some decisions are made for them, while others are their own. With the growth of the tour reaching new heights this season, players have more choices than ever. The LPGA added four events this year, and are currently in the midst of 12 consecutive weeks of tournaments. Very few players (if any) are going to play in every event during this stretch, so tough decisions must be made. With three of those 12 tournaments being majors, many players will focus on what makes them best prepared for those events. However, many variables come into play when making those decisions. Some players have sponsor obligations that require them to play in certain events. Other players feel the pressure to play in their “hometown” tournaments. Players may choose events based on golf courses they prefer. The possibilities and reasons are endless.
So, how do players determine which tournaments they play, and which tournaments they sit out?
Do players prefer playing the week before major championships, or taking that week off?
I asked a few players what they thought.
When trying to figure out which tournaments she will play, “For me, it is more about the golf courses.”
“I really like to play the tournaments leading up to the majors. I had a pretty lazy schedule the first part of the year. So I’m looking to have a hot summer.”
“There are some choices that I can make. There are some tournaments I have to play. So, it is tough to choose which ones to play. But it depends more on the player, I think. But for me, I took some time off (early in the year), so I wanted to play quite a bit this summer.”
“I don’t think I’m going to play any tournament before the two majors, only because I haven’t played the course, and I’ve played, this is my third week (the Meijer LPGA Classic), so I’m going to take a week off before KPMG. And hopefully, that works out.”
“I mean, it’s really hard because you want to play all of them. It’s a shame that they’re all in a row. I just pick and choose kind of what I feel like going into majors, it’s what I’m really concentrating on. It’s really tough skipping some of these (events), especially the new ones. But at the end of the day, you got to do what you got to do.”
“I’m not playing the week before the U.S. Open. I just can’t play that many weeks in a row. It’s just one of those things, these two weeks I really like (Meijer LPGA Classic and the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship). Then playing into KPMG would be my third week, that would still be okay, but after that, it’s just not physically possible.”
Referring to the major championships. “I’m taking the week off. But it’s not because of one major. Because we actually have two majors in three weeks. Also, I actually have to play in China the week between KPMG and the U.S. Open. So those three weeks will be a challenge for me, but that’s why I’m taking the week off (before the Women’s PGA). But not necessarily taking the week off before any majors.”
I was able to spend the entire week at this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club, just south of Chicago. From the moment I stepped on the course grounds at the start of the week, I could feel the major championship presence. There was an aura that resonated throughout the golf course. Olympia Fields is a special place. They’ve played host to numerous major events over the years, including the Men’s U.S. Open in 2003 and the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
Everything about the event felt major, and a notch up, compared to the other LPGA events I’ve been to this year (which are extraordinary events that are extremely well organized and run). The course conditions were noticeably tougher, with thicker rough, and tee boxes positioned to bring fairway bunkers into play more often. The practice facilities were larger and better equipped to handle the 156 players in the field. The media room was three to four times larger in size than other events, with major news outlets such as USA Today and ESPN present. There was an unmistakable buzz surrounding the tournament, and I had goosebumps a couple times from the realization I was on such hallowed grounds at such a prestigious tournament.
The players notice the difference as well. Lydia Ko said, “There are bigger crowds, and with the majors, like this event here at the KPMG and the British Open and U.S. Open, we rotate between golf courses. They are normally in pretty amazing condition.” Kelly Shon, who shot a 63 during the second round of the KPMG, said, “The courses play tougher, the crowds are bigger, and overall the scores are higher. The fields are the strongest for the majors. So overall, these (majors) are the best championships year round.” Angel Yin also explained the differences she notices, “A lot more people, a lot more stands up, just a bigger venue. The greens are definitely faster than every other tournament.”
The main consensus is that the golf courses are not drastically different (major championship courses compared to normal tour event courses), but the courses are set up to be more difficult, and the venues are larger. This feeds into the bigger crowds and greater media coverage.
Preparation also appeared similar to regular tour events, and players seemed to echo this thought. When I asked if she prepared differently for majors versus regular tour events, Gerina Piller said, “I don’t. I’ve never been one to change it up for a major. My golf ball doesn’t know if I’m teeing it up in a major or not. Or it doesn’t know if I’m playing in a Solheim Cup or the Olympics.”
However, with that being said, I saw several coaches at the tournament with their players. Notably, Gary Gilchrist was at Olympia Fields, spending time with many of his students, including Lydia Ko, Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, Shanshan Feng, and Paula Creamer.
Major Championships do add a bit of intensity and pressure not felt at regular tour stops. While most players may not prepare differently, there appeared to be that extra ounce of focus from all the competitors and caddies. They know each Major is a special event, and a great opportunity to write their names in the history books. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was tremendous in every aspect, and Danielle Kang was a deserving winner.
Players face many decisions throughout the season, and they all center around the same thing. Major championships. The inexperienced players strive to play in them. The higher ranked players focus on them. As a result, we get the strongest fields and the best efforts from everyone.
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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Photo credits: Feature photo – Stacy Revere | Getty Images | LPGA kpmgwomenspgachampionship.com. All other photos by Ben Harpring