I attended the Founders Cup tournament last week in Phoenix. I had gone to Phoenix for a spring break trip, planning on spending most of my time hiking around the local hills. When I got there I discovered that the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) was holding a tournament in my back yard. Well, not quite in my back yard but very close. Due to the extreme generosity and kindness of a wealthy benefactor I was given the privilege of spending a week, free of charge, in a home on the Wildfire Golf Course in northern Phoenix. That just happened to be where the ladies were playing golf. When I initially drove into the neighborhood I thought the tournament was just wrapping up but, as it turned out, it was actually just beginning. Having had the privilege of watching the men's tour on several occasions, as well as the senior tour on one occasion, I looked forward to seeing the women play. My residence for the week was on the 11th fairway and I could splash around in the pool and watch the ladies' tee shots land, followed by their second shot toward the green on the par 5 hole.
Just a couple of years ago the LPGA was struggling mightily. The total number of tournaments had been seriously reduced and Amerikan fans were having a hard time following a group of women who were primarily Asian. It seems as if many, if not most, of the women on the tour these days hail from Korea and most all of them seem to carry the surname of Kim. Given the fact that all Asians look alike, call me a racist if you must, it is admittedly difficult for Amerikan fans to distinguish between them and form the all important bond of fanship for them. I have watched enough women's golf on the television that I no longer suffer from that problem and, apparently, so do more and more golf fans. The ladies' tour has seen dramatically improved fortunes since the end of the Great Recession. According to the guidebook I picked up for the tournament, "When 13 women joined together to form the LPGA in 1950, they simply could not have imagined where their courage and perseverance would take women's golf. Today, the LPGA is truly golf's global tour -- with players form 30 different countries and weekly television coverage that reaches more than 170 different countries. Today young women from every corner of the globe have an opportunity to compete against the world's best for a record level of prize money (over $63 million), television coverage and fan viewership." The Founders Cup was held in honor of those 13 women.
Like the PGA, the women usually arrive on Monday, play a practice round on Tuesday, participate in a pro/am tournament on Wednesday and begin competition on Thursday. I spent the early part of the week hiking and climbing a couple of mountains and planned on procuring a ticket for Thursday's opening round on Wednesday afternoon. The Wildfire Golf Course is owned by Marriott and is a part of their Wildfire Resort. It was a two mile walk from the home to the clubhouse so Wednesday afternoon my wife, a friend and I headed off to purchase tickets for Thursday's round. I have played the course (there are two 18 hole courses and the women were using the Faldo course) several times in the past so I knew exactly where to go. As we approached the parking lot next to the clubhouse we noticed that the women were finishing their practices rounds and generally milling about talking with each other. That was different. The PGA will not allow fans into the player's parking lots. I noticed Inbee Park, Michelle Wie, Christie Kerr, Julie Inkster, Laurie Davies and a bunch of Koreans who's faces I recognized but could not put a name to (they were probably all named Kim) quietly talking with each other. I walked extra slowly through the lot so I could soak it all in. What a pleasure it was to be in the presence of the best lady golfers in the world. They were kind, polite, relaxed and seemed to genuinely enjoy being with each other.
We soon came to the entrance to the large tent that had been erected to hold the ticket office, a restaurant and a clothing shop. Temporary barriers had been installed which funneled us through an entrance to the enclosed area. It was then that it happened. I was a man on a mission to purchase tickets so I did not notice them at first. I walked right through the entrance and proceeded toward the white tent to buy our tickets. Before I could get very far I heard a cop harassing my wife and our friend, who were just behind me. As they followed me through the entrance two cops, who were sitting in a golf cart and sneering at the men and leering at the women who entered, had asked them for their "credentials." Credentials are little cards you wear around your neck to prove that you are associated with the player, the media or some other group that has the right to fraternize with the players. I stopped and turned around to see what was going to happen next. My wife informed the cop who had stopped her that we were only there to buy tickets and the only way to buy tickets was to walk into the area in which we were now standing. I took a quick look around and saw a large sign placed in a conspicuous place announcing that the practice range, which is where we were standing, was open to the public all week. The cops certainly were aware of that fact and quite obviously just wanted to harass a couple of ladies who were doing nothing more than minding their own business.
After telling the cops that they were there to buy tickets the cops announced that the ticket office was closed. That was the only thing they got right. My wife soon extricated herself from the jack-booted thugs and joined me. We entered the large tent only to discover that the ticket office was unmanned. Here we were, on a Wednesday afternoon prior to the start of the tournament, and nobody was manning the ticket office. The sign indicated a daily pass cost $25 and I was willing and able to purchase three of them. I asked around and found one lady in the clothing shop who went in search of the ticket sales representatives, whom she assured me were supposed to be on their posts. She returned a couple of minutes later and told me that I could only purchase tickets on-line. I was incensed. I was outraged. The only thing that soothed my anger was standing outside the tent and watching the women hit their practice shots on the range. Beautiful and graceful swings filled my vision. Balls were launched into the air with a precision I could only dream of. We marched home with me mumbling under my breath about the bush-league nature of the LPGA.
Thursday morning dawned and, after the previous day's experience, I had vowed not to set foot on the golf course. Any group that would not sell me a ticket was a group I did not want to support. After breakfast I wandered down the road a couple hundred yards and walked on to the golf course. I went up to the marshal manning the 11th green and asked him if I could watch. He said that would be okay with him. I then told him where I was staying and that under normal circumstances I could walk anywhere I wanted to and he informed me I was free to go anywhere I wanted on the course. He told me that nobody would check me for a daily pass and I could watch the tournament for free. That was all I needed to hear. I went back to the house, grabbed my wife, and we headed for the course.
The rest of the day was pure pleasure. It was in the upper 80s with a slight breeze. I saw just about all of the big names in ladies golf. More than that, I was able to see, firsthand, precisely how the women play the game. They are incredibly precise and consistent. They do not have the power or the length that the men do but they rarely hit a mishit. All aspects of their games are executed with grace and precision. They seem to be always near the hole and their putting was incredibly good. I learned that they use the men's middle tees and their distance off the tee is the same as mine when I hit a perfect tee shot. It seemed as if their drives were always in the fairways and their balls were always on the green in regulation.
Crowds were nonexistent. Occasionally a golfer would have a small band of maybe a dozen people following her around. One Canadian golfer had such a contingent, all vocal and armed with Canadian flags and colors. She ended up finishing tied for 4th. Paula Creamer had a small band of young girls following her, all sporting aviator sunglasses and pink clothing. It reminded me of the following of young boys always associated with Rickie Fowler. Paula also ended up finishing tied for 4th. A Korean, who I did not know, ended up winning the tournament with a record score of -27. The last time I played the Faldo course, in January of this year, I shot a 101. The winner shot a course tying record 62 on Sunday. I think the ladies are a little better than me, and a whole lot more fun to watch.
I can't conclude this little tale without telling you about the next time I saw the two cops. They spent the four days of the tournament driving around in their golf cart, waiting for people to come up to them to thank them for their service and praise them as heroes. They drove past my backyard too many times. While I was sitting on the 13th fairway on Thursday, watching some ladies preparing to hit their approach shots, the two cops came screaming down the cart path and crossed the fairway right in front of the players. Nobody else is allowed to interrupt play but these two thugs apparently thought that the players could wait on them. Typical public servants, I thought to myself. I concluded my experience by thinking that the lady golfers are exceptional, the LPGA needs a little work with infrastructure and the cops who provide security need to go home.