Brooke Henderson will attempt to defend her title at historic Olympia Fields as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship starts a two-year residency in the Chicago suburbs
By Don Jozwiak, Senior Editor
The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is returning to the event’s Midwestern roots later this month, as storied Olympia Fields Country Club outside Chicago becomes the first facility in Illinois to host the second-longest running tournament in the history of the LPGA.
With competition set for June 29-July 2, the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship marks the third playing of the former LPGA Championship operated by the PGA of America in partnership with the LPGA. Following the 2015 Championship played at Westchester Country Club outside New York City and last year’s exciting event at Sahalee Country Club near Seattle, the 2017 Championship will be played on another prominent course with much major championship history.
Olympia Fields’ North Course has hosted two PGA Championships, two U.S. Opens, five Western Opens, the U.S. Senior Open and the U.S. Amateur – the last of those contested there in 2015. There’s great excitement in the golf-crazy Chicago area to see the top women players in the game, according to Championship Director Matt Larson.
“When the PGA of America took over operational control of the Championship, an important part of amping up the anticipation and excitement around it was finding venues that were recognized as major championship venues,” Larson says. “Olympia Fields certainly fits that bill, and the entire Chicagoland market is really embracing the chance to see an outstanding field on a distinguished course.”
Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks was known for his famed saying, “Let’s play two” – and that’s exactly what Chicago-area golf fans will experience this year and next. The 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is scheduled to be played next June 28–July 1 at nearby Kemper Lakes Golf Club in Kildeer, Illinois.
“It’s a unique experience for the PGA and for major championship golf to be in the same market consecutive years,” Larson says. “It’s a great benefit for Chicagoland golf fans and people all through the Midwest to have this historic Championship in such an accessible market for two years running.”
The inaugural LPGA Championship was won by Beverly Hanson at Orchard Ridge Country Club in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1955, and the following year’s Championship was won by Marlene Hagge at Forest Lake Country Club outside Detroit, Michigan. More than 60 years later, the Championship is returning to the Midwest with its new name and enhanced features.
One enhancement that elevates the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit scheduled for the Wednesday of Championship Week. Leaders from the worlds of sports, business, media and politics will attend the event to inspire the next generation of women leaders. Last year’s keynote speakers were 66th U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam.
“The concept of conducting the KPMG Wo men’s Leadership Summit on-site at the tournament is an exciting long-term program for us,” says KPMG U.S. Chairman & CEO Lynne Doughtie. “Championship Week helps us bring golf to new audiences and expand women’s leadership on and off the course.”
Once the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship tees off the day after the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit, fans watching on TV around the world will be treated to extensive coverage by NBC Sports and Golf Channel. On-site spectators will notice a number of enhancements to the fan experience, including a new Fan Zone near Olympia Fields’ short game practice area offering a great view of players as they practice, as well as new concession options. There is also a new premium 1915 Club with picturesque viewing areas near the driving range promising TVs, restrooms and upscale food & beverage offerings.
“The partnership between the PGA, KPMG, the LPGA and NBC Sports creates a lot of energy going into our third KPMG Women’s PGA Championship,” says PGA President Paul K. Levy. “We’re excited about bringing this great Championship to Chicago for the next two years, and continuing to build this event into one of the greatestweeks on the golf calendar for fans and players alike.”
Remembering Henderson’s Victory Fans at Olympia Fields will be hoping for a KPMG Women’s PGA Championship that repeats the final-round drama of last year’s Championship, won by then-18-year-old Brooke Henderson in a playoff over fellow teenager Lydia Ko.
Henderson was down by as many as three strokes during the final round at Sahalee, but she kept applying pressure throughout her bogey-free round of 65 – the low round of the week. Ko finished with a final-round 67, and the two young stars finished at 6-under-par 278 to set up a playoff. On the first extra hole, Henderson’s 7-iron approach from 155 yards finished just three feet from the cup. After Ko missed a 20-foot birdie putt of her own, Henderson converted her birdie chance and became the second Canadian woman to win a major championship – joining 1968 LPGA Champion Sandra Post.
“The way the noise echoed (at Sahalee) was really cool,” Henderson said after her victory. “I’d never experienced that before ... And then a lot of those cheers ended up being for me, which was even cooler.” Henderson will headline a field of 156 players at the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship competing for a $3.5 million purse. The field will also include four PGA Professionals: Alison Curdt, Karen Paolozzi, Jessica Carafiello and Amanda McCurdy.
Curdt, the PGA Director of Instruction at Wood Ranch Golf Club in Simi Valley, California, will be playing in her fourth KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Paolozzi – the reigning PGA Wo men’s Stroke Play Champion and a competitor at the 2016 PGA Professional Championship – and Carafiello will be playing in their second consecutive KPMG Women’s Championships, while McCurdy is making her first appearance in the Championship.
Paolozzi, Carafiello and McCurdy all earned exemptions into the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship by finishing in the top 8 at the 2016 LPGA T&CP National Championship, while Curdt claimed her spot as the highest-finishing player at the 2017 PGA Women’s Stroke Play Championship who wasn’t already exempt, finishing second to Paolozzi by four strokes.
“I would love to make the cut in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship,” says Paolozzi, winner of a record three PGA Women’s Stroke Play Championships and PGA First Assistant Professional at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta. “(LPGA Professional) Jennifer Bermingham showed us last year it can be done, so that’s one thing I’m striving for.”
Tackling a Major Challenge
Paolozzi, Henderson and every player in the field will find the North Course at Olympia Fields ready to present a major challenge. The celebrated Willie Park Jr. layout has produced a number of worthy champions, including Walter Hagen (1925 PGA Championship), Jerry Barber (1961 PGA Championship), Jim Furyk (2003 U.S. Open) and Bryson DeChambeau (2015U.S. Amateur).
“It’s a very challenging golf course,” says PGA Director of Golf Brian Morrison, a fixture at Olympia Fields for the past 17 years. “It’s a great test for this field, a real ball-striker’s golf course. The player who wins here will have played very well from tee to green.”
Morrison believes holes 5 and 12 will play a large role in determining the outcome of the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. “Those are a pair of outstanding par 4s that are really signatures of Willie Park’s design – great green complexes with rolling putting surfaces and demanding bunkering,” Morrison says. “Both require a healthy tee shot and a precise approach shot to score.”
Morrison says he wouldn’t be surprised to see the Championship come down to the final hole. No. 18 is a par 5 that plays into the prevailing wind to the most challenging green on the North Course.
During the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Morrison will be serving as the event’s general chair – working directly with PGA staff to facilitate Olympia Fields’ hosting duties. More than 60 Illinois PGA Section Professionals will be volunteering on-site to operate the practice area, and work with the 1,200-plus volunteers elsewhere on the property.
“The members are really looking forward to seeing how (PGA Chief Championships Officer) Kerry Haigh sets up the course for the Championship,” Morrison says. “They expect it will play hard but fair, and with his setup expertise and the PGA of America running the event, we expect to host a very good event for fans and competitors.”
Reprinted with permission. PGA Magazine