LPGA revives Tournament of Champions as 2019 opener


Los Angeles (AFP)

Next year's LPGA season will open with a revived Tournament of Champions featuring winners from the past two campaigns plus celebrities and top amateurs, the women's golf tour announced Wednesday.

The inaugural LPGA Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, with a $1.2 million LPGA purse plus a $500,000 celebrity event, will be staged January 17-20 at Tranquilo Golf Club at Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan announced the event on the eve of this year's first US LPGA event, the Founders Cup at 6,679-yard, par-72 Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix, Arizona.

"This will be an experience like none other on our tour and it will be revered as a great reward for LPGA players who play well enough to make it into the winner's circle every year," Whan said.

The Tournament of Champions was played at various US venues from 1994 to 2007, most recently at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Mobile, Alabama.

In all, 45 celebrities and 10 amateurs will be paired with LPGA players for all four tournament rounds, including winners from the past two seasons and sponsor exemptions from among players with at least one LPGA career triumph.

"It's going to be big. It's going to be different. It's going to be fun," Whan said. "It's a really great reward for the players. If you can win out here it's a great opportunity to play with some of the best athletes and superstars in the world."

Four players who have already earned their spot with triumphs this year include Americans Brittany Lincicome at the Bahamas LPGA Classic, Jessica Korda at the LPGA Thailand and Michelle Wie at the HSBC Women's World Championship plus South Korea's Ko Jin-young at the Women's Australian Open.

Some of last year's winners who have already booked their spot in the elite field include world number one Feng Shanshan of China, second-ranked American Lexi Thompson, South Korea's third-ranked Ryu So-yeon and fourth-ranked Park Sung-hyun and Sweden's fifth-ranked Anna Nordqvist, this week's defending champion who attended college at nearby Arizona State.