PHOENIX (AP) The JTBC Founders Cup honors the 13 women who started the LPGA Tour in 1950 and helps fund LPGA-USGA Girls Golf.
At 17, top-ranked Lydia Ko is the same age as the oldest girls in the junior program.
”To see a lot of the girls here that are not much younger than me or the same age, it’s pretty cool,” said Ko, set to open play Thursday at Desert Ridge’s Wildfire Golf Club. ”I just feel more fortunate that I can do this at my age.”
She has spent time this week with founding players Marilyn Smith and Shirley Spork.
”Without them, who knows if there would be an LPGA,” Ko said. ”It’s great that we have a Founders tournament to show them our appreciation of what they have done.”
Ko has six LPGA Tour victories and 10 worldwide victories in professional events, winning the Women’s Australian Open and the Ladies European Tour’s New Zealand Women’s Open in consecutive weeks this year. The South Korean-born New Zealander also tied for second in the opener in Florida, tied for seventh in the Bahamas and was second two weeks ago in Singapore.
”It’s been an exciting couple weeks,” Ko said. ”But after that, I was exhausted. Hopefully, I’m again ready for these next couple.”
Last year in her first start in the desert, the teen had a three-stroke lead with 13 holes left and ended up tying for second – a stroke behind Karrie Webb.
”Karrie played great,” Ko said. ”I was a little disappointed, but she played better. … It gives me confidence coming into this week seeing that I played well here before and it’s a course that I know.”
Webb also won the inaugural tournament in 2011. The 40-year-old Australian is friends with founding player Louise Suggs and has a deep appreciation for the tour’s pioneers. Last year, she donated $25,000 each to ”The Founders” documentary movie and LPGA-USGA Girls Golf.
”I feel like this tournament has more history than years that we’ve played it,” Webb said.
Michelle Wie also recognized the founders.
”I think it’s really great, really special that we have a tournament that we dedicate to the founders and we can look back and really appreciate what they have done, not only for our tour, for women in general,” Wie said. ”We forget how hard the founders worked in the past and how many sacrifices they had to make and how really easy we have it today.”
Webb overcame a six-stroke deficit in the final round last year. She birdied five of the last six holes, making a 20-footer on the 18th to match the course record of 9-under 63 and finish at 19-under 269. In 2011, she also came from six strokes back the last day.
”It’s just one of those courses where you can get on a roll,” Webb said. ”The temperature is nice and warm and not a lot of wind.”
The course is softer than it has been the past four years.
”Quite a bit, actually,” Webb said. ”If it stays that soft, I think scoring will be even lower.”
Light rain further softened the layout Wednesday afternoon.
”It’s crazy the difference from one year to the next,” 2013 winner Stacy Lewis said. ”The course is playing completely different. I don’t know if it’s going to play harder or easier with that, but it’s so much softer, flying 5-irons on the greens and holding them.”
Wie is getting over strep throat that hit her in the Bahamas and a sinus infection that bothered her in Asia. The U.S. Women’s Open champion has broken 70 only once in 14 rounds this season.
”Right now, my No. 1 priority is just getting my health back in order,” Wie said.
DIVOTS: Judy Rankin, Sandra Palmer and Donna Caponi are the Pioneers honorees. … JTBC’s J Golf channel televises LPGA Tour events in South Korea.