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Founders Cup Tournament Celebrates LPGA’s History

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COMMENTARY | It's not a major championship, but the RR Donnelley Founders Cup, which is going on March 14-17 at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix, is as significant as any tournament on the LPGA schedule.

The tournament was first played in 2011 as a tribute to The Founders, the 13 tenacious and courageous women who founded the LPGA Tour in 1950. LPGA Hall of Famer Karrie Webb won the inaugural event, while Yani Tseng prevailed in 2012 after overcoming rain and hail during the final round.

Last year, three of the four living Founders attended the tournament -- Marilynn Smith, Louise Suggs, and Shirley Spork were all on hand.

Listening to them reminisce about the LPGA's early years is akin to receiving a lesson in golf history.

In the 1950s, the players traveled by auto caravans from town to town, playing for minuscule purses in front of sparse galleries. On at least one occasion they played for nothing when a promised purse failed to materialize.

Suggs, who won 58 LPGA tournaments following one of the most distinguished amateur careers on record, recalls that the golf courses she and her peers played on in the 1950s were nowhere near as pristine as today's courses.

"We had to figure out how to hit shots out of cuppy lies and that kind of stuff," she said. "And a lot of times if you were near the green and needed to hit a pitch shot, you couldn't do it. You had to bump-and-run it, no matter what."

For all Mike Whan has achieved as the LPGA's commissioner, creating the Founders Cup ranks as one of his greatest accomplishments.

"The RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup is special," he says, "because it celebrates the past, present and future of the LPGA. Our players come together to honor the brave founders and pioneers who made today's LPGA possible, and they also play it forward to the next generation.

"The LPGA's founders left the game better than they found it and through this event, we hope to do the same thing."

It says a lot for the LPGA that it is committed to recognizing its founding members. It's far too easy for any sporting organization to lose touch with its history and when it does, the historical record is often difficult, if not impossible to recover.

More important, today's professional athletes, whatever the sport, should be aware of both the triumphs and the trials of those who came before them. Today's up-and-coming LPGA players need to hear about what women like Suggs and Smith experienced in their quest to get the LPGA off the ground, both the good and the not so good.

Over the past six decades, the LPGA has grown into the most significant women's sporting organization in the world. Strengthening and maintaining its ties to its roots will only make it grow stronger.

What the Founders achieved must never be forgotten.

Rick Woelfel has been covering golf for more than 25 years. He is based near Philadelphia and is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.

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