The Course, Setup and Tournament Sponsor Ensured First Class Event
Sei Young Kim won her first major championship victory at the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, but she was not the only winner last week. The Aronimink Golf Club also emerged as a winner as did KPMG and the PGA of America.
It was in 1974, in response to the criticisms of the difficult set up of Winged Foot, that the USGA’s Sandy Tatum described that the way a course is set up is not to humiliate players, but merely to “identify the best golfer”.
Since then, those words have become commonplace and while it has been a hallmark of the USGA and its annual championships, it has become something of an unofficial goal or objective of other major tournaments. To that effect, Aronimink acquitted itself wonderfully as did the PGA of America, the organization responsible for organizing and administering this annual championship in Women’s Golf.
Aronimink was the site of the 1962 PGA Championship won by South Africa’s Gary Player and has consistently been rated as one of the top courses in the United States. It was the site of several USGA events including the US Amateur to hosting the Senior PGA Championship and high-profile PGA Tour events like the BMW Championship in 2018. In short, it is a course known for challenging some of the best players in the world and some wondered prior to the event, how the best women in the world would handle it.
Aronimink played long throughout the week, especially in the practice rounds. Nearly every one of the players participating in the media days on Tuesday and Wednesday commented on how long the course was playing and how challenging the course was. Hall of Fame player, Inbee Park spoke at length about it in her Wednesday press conference, “It is a tough golf course …the scoring I don’t think is going to be very low unless they move a lot of the tees up on the tournament days …I think maybe every day 2 – under par is a really good score.”
Danielle Kang, a two time winner on tour this season and a past KPMG Women’s PGA Champion echoed Park’s comments, “the golf course is monstrous …I’m thinking about taking one of my wedges out and putting in another hybrid and wood.”
Yet, the winning score by Sei Young Kim was a tournament record score of 266 (-14) for a 5-five shot margin of victory over Inbee Park, suggesting that the course may have been set up too easily. That simply was not the case; Aronimink played very tough, but fair. Consider that in Round 1, only 12 players out of a field of 132 recorded scores below par – that was only 9.09 % of the entire field. In Round 2, that number was 12; on Saturday (Round 3) it was 10 and on the Final Round on Sunday, that number dropped to 8 players under par. The course was definitely not playing easy; Inbee Park and especially Sei Young Kim just made it look that way on Sunday.
Yet, throughout all four rounds, the top half of the leaderboard reflected a mix of long-hitters with players that are middle of the pack in driving distance. The greens were exceptional as was to be expected by such a prestigious golf course – even in early October, when many of the courses in the northeast start their fall aeration program.
Over the entire four rounds, it was the 10th hole that played the hardest, exacting a toll from the majority of players that passed just as the passengers had to pay the ferryman to cross the River Styx. Over the four rounds, it exacted 126 bogeys, 25 double bogeys and 7 scores greater than a double bogey. On Friday, the par-4 hole played to an average score of 4.649 strokes, easily the most difficult over the four rounds.
Perhaps the greatest testament to how Aronimink was both tough, but fair was demonstrated in the final round. Inbee Park, a former 3-time winner of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, is a player that is generally in the middle of the pack in the driving distance category. Sei Young Kim is in the top quartile statistically, yet they both shot the best rounds of the day on Sunday – Park’s 65 to Kim’s amazing 63. Both players played flawless golf, not a single dropped stroke on the day. The fact that two players with very different games could compete for the win at Aronimink was an excellent example of there being more than one way to the play the course successfully. And, at the end of the tournament, Aronimink was set up masterfully by the PGA of America and it accomplished what it set out to do – identify the best player over the four days.
PGA of America
Another significant “winner” at Aronimink was the PGA of America for the way that they masterfully set up the course for this major tournament. But, it is for more than just the course set up that the PGA should be applauded; it was their organization of the event that deserves equal recognition. Throughout the week, many of the players commented on how well they were being treated and taken care of. Brooke Henderson cited some of the little things such as having her own parking spot as a past champion that gave the event an air of being special. The PGA should also be recognized for having made the strategic decision of taking this event to some of the best courses in the United States, starting with Sahalee in 2016, through Chicago in 2017 & 2018 (Olympia Fields and Kemper Lakes), to Hazeltine last season. Future sites announced include Baltusrol and Congressional, site of the 1976 PGA Championship and host to 3-three US Open Championships (1964, 1997 and 2011). Hosting one of the majors in professional women’s golf at venues with tradition and reputation for having tested the best men, bodes well for the sport. It helps elevate the women’s game on par with that of the men’s. For more on the PGA of America [Click Here]
KPMG – Perhaps the biggest “winner”
Perhaps the biggest “winner” at this year’s event is KPMG. Since KPMG became the title sponsor, they have worked to elevate the women’s tour, using it as an opportunity to spotlight the professionalism of not only women’s golf, but within other realms of daily life in business, industry, government, academia and more. They have used the major championship as a springboard into dialogue and discussion as a source of inspiration for the next generation of women in business and industry.
KPMG first hosted the Women’s Leadership Summit in 2015 and then brought it to Sahalee in 2016. The Summit has become a mainstay of this event, usually held the day before the tournament starts. While health and safety protocols prevented participants from gathering on site as in previous years, KPMG rose to the challenge and hosted the annual event online as a virtual conference. Hosting the women in leadership summits has been part of KPMG’s mission to introduce women and young women to the world of leadership and opportunities. It evokes the spirit of the 13 founders of women’s professional golf, the professional event that evolved into today’s LPGA.
For more on the Women's Leadership Summit, [Click Here]
KPMG could have stopped at this alone, but rather than just focus on dialogue and discussion, they have stepped up and demonstrated their commitment by matching their actions with their lofty words. Stacy Lewis is a former number one ranked player in the world, a former player of the year on the LPGA (2012, 2014) and a Vare Trophy winner (2013 & 2014). When KPMG entered into a sponsorship with Lewis, the contentious issue of maternity leave was spearheaded by Karine Icher, pointing out that the LPGA’s policy was outdated. The LPGA were eventually persuaded to change their policy in support of the women, unfortunately, it did not apply retroactively to Icher, but it was in place for Lewis when she went on maternity leave after the 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship hosted at Kemper Lakes near Chicago.
That’s when KPMG stepped up and raised the proverbial bar for women’s maternity leave in golf. While not contractually obligated to pay Lewis while she was absent from the LPGA tour, the leadership of KPMG decided that it would continue to pay Lewis throughout her maternity leave, nonetheless. In an interview, Lewis told Golf Digest that “They've (KPMG) felt from the get-go that I'm a part of their company . . . I'm a part of what they do, and they wanted to treat me like that. It 100 percent came from them."
In light of this year’s abbreviated LPGA season, due to the Covid19 suspension, the players lost opportunities to earn prize money. The smaller number of tournaments held meant that there were less opportunities to earn money. In stepped KPMG this past week in Aronimink. They paid the entry fees for the players – it was an opportunity that KPMG took to demonstrate its support for the women. Even though it is the year 2020 and women gained suffrage and the right to vote in the early part of the 20th century in many parts of the golfing world, it seems that there is still resistance, intentional or unintentional, to women being full and equal partners in sport and business. KPMG’s leadership again raised the bar, and that has only reinforced the good will that the company has built up with the LPGA, the players and its promotion of women in leadership. While there remains much to be accomplished in women's professional sports, women's professional golf is continuing to evolve and grow in a positive direction -- with an assist from KPMG.