HARTFORD, Conn. – The fourth LPGA Tour’s BJ’s Charity Championship will have several notable pairings, but none more intriguing than history makers Annika Sorenstam and Suzy Whaley.
For years, Sorenstam, who won the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield on Sunday, thought about playing in a PGA Tour event because she knew so many of the players, including Tiger Woods. But the idea would last about 10 seconds, then she would return to watching the guys on television.
Then in 2002, Whaley became the first female to win a PGA of America individual professional tournament when she captured the Connecticut Section PGA Championship, making her the first woman in 57 years to qualify for a PGA Tour event, the 2003 Canon Greater Hartford Open at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
Voila!!! Whaley’s historic success caused Sorenstam to decide it was time to give it a shot against the guys, so she accepted a sponsors’ exemption to the 2003 Colonial Invitation, played two months before the GHO. Since Sorenstam’s decision stole some of the thunder from Whaley, I jokingly told Suzy that she should ask the personable Hall of Fame Swede for a cut of what she would be making thanks to her PGA Tour appearance.
Then in an ironic twist, Sorenstam was winning her four U.S. Golf Association championship in her first start in a USGA major in 13 years as Whaley was being inducted into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame at nearby Patterson Club in Fairfield. Three of the competitors in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open attended Whaley’s induction, including seven-time LPGA Tour winner Michelle McGann, whose father, Buck, caddied for Whaley in the GHO. McGann, from West Palm Beach, Fla., will play in the BJ’s event with Laurie Rinker of Stuart, Fla.
Sorenstam and Whaley will be a main attraction in the tournament presented by P&G on Sept. 10 at The Ridge Club in Sandwich, Mass.
“I asked Annika to be my partner,” Whaley said via email. “It is a team event, and I’m excited to play with her for the first time! How wonderful that we can showcase the fun of the game together and inspire women to play more golf.”
The Legends Tour, which showcases the talents of LPGA Tour players aged 45 and over, will have a unique one-day, 18-hole event on Cape Cod that also will include Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez, Massachusetts native Pat Bradley, Hollis Stacy, Jan Stephenson and Laura Davies, who won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open in 2018 and finished third on Sunday.
“We are thrilled to return to The Ridge Club on Cape Cod once again this fall and feature an elite lineup of LPGA Legends,” said Jane Blalock, a New Hampshire native who won five consecutive New England Women’s Amateurs and 27 times on the LPGA Tour and is one of The Legends Tour’s founding members. “The BJ’s Charity Championship is a special event we all look forward to every year as it provides the opportunity to show off our shot-making skills – along with booming tee shots – to all New England fans. The spirit and camaraderie among longtime friends and rivals will be on full display during this 18-hole, ultra-competitive tournament.”
During her Hall of Fame career, Sorenstam won 72 LPGA Tour events, including 10 major championship titles, before retiring from competition to raise a family and focus on her many business ventures, especially the ANNIKA Foundation. Sorenstam married Mike McGee, the son of 1979 Canon GHO winner Jerry McGee, and they two children, Ava, 11, and Will, 10, an avid golfer and a major reason that mom decided to play some select tournaments again.
Whaley captured dozens of local, regional and national club pro tournaments while at Tumble Brook Country Club in Bloomfield and Blue Fox Run Golf Club in Avon before becoming recognized as one of the leading golf instructors. She formed Suzy Whaley Golf at TPC River Highlands and now is the director of golf as the Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. In 2014, she was elected secretary of the PGA of America, was president in 2018-19 and is now in the midst of two-year term as honorary president.
Lopez, one of the most decorated and popular players in the history of women’s golf, won 48 LPGA Tour titles, nine of them coming in her first full year on Tour, leading to an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She also was the LPGA Rookie of the Year and earned the first of three Vare Trophies, awarded to the player with the lowest season scoring average. Lopez will team up with Val Skinner, a six-time LPGA Tour winner who has also served as an on-course analyst and commentator for Golf Channel.
Laura Davies teamed with fellow Englishwoman Trish Johnson to win the BJ’s Charity Championship in 2018. Davies has 87 professional wins worldwide, including the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and Senior LPGA Championship in 2018. Johnson is a four-time winner on The Legends Tour with two senior women’s major titles. Davies and Johnson missed the event in 2019, and the tournament was not played in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The returning defending champions are Rosie Jones, a 13-time LPGA Tour champion who has also won eight times on the Legends Tour, and Michele Redman, a past LPGA Tour champion and four-time Legends Tour winner. The pair won the event in 2019 by two shots.
Proceeds from the tournament benefit the BJ’s Charitable Foundation, which is dedicated to nourishing communities and helping families thrive. Thanks to the support of sponsors, admission to the tournament is free. Gates open at 8 a.m., and teams will tee off from 9 to 10 a.m., with an awards ceremony on the 18th play following play.
Parking is free to the public on a first-come, first-served basis at Holly Ridge Golf Club located next door and includes complimentary shuttle service to and from the tournament admissions gate from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Masks are required on the shuttle ride for all patrons, regardless of vaccination status. Clubhouse parking and access is for V.I.P.’s and Legends only; public concessions and restrooms will be available near the tournament entrance.
The Legends Tour and the BJ’s Charity Championship continue to closely monitor public health guidelines for the health and safety of players, attendees and the local community. The event will follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and local and state officials and encourage those who are not fully vaccinated to wear masks.
Here’s a list of the 12 teams in the tournament:
Jane Blalock, Cambridge, Mass. / Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, W. Palm Beach, Fla.
Pat Bradley, West Hyannisport, Mass. / Wendy Ward, Spokane, Wash.
Michelle McGann, West Palm Beach, Fla. / Laurie Rinker, Stuart, Fla.
Elaine Crosby, Jackson, Mich. / Nancy Scranton, St. Augustine, Fla.
Laura Davies, Surrey, England / Trish Johnson, London, England
Liselotte Neumann, Rancho Mirage, Calif. / Alicia Dibos, Greenwich, Conn.
Nancy Lopez, Palm City, Fla. / Val Skinner, Bay Head, N.J.
Juli Inkster, Los Altos, Calif. / Pat Hurst, Danville, Calif.
Hollis Stacy, Holmes Beach, Fla. / Jane Geddes, Tampa, Fla.
Rosie Jones, Hilton Head, S.C. / Michele Redman, Plymouth, Minn.
Jan Stephenson, Sydney, Australia / Lorie Kane, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Annika Sorenstam, Orlando, Fla. / Suzy Whaley, Ponte Vedra, Fla.