2009 has been a turbulent year for the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Like all sports leagues around the world, they have not been immune to the tough economic times being experienced by so many people in so many countries. As more tournaments lose their sponsors and fade into memory, it’s important to note that much more is being lost than golf tournaments. The LPGA does not limit itself to being a sports entity. Through its charitable work and public service in the towns, cities, states and countries they hold events, they have become an annual member of communities across the country and around the globe. When the tour ended its run in Corning, New York there was a great sense that something very valuable to the local area was sadly leaving. Likewise, when it looked as though the Owens Corning Jamie Farr Classic was in serious danger of folding, one could not help but think not only of the players and fans who would lose a very popular event, but of the local charities like the Ronald McDonald House that benefited by the money raised over the years through the LPGA’s involvement.
This story is being repeated with every lost event and the associated charities. It is said that sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. LPGA fans and staff know, and more people are discovering, what the LPGA has in its membership; a group of players not only dedicated to excellence in their field but also committed to serving and improving the lives of people in the communities they play. They are athletes with big games and bigger hearts. I could go on and on listing all of the players that have given so much back to those who have supported them, but that would take more time than this modest blog allows. Instead, I have selected a handful of players to represent the body of the player pool. These selections represent a cross section of LPGA demographics with players from the United States, South Korea and Mexico.
JEE YOUNG LEE
After winning the 2005 CJ Nine Bridges Championship as a non-member, this young talent from South Korea earned an exemption onto the LPGA Tour as a rookie in 2006. Known for her prodigious drives off the tee and her sparkling personality, after her rookie season she felt like she needed to give something back to the tour and its fans. In February 2007, having only been on tour one full year, she gave a $10,000 donation to the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program. Founded by LPGA T&CP member Sandy LaBauve, this program has reached over 50,000 girls since its inception and serves to promote not only golf but life skills to girls across the United States.
Jee Young was not yet finished giving back to the country upon whose tour she makes her living. She is also an active participant in Meals On Wheels. In 2009, during the United States Women’s Open in Bethlehem, PA and the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge in San Ramon, CA, Jee Young helped deliver meals to seniors. Senior hunger is an underreported dilemma in America, but Meals On Wheels continues to do an exemplary job at exposing and trying to resolve the problem as best they can. Bravo to Jee Young Lee for continuing to be a part of that noble cause.
The Lorena Ochoa foundation supports the Centro Educativo La Barranca, a school for economically disadvantage children in Guadalajara. According to statistics on the foundation’s website, 9.3% of the Mexican population is illiterate. Only 31.6% of the population finishes elementary school. 2000 Mexican students drop out of school every day with an average level of schooling being the fourth grade.
The reigning top ranked player in the world, Lorena has brought two LPGA tournaments, and the boost to the local economy that brings, to Mexico. But her efforts to better the educational opportunities for Mexican children, making a positive change in their lives that they can carry into adulthood and pass on to future generations, is the mark of a woman who sees outside of herself and accepts her role as one who has the power to uplift an entire community.
MI HYUN KIM
On May 4th, 2007, Greensburgh, Kansas was struck by a devastating EF5 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 5) tornado. The highest rated type of tornado, 95% of the town was completely leveled, killing 11 people. The tornado was estimated to be 1.7 miles in width with winds reaching 205 miles per hour. The area was declared a disaster area, opening it up to national and international aid. It needed every cent it could get. An LPGA player with kindness in her heart made sure she would do her part.
Eight-time LPGA winner Mi Hyun Kim heard about the damage done to Greensburg during the week she played in the SemGroup Championship in nearby Oklahoma. Upon winning the championship, Mi Hyun surprised everybody by donating $100,000 of her $210,000 winner’s check to the victims of that horrific tragedy.
When Morgan Pressel was only 15, she lost her mother, Kathy Krickstein Pressel, to breast cancer. To honor her mother, Morgan created the Morgan and Friends Fight Cancer tournament in Boca Raton, Florida. In its first year, the event raised $450,000 for the fight to find a cure. In 2009, during a hard recession, the event still managed to raise $300,000.
The United States has the highest incidence rate of breast cancer in the world. Women in the United States have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer and a 1 in 35 chance of dying from breast cancer. It is second only to lung cancer in fatalities among American women.
In addition to her work combating breast cancer and other charities, Morgan matched the corporate donations for the Eagles for St. Jude program by Stanford Financial in 2008. Morgan matched the $1000 Stanford made for every eagle she made with a $1000 donation of her own.
A long-time breast cancer activist whose own mother, an aunt and godmother all battled the disease, Cristie teamed up with Liberty Health to found the Cristie Kerr Women’s Health Center on the Jersey City Medical Center campus. Free mammograms and breast cancer education will be offered to women regardless of insurance.
The founder of the Birdies for Breast Cancer organization, Cristie also hosts the Birdies for Breast Cancer Charity Golf Classic, now in its fifth year. She donates $50 for every birdie and $100 for every eagle she makes on tour. As one of the leaders annually in scoring average, that translates into a lot of sub-par holes. But Cristie’s unwavering commitment to helping those in need can never be described as sub-par. She has raised over $650,000 so far.
Each LPGA tournament has affiliated local charities in addition to the charitable work done independently by its players. At the Jamie Farr Classic, a group of Korean players made a visit to the Ronald McDonald House. I hesitate to try to list all of the charitable contributions associated with every tournament. It would fill a book. Instead, I hope that when we look at the players of the LPGA, and each of us have our favorites and not-so-favorites, that we remember the tremendous good that so many of them are trying to bring to the world and the communities they touch. Maybe we cannot donate $100,000 to disaster relief or open a women’s clinic, but we can use their good will to inspire our own. That could mean volunteering at a senior center, or teaching kids to read, or maybe just making an annual donation of whatever we can to a favorite charity. I could wax on about these wonderful ladies, but I think I’ll just go renew my membership in the ASPCA.