Sunday, March 30, 2008

Yesterday, I went to the Safeway International LPGA event at the Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club in Apache Junction near Phoenix. I've enjoyed watching the ladies play at least a half-dozen times in the over 20 years I've lived here. It's such a fan-friendly event, where players actually give autographs after their round is done for the day.

In the past, I've followed Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, and Natalie Gulbis, to name just a few. Three of my friends (Shark, jb, and Gar) and I had the opportunity to have our picture taken with Nancy. The last time she was here, I followed Nancy's group and got to talk with her husband, former major league baseball player Ray Knight.

I was fortunate to follow Annika when she became Ms. 59. During the second round of the 2001 Standard Register Ping at Moon Valley Country Club, she became the sixth pro golfer and first woman to shoot a 59 in a competitive round of golf.

A couple of years ago, I followed Natalie Gulbis. I heard Natalie was one of the longest drivers on the LPGA tour and I wanted to see her distance for myself. Trust me, she can hit it 300 yards without no problem. Plus, Natalie is definitely hot!

That brings me to yesterday. I decided to follow someone who I watched on TV, but never saw in person. Even though she was out of contention, I decided to observe Paula Creamer, aka The Pink Panther. Unlike Natalie, Paula is short off the tee, but deadly accurate. She was good tee-to-green, but her putting was off.

I caught up with Paula's group at the 11th hole and trailed her for the remainder of the round. What I remember most about the experience was not the golf, but the two autographed balls she gave to a couple of children who were following her. The intimacy of the LPGA keeps me coming back year after year.

Sadly, Safeway has pulled out as the major sponsor of the LPGA stop in Phoenix and 2008 could very well be the last time the ladies play in The Valley of the Sun after a 26-year run. Let's hope not. You would think Ping, Bashas' Supermarkets or a number of other local companies could team up and include this event in their advertising budget. I would miss seeing the ladies live, as I have the Champions Tour, which moved The Tradition to Oregon five years ago.