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Women's PGA Championship is stepping things up

Inbee Park, five-time LPGA major champion and defending

Inbee Park, five-time LPGA major champion and defending champion, speaks to the media during the KPMG Women's PGA Championship - Media Day on May 11, 2015 at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Stobe

HARRISON, N.Y. - The upcoming KPMG Women's PGA Championship was introduced Monday at Westchester Country Club as a major initiative, occurring at the intersection of eras. It will take a venerable major and give it a new identity, organizers said, on a proven tournament course that will be completely new for the world's top women golfers.

"It's going to be unlike any tournament we've ever had and it's going to be cool for me to see it happening. It's amazing," Stacy Lewis, a two-time major champion, said at media day for an event that will be both inaugural and traditional, June 11-14. "I think the week is going to set the bar so much higher for our tournaments going forward."

Executives of the PGA of America and the LPGA, which are partners in this new/old tournament, were careful to point out that it is not replacing the 60-year-old LPGA Championship, but rather "elevating" it. So, Inbee Park, who won the past two LPGA titles, is considered the two-time defending champion. But the purse is larger, now at $3.5 million, and the potential for attention is greater.

The Women's PGA -- one of five women's majors -- will share the imprimatur of the men's PGA Championship, a major that has been held since 1916. "This was just easy, because everybody was like-minded," said Pete Bevacqua, chief executive officer of the PGA, who grew up in Bedford, N.Y.

Lewis, who is sponsored by KPMG, was asked by the company for advice on setting up the major. "I said we needed a big venue, a big purse and network TV," she recalled Monday, pleased that all three suggestions were met (NBC will televise on the weekend). "The big thing with this tournament that I was most excited about was the venue."

Westchester Country Club was a stalwart on the PGA Tour for many years, starting with Jack Nicklaus' victory in 1967. Former LPGA tour player Jean Bartholomew of Garden City, now a teaching pro who will be in the field next month, said, "Growing up across the Throgs Neck Bridge, I was spoiled, getting a chance to play championship courses like this. I always felt we deserved to play on courses like this."

Unlike the former Wegmans LPGA Championship, which was based annually in Rochester, the Women's PGA will rotate among courses, as the men's PGA does. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said, "I think it's safe to say we'll be back here."

Still, recent men's tournaments at Westchester Country Club have not drawn well, and crowds for women's events are generally much smaller than those at men's tournaments. But there was hope all around Monday. Park said, "I think it's fun to watch, and obviously, we're a lot more friendly."


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