LPGA season opener ready to crank up the party atmosphere again

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The LPGA will fittingly follow up its richest payday in history at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship last month with its biggest party at the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions next month.

Diamond Resorts chief executive Mike Flaskey announced the real headliners for the Tournament of Champions (Jan. 16-19) during Monday’s media day at Tranquilo Golf Course at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. He unveiled the musical stars that will perform in private parties for players, sponsors, dignitaries and Diamond Resorts members.

Boyz II Men will be the headline entertainment for the Tuesday draw party with Colt Ford the opening act. Counting Crows will perform after Thursday’s opening round with Sister Hazel as the opening act. The Saturday gala will feature Jake Owen as the headliner with Easton Corbin the opening act.

“With Mike Flaskey and Diamond Resorts, we are able to kick off the new season in as big a way as we finished this past season,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said.

The Tournament of Champions, a mixed event featuring 30 plus LPGA pros and an assortment of celebrities/athletes, made a successful debut a year ago. It’s a Pebble Beach-type celebrity pro-am with a modified Stableford scoring format for the celebrities/athletes.

“I told my wife on the way here [last year] to get ready for some competitive partying,” Whan said. “She said, `What is that?’ I said it’s competitive [golf] and there are nerves, but we’re going to end in a party.”

There’s even a party hole at the 18th with a festive, musical atmosphere.

“Mike [Flasky] didn’t attack this like, `I’m going to make this a great golf tournament.’ He said, `I’m going to create a great time, with a lot of competition,’” Whan said.

Eun-Hee Ji will be back to defend her LPGA title in the season opener, with Fox baseball analyst and former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz back to defend his celebrity golf title. It’s a $1.2 million purse for the LPGA pros and $500,000 purse for the celebrity/athletes.

The event will once again be televised by Golf Channel and NBC.

Brittany Lincicome, the two-time major champion who took the second half of this past season off to give birth to her first child, Emery, plans to make her return to tour at the Tournament of Champions. Michelle Wie, who missed most of last season with injury, also is hoping to make her return to the game there. Rolex world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, top-ranked American Nelly Korda, Hall of Famer Inbee Park, Lexi Thompson, Ariya Jutanugarn and Brooke Henderson are among those scheduled to play.

“It’s different from any event we play all year,” Lincicome said of the festive nature of the competition. “I think it’s why we like it, because golf is so serious and you have to be so focused . . . This event allows you to be a little more free.”