[PHOTO: Douglas P. DeFelice]
For the first time this millennium, PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players will tee it up together in a co-sanctioned mixed-team event at this week’s Grant Thornton Invitational. The JCPenney Classic, the last co-sanctioned mixed event, ran from 1960 to 1999.
The format’s return is met with plenty of star power for an impressive $US4 million prizemoney payout, as five women in the top 10 of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings will tee it up alongside three men in the top 25 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Aside from the CME Group Tour Championship, the prize pool is larger than every non-LPGA major on the tour’s 2023 schedule.
This event borrows the three-round blueprint from the now defunct QBE Shootout, using a similar format and still played at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. Starting on Friday, 16 pairs will play an ambrose (scramble) format, moving to foursomes (alternate shot) on Saturday and finishing Sunday with a modified four-ball where each pair will tee off, then play their teammate’s ball for the rest of the hole.
Here are five teams that have our attention heading into the much-anticipated team event.
Lexi Thompson/Rickie Fowler
Thompson, 28, is the only LPGA player with multiple years of experience in the events format; she competed with the men in the QBE Shootout in 2021 and 2022. The 11-time LPGA winner, however, is coming off one of her strangest years on tour. For the first time in her 13-year career, she did not make the CME Group Tour Championship. A resounding end-of-the-season charge, with three consecutive top-10s and nearly becoming the first woman to make a PGA Tour cut at the Shriners Open in October at least put Thompson back in more familiar territory at the top of LPGA leaderboards and in form heading into this week. She has also six top-10s in her last eight appearances at the CME, including a win in 2018.
Fowler, meanwhile, comes in having finished 17th in a 20-player field at the Hero World Championship, only his second start since the PGA’s Tour Championship in late August.
Lilia Vu/Joel Dahmen
Vu enters as the No.1 player in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and arguably in the best form of anyone in the field. The 26-year-old finished T-4 at the CME Group Tour Championship two weeks ago to become the first American to win the Rolex Player of the Year Award since Stacy Lewis in 2014, capping off a dominant year when she won two majors, the first time that’s happened since Jin Young Ko accomplished the feat in 2019. Dahmen, at 166th in the OWGR, has not played in six weeks after a season mostly to forget. The bright side for Dahmen is how the 36-year-old strung together a pair of top-15 finishes at the Sanderson Farms Championship (T-13) and the Shriners Children’s Open (T-7) in October to end his season with one of his best stretches of the year. Of course, we’re also looking for how Dahmen co-ordinates outfits with Vu.
— Joel Dahmen (@Joel_Dahmen) October 18, 2023
Madelene Sagstrom/Ludvig Aberg
This Swedish duo is the only pair to have been members of their respective winning Solheim and Ryder Cup teams this year. Aberg, 24, has been on an absolute tear of late, losing in a playoff at the Sanderson Farms Championship, followed by a pair of top-15s and his first career PGA Tour victory at the RSM Classic two weeks ago. Sagstrom, meanwhile, has played at the venue five times, including a T-16 three weeks ago at the LPGA’s CME Group Tour Championship.
Rose Zhang/Sahith Theegala
Both lauded amateurs, they team up following their first tour victories. Theegala, 26, broke through at the Fortinet Championship in September. Zhang, 20, won the Mizuho Americas Open in June, only two weeks after winning her second individual NCAA title. Theegala has made only two starts since his maiden PGA victory, while Zhang closed out her rookie season with three consecutive top-15 finishes. Theegala was also part of the winning team (along with Tom Hoge) at last year’s finale QBE Shootout.
Nelly Korda/Tony Finau
The Grant Thornton ambassador pairing has some of the most experience in the field at the format. Korda is one of two LPGA players in the field who played at the QBE, joining Lexi Thompson last year, the first time the tournament had two LPGA players in the event. Korda impressed in her debut, finishing T-5 with Denny McCarthy. Korda has six top-10s in seven starts at the LPGA’s Tour Championship at Tiburon, including a T-8 three weeks ago. Finau played with Thompson multiple times at the QBE, including a T-4 in 2017.
The rest of the pairings
Allisen Corpuz/Cameron Champ
Brooke Henderson/Corey Conners
Lydia Ko/Jason Day
Céline Boutier/Harris English
Leona Maguire/Lucas Glover
Mel Reid/Russell Henley
Cheyenne Knight/Tom Hoge
Andrea Lee/Billy Horschel
Megan Khang/Denny McCarthy
Charley Hull/Justin Rose
Ruoning Yin/Nick Taylor