Grant Thornton Invitational
‘We will bring it’: As LPGA pros get their wish to share top billing with PGA Tour peers, they also know the stakes
Despite it being December—the closest thing to an off-month in professional golf—this week's Grant Thornton Invitational at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla., could be one of the most important of the year for the LPGA Tour. For all the clamor of more co-ed professional golf, the co-sanctioned mixed-team tournament is a beta test for potential expansion into more events with between players on the LPGA and PGA Tour.
Sixteen two-player teams, comprised of a pro from each tour, will compete in the three-day event, playing a scramble, alternate shot and modified four-ball format for each round. The overall purse is $4 million (larger than any on the LPGA Tour except the five majors and the CME Group Tour Championship) with the winning team splitting a $1 million prize money payout.
Early signs are already positive, as LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan noticed a rare oddity in the social media age. When the tour announced the launch of the tournament in February, she didn't see a single negative comment.
"I think our fans are craving this," Marcoux Samaan said during last month’s CME Group Tour Championship. "I think the PGA Tour understood that. I think we obviously understood this, and Grant Thornton understood it, as well. I think people are like, wow, that's really interesting to put men and women together in golf. I think we'll see more of it. We don't have any specific plans right now, but I think everybody is really excited about it."
You have to go back to 1999 and the final edition of the JCPenney Classic Golf Tournament to find the last co-sanctioned mixed event between the two tours. Since the announcement of the new event, several top LPGA players expressed interest in playing, recognizing the crucial chance for the tour to get seen by those who only watch the PGA Tour.
The potential new audience will tune in to see some of the best talent the LPGA has to offer, including the top three players in the Rolex Women's World Rankings (Lilia Vu, Ruoning Yin and Celine Boutier), five of the top 10 in the world, and some of the sport's most recognizable names.
Having a mixed event is a natural evolution of the strategic alliance the two tours entered into in 2016, by then PGA commissioner Tim Finchem and LPGA commissioner Mike Whan. Since Marcoux Samaan took over as commissioner in 2021, she says that the two tours have consistently exchanged ideas and asked for advice.
While Marcoux Samaan explained there are no specific plans for what other ways the PGA and LPGA could work together, the tours could get creative quickly (a mixed President's Cup, anyone?) based on how well the players are appear to be getting along. Joel Dahmen, one of the funniest players in golf, balanced roasting and revering Vu, the World No. 1 and LPGA player of the year, during their Wednesday press conference. He acknowledged that her four-win season will need to carry the team, but also poked fun at the 26-year-old for not knowing who the Wu Tang Clan is, naming their team the “Vu Tang Clan” in honor of the famed New York City hip hop collective.
The other pair to meet with the media Wednesday, Nelly Korda and Tony Finau, joked about being team “FiNelly and Certified Fresh,” with Finau already ordaining her as “Certified Finau Fresh.”
Finau, who is sponsored by Grant Thornton, is already a fervent believer in what the event can bring going forward. "I think some of the younger generation that is watching this event, I think this event is going to continue to grow," Finau said. "I think there's going to be a lot of great interest in this event moving forward, but to be involved in the inaugural Grant Thornton Invitational, I think, is really cool."
Of the public options sprinkled across Naples, Greg Norman's Tiburón courses at the Ritz-Carlton provide the best balance of quality golf and convenience, situated in the heart of North Naples. That ideal combination comes at a cost, though, as green fees can be upwards of $300. The Gold course—ranked on our Best Courses You Can Play in Florida list—features stacked sod wall bunkers and no conventional rough and is home to the LPGA’s CME Group Tour Championship and the new mixed-team Grant Thornton Invitational, including pairs of LPGA and PGA Tour players competing together for the first time since 1999.
The event has already seen an investment in the future, with the second iteration for December 2024 with a similar $4 million purse. As for measuring its potential impact on the LPGA? Leave it to Korda, who consistently touts the tour's quality product, even going so far as to deflect praise from PGA counterparts from last year's QBE Shootout to mention how impressed they would be if they watched more women's golf.
"If you give us [LPGA players] the platform, I feel like we will perform and we will bring it," Korda said.
If Korda's proclamation proves correct, this week could be the breeding ground of the most expansive co-sanction era in professional golf history.