LPGA Tour Game Night brings together fans, pros in a unique golf experience

Outside of the three challenges, guests were able to practice their putting skills at the shop’s putting green to fully fine tune their game. (Photo by Madison Breuer/Riester)

SCOTTSDALE – Just over a month after the last putt clinked the bottom of the cup on the 18th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the professional golf scene is back in Arizona. Starting Thursday morning, LPGA Tour golfers will shoot to ace the Gilbert greens of Seville Golf and Country Club during the inaugural Ford Championship presented by KCC, which runs through Sunday.

The tournament features a star-studded lineup including the top five players in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings: No. 1 Lilia Vu, No. 2 Nelly Korda, No. 3 Céline Boutier, No. 4 Ruoning Yin and No. 5 Minjee Lee.

With this being the birth of a new tournament in the Valley, multiple festivities were held to lead up to the main event. Even though many fans are patiently waiting to see their favorite golfers from afar, Monday night gave some of them an interactive and unforgettable experience, courtesy of PXG Scottsdale’s first LPGA Tour Game Night.

The night’s layout allowed avid golf lovers of all ages to compete in a series of golf simulator challenges while being able to interact and learn from four LPGA Tour professionals.

“Our goal was to try to create something that showed just how fun golf is and how inviting it is as a sport for anyone,” said Leela Brennan, vice president of brand communications and engagement for PXG. “We have a tremendous group of women golfers, and we want to be able to support them and showcase their skill in a way that’s fun and accessible to everybody.”

To showcase the tour for fans, LPGA Tour Game Night at PXG Scottsdale welcomed tour players, too. Here guests await the Bullseye, one of the three simulator challenges they could take part in to showcase their skills. (Photo by Madison Breuer/Riester)

To showcase the tour for fans, LPGA Tour Game Night at PXG Scottsdale welcomed tour players, too. Here guests await the Bullseye, one of the three simulator challenges they could take part in to showcase their skills. (Photo by Madison Breuer/Riester)

The competition consisted of three separate challenges with the first being Bullseye. Each contestant teed off to earn an assigned score of 50, 100, 300 or 500 points. If they missed the target, they received zero points.

The second competition crowned the winner of the straightest drive, while the Closest to the Pin challenge – in which contestants were placed 131 yards away from the hole and tried to get the ball as close as possible to the pin – rounded out the competition.

No matter the challenge, each seemed to have one recurring theme.

“I love seeing the adults get nervous and the kids thrive,” said Nick Jahnke, vice president of partnership marketing for PXG. “The adults are constantly overthinking it, and kids have stepped up and hit incredible shots in front of some of the top players in the world.”

While each event contained its own champion via a leaderboard, the two contestants with the best overall placements on each leaderboard received the extra special prize of a picture with all four LPGA Tour players in attendance.

The eminent group consisted of 2022 U.S. Women’s Open runner-up Mina Harigae, 2023 CPKC Women’s Open champion Megan Khang, 2023 Epson Tour champion Auston Kim and 2023 Evian champion Boutier. Following the public’s chance to compete, the pros hit the simulators for a competition of their own, in which Khang came out victorious — possibly due to her mind games. Believing she shanked her shot on the Bullseye challenge, Khang swiftly turned around, lightheartedly blaming all the cell phones gawking at her. Once seeing that she nailed the bullseye, she abruptly altered her reaction, taking off her cap and thanking the fans.

“Hey, if you’re not here to win, why are you here at all,” Khang said jokingly.

As Khang said, it is a competition at the end of the day, and while Khang may have gotten the best of her counterparts, some of the fans ended up with the last laugh. One of them, Cheri Stennett, finished tied for the best score out of everyone in the Closest to the Pin challenge at three feet away and couldn’t contain her joy knowing that she could proudly say she beat four LPGA Tour professionals in a golf challenge.

“I instantly texted my brothers, who are big into golf,” Stennett said. “I don’t think I’d be able to do it again, so it’s very exciting.”

It’s memories like that which leave the most prominent lasting marks on the pros. The competition will always be there for them, but chances to interact with fans or teach the youth don’t come around as often. A step outside their sports identity comes as a breath of fresh air.

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“What I enjoy is that fans get to know us personally,” Harigae said. “When we’re playing in a tournament, or you’re watching us on the Golf Channel, you only see us as golfers. So, when we get to do intimate events like this, where you can ask us questions, fans are able to learn more about us on a personal level.”

Harigae also resides in Arizona, so being able to take part in an event that sheds light on women’s golf in her home state and connecting with young golfers she might see grow up firsthand to become successful adds an extra special aura to her experience.

“This is home,” Harigae said. “It’s really cool that you get to interact with other people from your home area and have a local tournament. It’s especially cool to bring light to girls golf around here and have a lot more little girls out there showing that they can do what we do.”

These events also help the professionals reminisce about their experiences golfing as a child. They see themselves in some of the girls attending these events and use it as an opportunity to hopefully play a role in their lives, similar to the golfers who played a role for them.

“When I was 8 years old, my golf course brought in Paula Creamer to do a little clinic,” Khang said. “It was pretty cool meeting her back then because she said she’d be waiting to see me in 10 years, and 10 years later, I was 18 and on tour.

“Now, I see these girls almost every year, and I’m always asking them, are you still practicing? It’s great to share that experience with them, and hopefully, it’s a similar situation to mine where they get some sort of motivation from being out here with me and keep looking forward.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Brett Lapinski expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Lapinski interned at Varsity Sports Show, where he was a digital reporter/social media producer.