What a great golf week for Central Florida. The LPGA Diamond Resorts International Inaugural Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America(IOA) was held at the Four Seasons Golf & Sports Club in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The unique and fun golf was two championships in one. The 36 champions from the past two years on the LPGA Tour teed it up with 45 sports and celebrity golfers and 10 amateurs. The ladies played a stroke play game for $1.2 million while the celebrities played a modified stableford format for $800,000 Thursday through Sunday, January 17-20th.
I have to give a big shout-out to Mike Flaskey, Chief Executive Officer at Diamond Resorts, and LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan for creating this event that brings the girls back in town for all of us to enjoy great golf and entertaining shenanigans during the week before the PGA Merchandise Show at Orange County Convention Center. Flaskey said, “Diamond Resorts is known for delivering incredible vacation experiences and this tournament will be like no other with unmatched hospitality, a unique playing format and a week of exciting events and concerts.” For Whan, he could sleep in his own bed just north of Ortlando and not have to travel half way around the world to play public relations guru during the championship. For Flaskey, it is just another step in his effort to bring big time golf plus entertaining sports and celebrity golfers together, while raising funds for local charities.
Over the few years Diamond Resorts has been sponsoring an event, they have raised over $4 million which has been given back to the community. This year’s major recipient is UF Health, with the help of presenting sponsor IOA.
Another coup Flaskey & Whan enjoyed was the presentation of the tournament on NBC on the weekend with early coverage on the Golf Channel. Although not a major, the championship was an official LPGA event and brought the best of the best ladies to Central Florida to compete in the inaugural rendition of the Tournament of Champions.
Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz won the celebrity portion of the event on the Tom Fazio designed 6,645 yard par 71 Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Resort, with his unorthodox use of a self-standing Bloodline putter. John sets the putter behind the ball and then checks the line from behind as the putter sets upright by itself then putts after adjustment. He says he is putting better than ever and he would not have won, had it not been for the Bloodline.
South Korean Eun Hee Ji( nicknamed ‘Mickey Mouse’ by her friends), a four time LPGA winner along with the 2009 Womens US Open, won the LPGA portion of the season-opener with a two stroke lead and 14 under par 270 to take the trophy. Ji is the oldest South Korean at age 32 to win an LPGA event. “I just enjoyed my game with my celebrity partners,” said Ji. “It makes it more fun and I relaxed more, so I didn’t get nervous.”
If you missed the event, block out the third weekend in January 2020 and make sure you get out and support the LPGA Girls Back in Town!