PALM HARBOR, Fla. – It wasn’t all that long ago that Cole Hammer played in mixed-team events like the Palmer Cup and the AJGA’s Wyndham Cup. At the University of Texas, the men’s and women’s teams often practiced alongside each other at their home course, so the idea of one day playing with a fellow Longhorn at the new PGA Tour and LPGA co-sanctioned Grant Thornton Invitational appeals strongly to the 23-year-old.
“I think this has been a long time coming,” said Hammer, who ended his career at Texas last spring with a national title and teed it up this week at the Valspar Championship.
Earlier in the week, Brad Faxon was telling Hammer about the time he partnered with Karrie Webb at Innisbrook for the JCPenney Classic. They were grouped with Tiger Woods and Kelli Kuehne that year.
The Grant Thornton event will be the first mixed-team co-sanctioned event between the two tours since John Daly and Laura Davies won the final edition of the JCPenney Classic in 1999. The roll call of winners from that event is a who’s who, particularly among the women.
The JCPenney dates back to 1978 and was hosted at Innisbrook, site of the Valspar, from 1990 to 1999. The history of mixed events between the tours actually dates back to 1960 with the Haig & Haig Scotch Foursome. Dave Ragan won it twice with the great Mickey Wright.
The Grant Thornton is set to debut Dec. 8-10 at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, as part of the Challenge Season. The 32-player field will be comprised of 16 PGA Tour and 16 LPGA players competing for a $4 million purse. The three-day event will be televised by NBC and Golf Channel for a total of nine hours of live coverage.
So far only two teams have been announced and all four players are Grant Thornton ambassadors. Nelly Korda will partner with Tony Finau while her sister Jessica pairs with Rickie Fowler. Cameron Champ and Mel Reid are also sponsored by the audit, tax and advisory firm.
Justin Thomas, who typically plays in the PNC Championship the following week with his father Mike, said he’s not yet sure of his summer schedule let alone what he’ll play in December, but felt the LPGA would get more of the exposure it deserves, and that players will develop some cool friendships along the way.
“I mean, I’m very close with Jess, and I’m not as close with Nelly as I am Jess, so my two partners that I had potentially in my mind are taken already,” he said, laughing.
Stewart Cink played in the old JCPenney for six years alongside three-time LPGA winner Emilee Klein, who carried four fairway metals in the bag.
“I’m always fascinated by what other people do in their sport,” said Cink. “In a way, it’s a different sport than ours, because they play a whole different set of courses and by different dynamics in the game.”
England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, the 2022 U.S. Open champion, never played in any mixed tournaments as an amateur except with his mom at their home club.
“She got a lot of shots,” he said, smiling.
Fitzpatrick said he won’t be competing in the Grant Thornton because he likes to shut it down that time of year, especially with the FedEx Cup now wrapping up in August.
“It’s in a poor part of the season,” he said. “I would rather it be a PGA Tour/LPGA tour event, get FedEx points for it, make it important.”
The event takes place on the same course two weeks after the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, leaving international players an especially difficult decision as their already short offseason becomes even shorter.
The Grant Thornton takes the place of the QBE Shootout, a team event that last year featured two women for the first time as Lexi Thompson and Nelly Korda participated. Korda tied for fifth with her partner, Denny McCarthy. Lexi and partner Maverick McNealy tied for 10th.
McNealy said he’d play again if given the chance. Qualifications for the event and format haven’t yet been announced.
“Golfers love team events,” said McNealy. “It’s something we don’t get very often, something we haven’t gotten much since college. So I think it would be fantastic and a lot of fun, a great change of pace.
“A great way to showcase all of the best players in the world at the same time.”