PGA Tour players react to the new Grant Thornton Invitational mixed-team event, a format that was a staple at Innisbrook in the 1990s
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Not so long ago, Cole Hammer played in mixed-team events like the AJGA’s Palmer Cup and Wyndham Cup. At the University of Texas, the men’s and women’s teams often practiced side-by-side on their home court, so the idea of one day playing with another longhorn in the new PGA Tour and the LPGA co-sanctioned Grant Thornton Invitational speaks to the 23-year old.
“I think it’s been a long time coming,” said Hammer, who ended his career in Texas last spring with a national title and continued it at the Valspar Championship this week.
Earlier in the week, Brad Faxon told Hammer about the time he worked with Karrie Webb at Innisbrook for the JCPenney Classic. They were grouped with Tiger Woods and Kelli Kühne 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 last edition of the JCPenney Classic in 1999. The list of winners of this event is particularly a who’s who among women.
The JCPenney dates back to 1978 and was a guest at Innisbrook, home of the Valspar, from 1990-1999. The history of mixed events between 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 will debut December 8-10 at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida as part of the Challenge season. The 32-player field consists of 16 PGA Tour and 16 LPGA players competing for a $4 million prize pool. The three-day event will be televised by NBC and Golf Channel for a total of nine hours of live coverage.
Only two teams have been announced so far and all four players are Grant Thornton ambassadors. Nelly Korda will be working with Tony Finau while her sister Jessica is working with Rickie Fowler. Cameron Champ and Mel Reid are also sponsored by the accounting, tax and consulting firm.
Justin Thomas, who usually plays in the PNC Championship with his dad Mike the following week, said he’s not yet sure of his summer plan, let alone what he’ll be playing in December, but feels he can the LPGA would get more of the attention it deserves. and that players will develop some cool friendships along the way.
“I mean, I’m very close to Jess and not as close to Nelly as Jess is, so both of my partners that I might have had in mind are already taken,” he said, laughing.
Stewart Cink played in the old JCPenney for six years alongside three-time LPGA winner Emilee Klein, who bagged four fairway metals.
“I’m always fascinated by what other people do in their sport,” says Cink. “In a way it’s a different sport than ours because they play very different courses and different dynamics in the game.”
England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, the 2022 US Open champion, has never competed in mixed tournaments as an amateur except with his mother at her home club.
“She took a lot of shots,” he said, smiling.
Fitzpatrick said he won’t be attending the Grant Thornton because he likes completing it this time of year, especially with the FedEx Cup now coming to a close in August.
“It’s at a bad part of the season,” he said. “I’d rather make it a PGA Tour/LPGA Tour event, get FedEx points for it, make it matter.”
The event comes two weeks after the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship at the same course, making an especially difficult decision for international players as their already short off-season gets even shorter.
Nelly Korda is congratulated by playing partner Denny McCarthy after sinking a putt during the first round of the 2022 QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. (Photo: Andrew West/The News Press)
The Grant Thornton takes the place of the QBE Shootout, a team event that first featured two women last year when Lexi Thompson and Nelly Korda attended. Korda placed fifth with her partner Denny McCarthy. Lexi and partner Maverick McNealy placed 10th.
McNealy said he would play again if given the chance. Qualifications for the event and format have not yet been announced.
“Golfers love team events,” said McNealy. “It’s something we don’t get very often, something we haven’t gotten very often since college. I think it would be awesome and a lot of fun, great change of pace.
“A great way to showcase the best players in the world at the same time.”
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek