Pro golf’s newest tournament offers a peculiar look into the future
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Megha Ganne looks awfully confused.
It’s Wednesday morning at golf’s newest tournament — the Mizuho Americas Open — and she’s just been asked a stupid question.
“Have I spent any time here?” Ganne asks rhetorically. She peers out toward the horizon. “Well, I used to live on the 14th hole.”
So yes, Megha Ganne has spent some time at Liberty National. In fact, too much of it. Even if home is now driving distance from Liberty, this week counts as something of a home game for Ganne, the 19-year-old rising college sophomore who stormed through an all-PAC-12 freshman season at Stanford. Two years after stunning the women’s game as a high schooler with low-am honors at the U.S. Women’s Open, she’s back at home, playing alongside the tournament’s other shy-of-drinking-age Stanford star, Rose Zhang.
This week will mark Zhang’s first start as a pro, and Ganne’s first LPGA appearance. Someday, if you believe the prognosticators, this pair of youngsters could prove a key piece of pro golf’s future, their brilliance blazing a new path forward for women’s golf. And if you believe that to be true, it’s hard to see this week — at a brand-new event in the world’s biggest media market highlighting some of the sport’s brightest young talent — as anything other than the launch party for the LPGA’s new future.
And at Liberty National, it seems the party has found a new home.
Before Ganne and Zhang, women’s golf had Michelle Wie. At the Mizuho Americas Open, women’s golf still has Michelle Wie — though she carries a different last name (Wie-West) and slate of responsibilities now.
“It’s slightly strange,” says Wie-West, who traded in her clubs to be this week’s tournament host. “But it’s great in a way. Usually, when I’m at a tournament, I’m stressed about playing. It’s pretty nice and walking around saying hi to people.”
On the same week the PGA Tour will host a player tournament to honor one of its greats (Jack Nicklaus), the LPGA will host one to honor Wie-West. In many ways, this tournament fits the same format outlined by the Tour’s player-hosted events. This week’s event will also be contested at a marquee venue, also for a massive purse, and also with the distinct feel of premium billing. But that’s not all.
The energy around Jersey City is owed to the tournament host and sponsor, but the blueprint belongs to the PGA Tour. The LPGA and Mizuho have committed to giving players free Manhattan hotel rooms and a ferry from lower Manhattan that runs on the half-hour for this week’s event, just as the PGA Tour did when it came through here in 2021. NBC Sports has dedicated a footprint and TV schedule of considerable size, complete with two national television windows on the weekend, just as it would for a PGA Tour event. On-site, the temporary structures are considerably smaller than the average Tour event, but the corporate hospitality setting — long a bastion of the men’s golf business model — is decidedly no-joke.
Walking around the glimmering build-out — a sweeping pavilion with views of the 18th green, the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline — it may be lost on the week’s youngest contestants that these amenities were once seen as unreasonable luxuries for the women’s game. Wie-West hopes it is lost on them. That’s one way to measure progress.
“I mean, everything is just so above par. It’s just excellence everywhere,” Wie-West said. “Honestly, this is the fewest complaints that I’ve heard from players ever. Player dining is bomb, obviously, I love the chef here. The hotel; the ferry to and from New York City; and this golf course is just unbelievable. Honestly, my job is so easy because everything is just perfect.”
Wednesday’s pro-am brought about a smattering of celebrities from the New York social scene; former New York Giants stars Michael Strahan and Victor Cruz were among the attendees, while the NBA’s Larry O’Brien championship trophy made a tour around the property (a feat owed with little doubt to Wie-West’s husband Jonnie, director of basketball operations for the Golden State Warriors and son of NBA legend Jerry West). But perhaps the most important pro-am additions were the relative nobodies — a group of golf stakeholders and corporate partners who proved essential in bringing the tournament to life.
This group, of both players and power brokers, is how an LPGA event with a $2.75 million purse finds its way into New York City; and also how it stays here. If it’s strange for you to think of golf and competition as only secondary factors in an event’s long-term success, you mustn’t have spent much time following pro golf in the last 18 months.
On the business side, it’s easy to see how Wie-West could help the Americas Open become a bell-cow for legions of corporate backers sitting just a 20-minute ferry ride across the Hudson. And on the player side, it was a struggle to find even a single person with a bad thing to say about the tournament, its host, or most notably, its location.
“You know I love food,” said Wie-West. “This week I’m going to Kote, a Korean BBQ spot, Nami Nori (sushi), maybe even sprinkle in some Carbone (Italian). This is my absolute favorite city in the world.”
“This is my first time here,” countered Zhang later with a grin. “I’m just looking for a good bagel.”
Setups like this are still the exception in women’s golf, not the norm. But there’s reason to hope that one day they might not be rare at all.
Megha Ganne is not very old, but she’s old enough to remember a time when an invite to Liberty National seemed impossible. Now, at 19, she’s playing an LPGA event here on a sponsor’s exemption … and has a brand deal with Liberty National to sport the club logo on her golf bag in competition. That development speaks to the jaw-dropping potential of the two Stanford golf teammates as much as it does to the seismic growth in women’s golf accomplished by those who came well before the two of them.
“With this course especially, you feel like you’re in the center of everything,” she said. “It’s just a very different vibe from any other golf course I’ve ever been to. The vibe makes a major difference.”
The vibe is also different because of things entirely unrelated to the golf course, like hotels and ferries and sponsors and a spotlight. This, it turns out, is one of the few ways in which Ganne can still be considered a Liberty National novice — a point supported by her shuffle through the practice area with her staff bag on her back.
“It’s just easy. All of it,” said Wie-West. “The cost for the week, how they’re treated, how their caddies are treated. That’s what this is all about. This event is about empowering women. It’s about advancing the next generation.”
By the looks of the next generation, it seems the party is only getting started.