LPGA stars praise Hunt Club

LPGA Tour stars (from left to right) A.J. Eathorne, Meg Mallon, Natalie Gulbis, Juli Inkster,...

LPGA Tour stars (from left to right) A.J. Eathorne, Meg Mallon, Natalie Gulbis, Juli Inkster, Morgan Pressel, Si Ri Pak and Lori Kane were on hand yesterday at the London Hunt and Country Club to announce the Canadian Women's Open will be held Aug. 10-13. (London Free Press/Dave Chidley)

JOHN HERBERT -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

Some big names on the LPGA Tour flew to London yesterday to support Lorie Kane, praise the London Hunt and Country Club and rejuvenate the troubled CN Canadian Women's Open.

Americans Juli Inkster, Natalie Gulbis and Meg Mallon -- three headliners of women's professional golf -- said they came from Williamsburg, Va., to help revive the ailing national championship, set for Aug. 10-13, and to be at Kane's side.

The national open was near its last gasp last summer when BMO dropped sponsorship after five years.

Just when it appeared the tournament would be scrapped, the Hunt Club hoisted it off life support along with the Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA), which found a white knight.

Canadian National Railway put it back on the rails, agreeing to take on the title sponsorship role last October, just in time to make sure it would be included on the tour schedule.

CN has signed a three-year contract with the RCGA and is offering a $1.7-million US purse.

Other LPGA stars here yesterday were teenager Morgan Pressel, Korean star Se Ri Pak and Canadian A. J. Eathorne, who left very impressed with the course.

Playing it for the first time, Eathorne said it is "a wonderful course," but unfortunately said she also found the scenic spots.

CN brought the players to London for a golf day with clients and to prop up the tournament.

The title sponsor also announced a $100,000 gift to the Children's Hospital of Western Ontario.

It was a humour-filled news conference, once the rambling corporate speakers from CN, the London Health Sciences Centre and RCGA stopped thanking each other.

When Kane was finally asked to the podium "to say a few words," Inkster blurted out: "Is that possible?"

The room erupted with laughter.

Someone asked Mallon if she was going to apply for Canadian citizenship because "you've won the Canadian Open three times and you've got all the money we've minted."

Mallon responded: "Yeah, and I've paid enough taxes. Especially Quebec, What's up with that? They charge a lot up there."

Kane lavished praise on CN for its donation to the children's hospital, saying the tour is filled with mothers and daughters and is all about kids . . . "We've got Morgan." Inkster interrupted again, jokingly thanking Pressel's babysitting skills on behalf of the tour moms.

The players said they can hardly want to tell their friends back on the tour that they should come to the Hunt Club, not just because it's a great course, but to support the national open.

"This is a special event for me -- my name's on the trophy three times," Mallon said. "There's too much history to lose this. We need to play in Canada and this is a great place to play."

Gulbis said the new August date -- the week after the British Open for women -- is attractive for players to come to Canada, which surprised some of the organizers. They thought all along some top stars would come to London, but were also concerned some might take a week off after the British Open because it's a major championship.

Inkster said it's important she step to the plate for Kane, a workhorse in bringing big names to Canada and fighting to keep the Open alive.

"I heard they weren't going to have a Canadian tournament," Inkster said. "Ever since I've been out here (on the tour), they've had one. I only missed a couple over the years.

"I'd like to see it back to where I think it should be as a major. This is a championship golf course and you need to play a national championship on a championship golf course."

Doug Alexander, co-chairperson of the Hunt organizing committee, said Kane impressed everyone. "She's always been a good ambassador for Canada."

The Open is a championship Kane would dearly love to win before her career ends. "To me, it would be like winning the Stanley Cup.

"I've been out here 10 years. Ask any of us Canadians -- Mike (Weir), Jon (Mills), A. J. (Eathorne), and we'd all say the same thing about what it's like playing in Canada. It's a learning thing. You have to learn all the fans are behind us and that should be excitement and not added pressure.

"I feel great about the future. I always said I want to leave the tour better than I found it. I think these young women are driven to be the best and as a result, the LPGA Tour will grow.

"They may be young and they're very confident, but older players are competitive and confident, too."

Sounded like Kane was delivering a message.


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