SO, YOU THOUGHT the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields back in June was something special? You’re right—it was. But the tournament’s next staging will be even better. In fact, the next KPMG Championship, at Kemper Lakes, will be the highlight of the 2018 Chicago golf season. The Olympia Fields staging was unique, in that the venerable south suburban private club’s rich tournament history had never before included a women’s event. Kemper Lakes is a much younger club, having opened in 1979— 64 years after Olympia arrived on the scene. Its connection to women’s golf, though, is so noteworthy that its members are celebrating the anniversary of a big event in the final days of this season. The 2017 campaign marks the 25th anniversary of Vicki Goetze-Ackerman’s victory in the U.S. Women’s Amateur back in the days when Kemper was still a public course. The fact that Goetze (she was 19 years old and not married then) won the title in 1992 was just part of the milestone. Her victim in the final was no less a golfing icon than Annika Sorenstam. Sorenstam went on to a Hall of Fame career that included two Chicago-area victories, in the LPGA’s Kellogg-Keebler Classic in 2002 (by 11 strokes) and 2003. They were part of a career that included 72 LPGA victories and another 18 in other worldwide professional events before she stepped away from the competitive side in 2008. “No one knew that her career would get to that level then,” said Goetze-Ackerman. “I had just beaten her at the NCAAs at Arizona State. She played for Arizona.” Goetze-Ackerman’s win at Kemper came in only the sixth playing of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in the Chicago area. It was contested at five private clubs between 1907 and 1938 before Kemper landed the event 54 years later. The 1992 U.S. Women’s Amateur was Goetze-Ackerman’s last tournament before she turned pro. She was the star of the show before and afterwards. As a 16-year-old, she had won the coveted U.S. Am title at Pinehurst in 1989 before heading to the University of Georgia. Though she dominated the amateur ranks for four years, she didn’t give much thought to turning pro until the Kemper tournament approached. “It’s not what people did then,” she said. “Now people rush into anything. I wanted to go to school, though I didn’t think I would stay four years. My plan was to stay in school for two years, and my coach knew my plan. It was unusual for anyone to do that then.’’ She went into the Kemper tourney knowing that if she did win, she wouldn’t be defending her title. And she also had a heavy heart. Both of her grandfathers died that year, one in Wisconsin and the other in Florida. That created a tough family situation, especially for her own parents, who had to do considerable traveling to care for their fathers. While Sorenstam did great things as a professional player, Goetze- Ackerman struggled through 18 LPGA seasons. She never won on the tour but found a big place on it. She retired as a player in 2009 and became president of the LPGA Players Association three years later, a position she still holds. It takes her to half of the LPGA tournaments in North America each year and a few others overseas. “I was actually hired by the players, and I’m there for them,” she said. “Now that I’m not working on my game, I’ve been able to really dive into the business. My job is to make sure the players’ voices are heard in meetings when decisions are made.” That magical week at Kemper Lakes 25 years ago hasn’t been forgotten, though—especially the match with Sorenstam, who had come from Sweden to attend college and make her mark in golf. “I vividly remember the last match,” said Goetze-Ackerman. “In those last four holes, I felt I was leaking oil, but it wasn’t so much that. Annika was taking it away. It was a golf course that honestly didn’t fit my game—a longer golf course for me. But I played it well.” The match seemed to be slipping away until Goetze-Ackerman put a 3-wood second shot onto the front of the 18th green. “I didn’t want the match to get to that point,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was being slow until my caddie told me, ‘You have to hit the shot.’” And she got it to a comfortable position on the green to close out the match. “It all worked out for me in the end, and it was also such a good match,” she said. “At that time, the U.S. Women’s Amateur matches weren’t televised. After that they were, and I felt part of the reason was that ours had been such a good one.” The 1992 U.S. Women’s Amateur wasn’t the only U.S. Golf Association women’s event played at Kemper Lakes. While the course was loading up on men’s events (the 1989 PGA Championship, four Grand Slams of Golf, six Champions Tour stops and one Web.com Tour event), Kemper also squeezed in the 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, which was won by Candie Kung and also included an 11-year-old Michelle Wie. It was that ’92 U.S. Women’s Am, though, that deserves a place in club history almost as prominent as the ’89 PGA won by Payne Stewart. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will supplant the Goetze-Sorenstam duel as Kemper’s best exposure to the women’s game. It’ll also make Kemper one of the country’s few clubs to host majors on both the men’s and women’s tours. In her role as president of the LPGA Players Association, Goetze- Ackerman has been reluctant to attend major championships, believing that players would rather concentrate on their games at those crucial times of the season than discuss political issues. She was, however, at Olympia Fields and will be at Kemper Lakes as well. “I’m looking forward to coming back and looking at the golf course,” she said. “At Olympia Fields, I never set foot on the course, but I’ll be walking around Kemper Lakes. I will have to spend some extra days there.” She believes the Kemper Lakes tournament will be every bit as successful as the Olympia Fields one was, when Danielle Kang won the title. “Kemper Lakes is a fantastic venue. I’m sure our ladies will love it,” said Goetze-Ackerman. “I’m super excited for the LPGA to be coming there.”
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