Players close out round by thanking LPGA founders

PHOENIX – The words washed over Marlene Hagge like refreshing rain.

One player after another coming off the 18th green Saturday at Wildfire Golf Club came to thank her and fellow LPGA founders Marilynn Smith and Shirley Spork. While it’s special for all of three of them, this is the first time Hagge has been able to attend the JTBC Founders Cup, an event designed to honor the tour’s founders and pioneers.

Set up like royalty in chairs lined up like thrones behind that last green, the founders get to meet all the players closing out their rounds. And even some of the caddies, too.

Paul Martinez, Sydnee Michaels’ caddie, dropped his bag and walked over to shake Hagge’s hand.

“Thanks for giving me a job,” Martinez said. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

Hagge loved that.

“Wasn’t that a wonderful thing to say,” Hagge said later. “I’m just blown away by this experience, and I’m so thrilled to be here.”

Sandra Haynie, Jan Stephenson and Shirley Englehorn have joined the founders in their special greenside seats as this year’s special honorees. They’re relishing the gratefulness being shown them, too, this week.

Hagge, 82, rarely travels and said she just couldn’t make the first five Founders Cup events, but she was excited she could made this year’s. There were 13 founding members of the tour, but with the death of Louise Suggs last August, there are just the three members left.

The week’s tribute was even more special with the LPGA showing the new documentary film “The Founders” in a players meeting. It’s an independent film telling the story of how the 13 founders got together 66 years ago to start the tour.

“A lot of the young girls who watched the film, they’ve come over and said they didn’t realize how tough it really was for us starting the tour,” Hagge said. “That really made me feel good. It really did.”

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