For Former SoCal College Standouts, the JM Eagle LA Championship will be a Throwback to Great Times

For Former SoCal College Standouts, the JM Eagle LA Championship will be a Throwback to Great Times

By Jeff Babineau


There are many reasons for LPGA players to be excited with the tour’s return to Wilshire Country Club, in the heart of Los Angeles, as the JM Eagle LA Championship presented by Plastpro readies to tee off April 27-30. The most encouraging ray of light emanates from the event’s first-year sponsor, JM Eagle, the world’s largest plastic pipe manufacturer, which immediately doubled the purse to $3 million.


That move garnered immediate attention.


“I think it’s really cool that an L.A.-based company is also supporting an event in L.A.,” said LPGA veteran Alison Lee. “It’s always really hard to put a lot of money into or even run an event in the heart of L.A. or any big city, because there is so much going on and it’s hard to create attraction ... I think that’s really cool.”


For Lee and others who are products of the fine collegiate programs at nearby USC and UCLA, the JM Eagle also makes for a homecoming of sorts. Wilshire Country Club is a course many players know, not only from college days gone by, but also from competing in LPGA events there since 2018.


When women’s golf in Los Angeles returned to the LPGA in 2018, it was at Wilshire. Wilshire celebrated its centennial in 2019, and counted eccentric mogul Howard Hughes as one of its early members in the 1920s. The club’s roster of champions when it previously hosted the LPGA is impressive: Moriya Jutanugarn (2018); Minjee Lee (2019); Brooke Henderson (2021); and Nasa Hataoka (2022) all won there. (There was no tournament in 2020.)


Those who arrived to the LPGA through the storied programs at USC and UCLA also know Wilshire very well. For Lee, who played her college golf at UCLA, turned professional, and returned to school, she is quite familiar with Wishire and its surrounds. She attended elementary school about five minutes away, and while a Bruin, took part in Wilshire Wednesdays with the program.


“We would go early in the morning to try to beat traffic,” said Lee, a winner on the Ladies European Tour and 2015 U.S. Solheim Cup team member. “We would try to get there by 7 a.m. and be out by around 10, and try to make it back to campus for workouts. Yeah, a lot of good memories. It’s always good to go back. ... I think we’re all super-pumped, and love the golf course.”


Lilia Vu is a rising standout on the LPGA, and also played her collegiate golf at UCLA. She says an adjustment in mindset has allowed her to free herself up in this, her third LPGA season, and her results are beginning to show that progress. Having broken through to win her first LPGA title earlier this season (Honda LPGA Thailand), Vu is poised for bigger things. She will play on the U.S. team at the upcoming Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown at Harding Park, outside San Francisco, and is positioned nicely to make her first Solheim Cup team.


Vu, who regained her LPGA card through great play on the Epson Tour after a tough rookie campaign, said she was putting too much pressure on herself to perform last season, especially at the end of the schedule (she tied for 30th at the CME Group Tour Championship). So she shifted her thinking a bit.


“I came into this season with a different mindset,” Vu said, “where, if I just have fun and try my best, if I win, then I win. I just basically came out of the gate with no expectations and I just tried to have fun out there. Yeah, it solved itself, basically.”


Vu’s early results in 2023? In addition to winning in Thailand, the 25-year-old Vu has three top-15 finishes, including a tie for 11th in her last L.A.-area start, at the DIO Implant LA Open at Palos Verdes.


Vu smiled when asked if she had a “hometown” advantage while playing at Palos Verdes, and if she will enjoy one next week at Wilshire.


“I don’t know, it was difficult for us, too,” she said.


Annie Park left New York and the East Coast to play at USC, and getting back to the West Coast allows her to see some old friends. Park, an LPGA tournament champion and member of the 2019 U.S. Solheim Cup team, said she enjoys playing Wilshire.


“It’s a very interesting golf course ... It’s actually kind of a short course, but there is a lot of challenges added on to the golf course,” Park said. “A lot of strategic playing, but also has a lot of luck, too. The greens are pretty tricky, and there is some luck that goes into that golf course.”


The event at Wilshire had a good deal of luck in partnering with Walter Wang, Founder, Chairman and CEO of JM Eagle. Wang was part of the pro-am at Wilshire a year ago, and marveled at the athletes he was watching. When told the players were vying for a purse of $1.5 million that week, and not knowing much of the background of what it takes to stage an LPGA Wang simply thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to double the purse?”


So he sponsored the tournament, and did. Wang’s wife, Shirley Wang, is the founder of Plastpro (fiberglass entry doors), a company that stepped up as the tournament’s presenting sponsor.


“I felt that the ladies, you know, they’re not only really good athletes, but they work so hard at this game,” Wang said. “They are passionate about this game. I thought doubling the purse (to $3 million, one of the top non-major purses) will not only bring full participation for all the top players, but also promote ladies golf.”


Only three women’s non-majors offer a purse equal to, or larger than, the one being offered at JM Eagle: Cognizant Founders Cup ($3 million); The ANNIKA ($3.25 million); and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship ($7 million).


The JM Eagle LA Championship has received early commitments from eight of the world’s top 10 players, include World No. 2 Nelly Korda, as well as Jin Young Ko (3), Minjee Lee (4), Atthaya Thitikul (5), Brooke Henderson (7), Celine Boutier (8), Hyo Joo Kim (9) and Georgia Hall (10). In all, 25 of the top 30 players are committed to play.


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April 17, 2023
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