BY MIKE FIELDS
Babe Didrikson Zaharias became the first woman to play in a PGA TOUR event when she competed in the Los Angeles Open in 1938.
Since then only three other women have followed in the Babe’s footsteps and teed it up against the guys on the big tour: Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.
Brittany Lincicome is about to join that elite group, and she’ll make her little bit of history right here in Central Kentucky.
The 32-year-old Lincicome, an eight-time winner (including two majors) on the LPGA Tour, will play in the Barbasol Championship when the PGA TOUR comes to Champions at Keene Trace July 16-22.
She was offered an exemption into the $3.5 million tournament by Tom Murray, president and CEO of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk.
Lincicome’s caddie, Missy Pederson, helped convince her to accept the challenge.
“She was all for it, 100 percent,” Lincicome said on a media conference call Friday afternoon. “She was like, ‘Heck yeah, we’re going to go play and we’re going to do well.’”
Lincicome admitted she’ll be “a little more nervous than normal” when she takes her first swing in the Barbasol Championship.
“It will probably be like teeing it up in the Solheim Cup,” she said. “It’s just a different pressure than I’m used to.
“I feel like people will be rooting for me to do well, expecting me to do well, and I want to do well for everybody watching.”
“Everybody” will include a world-wide audience. The Golf Channel will televise the tournament and no doubt promote Lincicome as a major storyline.
It was major sports news 15 years ago when Sorenstam played in the PGA TOUR’s Colonial.
Lincicome remembered thinking at the time “that it’d be really cool someday to have that opportunity. But I never really thought it’d come true.”
After the official announcement came during last week’s Women’s U.S. Open, Lincicome said the reaction at Shoal Creek was overwhelmingly positive.
“Everybody that came up to me when I was passing them in the locker room or when I was on the putting green, they were all super-excited for me.
“It was wonderful having my peers wishing me good luck.”
Lincicome, one of the longest hitters on the LPGA Tour, also took some good-natured ribbing from Danielle Kang, whom she outdrives by 40 or 50 yards.
“She told me, ‘Now you’re going to know what it feels like to be me playing with you,’” Lincicome said.
“I’ll be the one hitting the longer irons into the greens, and the guys will have the wedges. It’s going to be Interesting to see it a little bit reversed, when I’m used to being the longest hitter.”
Lincicome, who won’t arrive for the Barbasol Championship until Tuesday of tournament week, knows Champions at Keene Trace will be longer than the courses she usually plays.
For example, she won’t be able to reach all the par 5s in 2, like she normally does on the LPGA Tour. And the par 3s will measure 30 or 40 yards longer.
“A long as (the course) stays around 7,000 yards and it’s not super wet, the distance shouldn’t be that big of a problem,” she said.
Lincicome, who hasn’t played golf in Kentucky since she competed in a junior tournament in Ashland in 2001, expects to get plenty of support at the Barbasol Championship.
“When I get to Lexington, I think all of the fans will be welcoming,” she said.
“I’m not trying to compare myself with the guys, or compare our games. I just want to go out there, have a good time and have a fun week.”
Asked if she might try to win over fans by wearing some University of Kentucky gear, Lincicome didn’t hesitate:
“Absolutely,” she said. “I would be more than happy to do that. The more fans I get, the better.”