Michael Whan still might be finding his way as the new commissioner of the LPGA Tour, but he's heard enough about the ShopRite LPGA Classic from players and staff to know there's a fun week coming up.

As Whan says, "We're excited because it feels like the band's back together."

After a three-year absence from the tour, the ShopRite will take place next week at the Seaview Resort in Galloway, N.J. The 54-hole event, which begins June 18, offers $1.5 million in prize money.

The tournament began in 1986 as the Atlantic City Classic, and ShopRite became title sponsor six years later. By the time it was last held in 2006, the ShopRite Classic was among the tour's top generators of charitable funds.

However, a dispute over dates and fees between then-commissioner Carolyn Bivens and tournament directors Ruth and Larry Harrison put the event out of business.

About three weeks after the announcement of Whan's hiring on Oct. 28, 2009, the LPGA announced ShopRite's return with a new executive staff.

"When you talk to players and you ask them about Atlantic City, they'll tell you about individual fans they've known for years, houses they've stayed in," Whan said at last month's Sybase Match Play Championship in Gladstone, N.J.

"I've only been doing this for four or five months but when the tournament in Atlantic City comes up when we're all together, I find there's a real kind of family in the area. I haven't been there yet, but it seems like every player has got a real unique story."

The ShopRite is one of only 13 U.S.-based events for 2010. Whan's task is to beef up the schedule, and he said he appreciates the return of ShopRite in tough economic times.

"It's the ultimate test of partnership," he said. "Everybody is a good business partner when times are good. But when business gets tough, that's when you find out who you can really lean on. Trust me, we won't forget what ShopRite did because I realize they stepped up at a time when we needed it."

The field includes 98 of the top 100 on the LPGA money list entering this week's State Farm Classic. The first tournament champion in 1986, Juli Inkster, who turns 50 later this month, has committed along with past winners Se Ri Pak, Janice Moodie, Angela Stanford, Cristie Kerr and Seon Hwa Lee.

Ticket and parking information are available at www.shopritelpgaclassic.com.

The buddies. The Philadelphia Section PGA still is going strong with the Golf Buddies Program, in which a member professional is paired with a special-needs child from Variety, the Children's Charity.

Geoff Surrette, the section's executive director, said about 30 pros currently are involved in the program, and they develop a mentoring relationship with the youths as well as provide golf instruction.

"People talk about the benefits the kids get but I think the professionals get more out of the relationship than the kids do," Surrette said. "You can see a special-needs child expanding his or her horizons, and see their self-confidence grow when they get a golf ball in the air."

An invitational field will participate Tuesday and Wednesday in the 34th annual Variety Tournament of Champions Pro-Am at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club in Lafayette Hill. A gala will be held the following week featuring emcee Russell Ohneck, one of the original Golf Buddies when the program began in 1993.

No Rose for Open. Golf fans everywhere are wondering why Justin Rose's victory at the Memorial Tournament - and his subsequent rise to No. 33 in the world rankings - did not qualify him for the U.S. Open.

Of the U.S. Golf Association's 18 exemption categories, two provide a free pass for multiple PGA Tour winners since the last Open, or anyone ranked in the world Top 50 as of May 24. The early cutoff is so the USGA can determine the allocation of spots at the nation's 13 sectional qualifying sites.

Rose attempted to qualify for the Open in Columbus, Ohio, the day after his Memorial victory, but missed a playoff by three strokes.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.