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ShopRite LPGA Classic carries on in pandemic with a smaller purse and no fans

Despite cancelation of the tournament's lucrative Pro-Am, sponsors decided to conduct the tournament. After an original schedule of 34 events in 2020, the LPGA Tour will finish the year with 17.

Lexi Thompson, shown during the final round of the 2019 ShopRite LPGA Classic, returns to the tournament this year as the defending champion. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)
Lexi Thompson, shown during the final round of the 2019 ShopRite LPGA Classic, returns to the tournament this year as the defending champion. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)Read moreNoah Murray / AP

It’s autumn at the Jersey Shore. The ShopRite LPGA Classic, which usually ushers in the summer season, is four months later than usual. The field is down to 120 players because of less daylight. The purse has been reduced from $1.75 million to $1.3 million because of an economy that is struggling as a result of the pandemic.

But the contestants who will be teeing off Thursday with no spectators on the course at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway, N.J., are just grateful for an opportunity to be playing.

“That means the world to us,” defending champion Lexi Thompson said Tuesday. "Coming through this year and just seeing what [the coronavirus] has done, we didn’t know if we were even going to play this year at all.

“It’s great what the sponsors are doing, just giving us an opportunity to play and compete and just do what we love. So we’re very appreciative of the events we have this year and the ones that stuck by us through these tough times. We greatly appreciate everything they’re doing for us and supporting us with.”

The tournament, which will be 72 holes this year instead of the customary 54, is being staged for the 32nd year and Wakefern Food Corp., the parent company of ShopRite, is in its 26th year as title sponsor. Under Wakefern, the event has raised more than $35 million for regional charities.

» READ MORE: Golf is booming in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic

The LPGA held four events in early 2020, but COVID-19 concerns after the Feb. 16 final round of the Women’s Australian Open resulted in the cancelation of two stops in Asia that sparked a long hiatus. The tour schedule resumed July 31 with the LPGA Drive On Championship at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio.

The ShopRite is the eighth event since the restart and 12th overall. The LPGA will finish the season with 17 tournaments, exactly half the original schedule of 34.

Much of the event’s charitable funds are raised in a two-day Pro-Am, one of the largest of any professional tour, conducted over three golf courses with about 1,500 rounds being played. Still, despite the Pro-Am’s cancelation, ShopRite and Acer, the presenting sponsor, helped put up a $1.3 million purse.

“This year we have gotten tremendous support from our partners, led certainly by ShopRite and Acer and others, that are allowing us to kind of pull off the event this year for the players,” said Tim Erensen, managing partner of Eiger Marketing Group, which owns and operates the event.

“I don’t think it’s a sustainable model for professional golf, but I think you are seeing companies like ShopRite and others stepping up and doing what they think is the right thing, to give the players a chance to compete and earn a living and showcase the game on television. But I don’t think people sign up for this for many more versions of it. It’s been a massive effort by all parties to get to where we’re at.”

» READ MORE: Jaclyn Lee withdraws from ShopRite Classic due to caddie’s positive COVID-19 test

Brittany Lincicome, the 2011 champion, said she admires the way ShopRite employees work during the pandemic, “stocking the shelves for us and bagging our groceries and sticking through this horrible time.”

“It was super scary there for a while, for the sponsors to still support us and have the tournament,” she said. “The Pro-Am is where they entertain their clients, where they do most of their business. For them to cancel the Pro-Am and still have the event for us and support us really means the world. We can’t thank them enough.”

With the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, an LPGA major, being held next week at Aronimink Golf Club, less than 90 minutes away from the Shore, this week’s field is one of the best in recent memory, with 25 of the top 30 money-winners and eight of the top 10 in the Women’s World Rankings.

Brynn Walker of St. Davids, a senior at North Carolina who competed in the ShopRite LPGA in 2016 and 2019, is in the field on a sponsor’s exemption.