Mark Story

What motivated golf star Brittany Lincicome to want to play against the men

When Brittany Lincicome tees off in the Barbasol Championship at Nicholasville’s Keene Trace Golf Club on Thursday, she will become the fifth woman ever to play in a PGA Tour event.
When Brittany Lincicome tees off in the Barbasol Championship at Nicholasville’s Keene Trace Golf Club on Thursday, she will become the fifth woman ever to play in a PGA Tour event. Associated Press

When Brittany Lincicome got the phone call offering her a chance to become only the fifth woman to ever play in a PGA Tour event, she hesitated.

It was not that the LPGA star, 32, was unfamiliar with playing against the guys. Home-schooled in Florida, Lincicome played high school golf for Seminole High School in Sanford — on the boys' team.

"I felt like playing with and against the guys in high school helped me become a better player," Lincicome said Tuesday via the phone.

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Brittany Lincicome, left, has eight career wins on the LPGA Tour, including two major championships. Associated Press

Yet when Tom Murray, President and CEO of Perio, Inc., the company that owns shaving cream brands Barbasol and Pure Silk, called to offer Lincicome an exemption to play in this month's Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club Nicholasville, she was wary.

"I took a day to think about it," Lincicome said. "I wasn't sure what the (public) reaction would be. I'm pretty active on social media and I was afraid there might be a backlash and I would wind up having to block people and then block even more people on Twitter."

For everyone invested in making the first regular PGA Tour event held in Kentucky since 1959 a success, it was very good news when Lincicome worked through her apprehension and said yes to playing here.

When the Barbasol Championship tees off July 19, the presence of the two-time winner of LPGA majors will raise the national profile of a tournament that otherwise will be overshadowed by the British Open — which will be going on concurrently in Scotland.

"From the time the announcement was made that Brittany was playing, it's been such a positive," says Brooks Downing, the Lexington sports marketer who is Executive Director of the Barbasol Championship. "It has increased interest from the media. There's been a buzz on social media, and she's been great about using her social media platforms to promote (that buzz)."

Yet Lincicome says what ultimately motivated her to agree to play against the men has nothing to do with the attention it will draw.

How exemptions work

Lincicome was wise to feel some trepidation about the reaction from the golfing public to her accepting a spot in a men's tourney. The fan base for PGA Tour golf is often a persnickety lot.

Sponsor exemptions — someone invited to play in a tourney at the discretion of an event's financial backers who would not otherwise meet the criteria for entry — can gin up ample controversy.

Traditionalists are adamant that such opportunities should only go to up-and-coming players trying to establish themselves. They were aghast when former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, a golf enthusiast, shot 15-over par to finish last after receiving a sponsor's exemption to play in a PGA Tour tourney in the Dominican Republic earlier this year.

Tournament promoters, conversely, want the leeway to use sponsor exemptions to build excitement and sell tickets.

The PGA TOUR Barbasol Championship will be played July 16-22 at Champions at Keene Trace Golf Course. This will Central Kentucky’s first PGA TOUR event in years.

For the tournament here, Downing said both local organizers and Barbasol each got six sponsor exemptions.

PGA Tour criteria requires that four of those 12 spots must go to PGA Tour members not otherwise exempt for the event and/or to top finishers from the 2017 Tour (golf's version of Class Triple-A baseball).

That leaves both the local tourney organizers and Barbasol with four exempt spots to distribute at their discretion.

The locals offered their exemptions to ex-Henry Clay High School and Morehead State golfer Josh Teater; recently-graduated Kentucky Wildcats golf standouts Chip McDaniel and Cooper Musselman; and former Alabama Crimson Tide player Dru Love.

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Former Kentucky Wildcats golfers Cooper Musselman, left, and Chip McDaniel both received sponsor exemptions to play in the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship. University of Kentucky Athletics

In inviting Dru Love, the tournament also got a commitment from his father, 1997 PGA Championship winner Davis Love III, to play here.

"That was absolutely huge for us," Downing says.

Perio Inc., the company that owns Barbasol, has a longstanding relationship with Lincicome. She has an endorsement deal with Pure Silk, and has also won the past two Pure Silk-sponsored LPGA Tournaments in the Bahamas.

By granting Lincicome one of its sponsor exemptions, Perio has already reaped a publicity windfall for the tournament that bears the Barbasol name.

"The amount of media she's done is unbelievable," says Lincicome's agent, Jeff Chilcoat. "USA Today. The New York Times. ... It's just been a lot of extra attention."

'Chance to stretch my game'

Lincicome will be joining four other women who have played in PGA Tour events .

The iconic Babe Didrickson Zaharias played in the Los Angeles Open in 1938 and '45.

Swedish star Annika Sorenstam received an exemption into the 2003 Bank of America Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. She shot 71-74 and missed the cut.

That same year, Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley played in the Greater Hartford Open after earning entry by winning a qualifying tournament. She, too, missed the cut.

From 2004-08, Hawaiian teen phenom Michelle Wie played in eight PGA Tour events. As a 14-year old, Wie shot a second-round 68 in the Sony Open in Hawaii, the best round ever shot by a female in a PGA Tour tourney. But she also never made a cut.

Now, Lincicome will seek to make it to the weekend of a PGA Tour event on a Keene Trace course expected to play at some 7,300 feet.

Lincicome's nickname is "Bam Bam." She earned it because she is one of the longest hitters in women's golf. Through last weekend, she stood sixth in 2018 in LPGA driving distance at 271.456 yards a drive.

That average would place her outside the top 200 in driving distance on the PGA Tour, however.

"So I have to be prepared that this will be a whole different ballgame," Lincicome says. "First off, I have to just play my game and not get caught up in how far the guys are hitting it.

"I have to understand that I will probably be playing different clubs into the greens than I am used to. Driving the Par-5s in two (shots) is a big part of my game. Well, I probably will not be able to do that. I have to be ready for all that mentally."

Wanting a new test is the motivation that ultimately convinced Lincicome to say yes to coming to Kentucky to duel the men on the PGA Tour.

"It's not me wanting to compare myself to the men. It really isn't," Lincicome says. "To me, it's a chance to stretch my game, a chance to get out of my comfort zone and try to see if I can meet a different challenge. However it goes, I think it will be a cool experience."

Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter @markcstory

PGA Tour Barbasol Championship

When: July 19-23

Where: Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville