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April 11, 2018

Heather Daly-Donofrio

Laura Diaz

Tom Pashley

Reagan Greene Pruitt

HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Heather Daly-Donofrio, and on behalf of the LPGA I want to thank you all for being here with us at the historic Pinehurst resort. Before I introduce our panel, I wanted to share with you a quick overview of our new LPGA Q-Series.

For many years, the LPGA and Symetra Tour qualifying tournament has been comprised of three stages, stage 1, stage 2, and our final stage. Beginning this year, stage 1 and stage 2 will stay the same. But the LPGA Q-Series will now replace our final stage of the qualifying tournament to determine the next crop of LPGA stars.

Q-Series will be held right here at the historic Pinehurst resort over two weeks. Week one will be played on Pinehurst No. 6, and week 2 will be held on Pinehurst No. 7. We will play 72 holes of golf each week for a total of 144 holes of tournament play, and scores will be cumulative, so players who shoot 4-under week one will start week two at 4-under. If they shoot even par week one, they start even par on week two. At the end of the two weeks, a minimum of the top 45 and ties will earn LPGA membership for the following year, and the remainder will receive Symetra Tour status.

This new format really puts an emphasis on year-long play for players to earn their way into the Q-Series, and then 144 holes of head-to-head competition to earn LPGA membership.

I'm now going to introduce our panel. To my far left, we have two-time LPGA Tour winner, Laura Diaz. Laura is a graduate of Wake Forest University and a four-time U.S. Solheim Cup player. To my immediate left, we have Reagan Greene Pruitt. She is the vice president of integrated marketing and community engagement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. And in the center, we have Tom Pashley, the president of the Pinehurst resort.

At the LPGA we've actually been talking about this concept of the LPGA Q-Series for some time, but we were really looking for partners to really help make this vision become reality. And the official name of the LPGA Q-Series moving forward will be the LPGA Q-Series presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. Reagan, how does this partnership with the LPGA fit with what you're trying to accomplish at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina?

REAGAN GREENE PRUITT: Thank you, Heather. It's an honor to be up here with Tom and Laura, and on behalf of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, we are just thrilled about this opportunity, and it's a perfect marriage for our brand. And so really it comes down to three key elements. Number one, our mission is to improve the health and well-being of our customers and communities, and when you think about golf being outside, enjoying our state, it's a great physical activity, great for mental health. It's a great alignment for us, really trying to encourage North Carolinians and beyond to get outside and get active.

Number two, females are key to the future of our state and nationally. If you think about this opportunity to empower females, build leadership, these golfers really are role models for females, again, across the state and nationally.

I think we'll talk a little bit about the girls' golf opportunity that we're doing with the golf clinic, as well, and so that female empowerment and giving that opportunity to these individuals is a great fit for our brand, as well.

And finally, the essence of our brand is enabling our members to live fearless, and you've probably seen a lot of "live fearless" across the state and the country, and that's all about living your life free of fear, taking that big step, and knowing that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is behind you every step of the way so that you can focus on what matters most, whether it be your family or whatnot.

So as we think about the Q-Series, these golfers are here looking to join the elite professional golfers, and they're taking that step. They're fulfilling their dreams, and we're hoping to help them enable to live fearless and go for that card.

Again, just really excited about this partnership and the presenting sponsorship, and overall just glad to be here.

HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: Thank you, Reagan. We at the LPGA are really excited to have Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina as the newest member of the LPGA family, so thank you.

Tom, we know any tournament needs a great platform for the players. Pinehurst, you have a well-known history of hosting world-class events. How important is it to the Pinehurst resort to add this event to its portfolio?

TOM PASHLEY: You know, Pinehurst has a lot of deep roots in championship golf, and most of you have had the opportunity to walk through the hallways and walk down the resort club hallway, in particular to see the all the vintage photos, the black and whites, but we continue to talk about adding color photos to our hallways every year. We're in the middle of kind of a reinvention right now of adding a lot of color and a lot of amenities.

But one of the plaques in there is the Women's North and South. The Men's North and South started in 1901, the women's started in 1940, and as you look at the names on that plaque, women's plaque in particular, there are three founding members of the LPGA Tour: Opal Hill, Louise Suggs and Babe Zaharias are all on that plaque.

So finding a way to bridge the gap, to honor our history and our tradition where we've come from, but to continue to stay modern and relevant. So thinking of the Women's North and South and the great tradition, Laura Diaz is the 1995 North and South amateur champion, so finding ways to continue to stay relevant.

When you look at the plaque of the last 15 years, 10 of the Women's North and South amateur champions are playing on the LPGA Tour today. I think they have a combined $32 million in LPGA earnings. So we're already seeing some of the great up-and-coming stars come through Pinehurst, but to have them all here in a grueling two weeks, wow, I was kind of hoping to reset after week one and be able to start over in week two. But it really is an honor, and it really is part of the fabric of what Pinehurst is all about is to be a part of the championship golf stories, to be a part of a player's history, talking to Laura about her memories of Pinehurst. We want to be part of their formative years, so to think that those 35 players are going to earn their cards --

HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: Yeah, minimum of 45 and ties.

TOM PASHLEY: They're going to remember that that moment happened at Pinehurst, and we look forward to that. We look forward to the partnership. Thank you to Blue Cross and Blue Shield; they're a great partner of Pinehurst but also just a great company in North Carolina that does a lot of good. So continuing to be on the world stage and be part of the LPGA's process of finding their next players is important to us.

HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: For those who have not had an opportunity to play No. 6 or No. 7, what kind of conditions and tests will the players face later this year in October?

TOM PASHLEY: Yeah, out to our left is the course that gets a lot of the publicity and a lot of the visibility, Pinehurst No. 2, but boy, you get out to either 6 or 7, and you forget how difficult and challenging those golf courses are. No. 6 was an original George Fazio design where his nephew Tom Fazio helped him. So No. 6, there's a lot of elevation change, which you don't see on course No. 2. No. 6 has quite a bit of that. No. 7 is a Rees Jones golf course designed in 1987, and goodness, it is -- I get claustrophobic out there. I feel like the ball could go anywhere. It's all up hills. The players who get through two weeks on those two golf courses are going to have earned their status on the LPGA TOUR.

HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: I can't imagine feeling claustrophobic and then being one of those 108 players maybe trying to earn their LPGA Tour card for the first time, so truly will be a great test for the competitors this fall.

Laura, you won the North-South here, as Tom said, in '95. You played the U.S. Women's Open here in 2014. What are some of your memories of playing here at Pinehurst?

LAURA DIAZ: Wow, I love Pinehurst. My first North and South in '95, I had no idea what to expect at all. I had heard great things from my teammates. Her mom has a house, a condo, on No. 6, so we would play No. 6 when we'd come down at Wake Forest, and they encouraged us to come after NCAAs that year and play Pinehurst. They hosted us all, and from the moment I stepped on to No. 2, I was in awe, and the week just proceeded to be filled with just so many memories.

I think the coolest part is that I shared it with my mom, and then I won with my brother caddying for me, and he had never caddied for me before. He's 10 years older than me. So it was just the most memorable week of my amateur career for sure. He was able to be there when I won in the 36 holes you play of the final round.

It was kind of when he taught me to be tough. Funny story from there is I was 6-up through, I don't know, not that many holes, against a person who had beat me over and over and over as a junior player, and she actually started crying, and I looked at my brother, and I said, Ron, what do I do, and he was like, just keep playing. You know, he said, you can worry about her feelings later, really. And that's hard to do, I think, as now for sure as a mom, you have all these emotions when your kids are crying, and I think as a female, you're definitely a little more emotional in times like that.

But it's real. You know, you're out there, and you're playing for a Putter Boy. At that point in your life, it's the coolest trophy in golf, before becoming a professional. It's like, it's the trophy, and I'm fortunate enough actually to have two of them because I won in a playoff to be medalist that week, and then I won the tournament. So it was like, oh, my gosh, this is really cool. I have two of those cool things.

I think this is going to be an amazing test. I know that when we came back to play the U.S. Open here, it was a fantastic week. I think whenever I drive up on to the facility here at Pinehurst, you're in awe of what you see and the history, and to be able to combine an organization such as the LPGA, who believes so strongly in empowering women, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, who are really, I mean, everything you said is so -- just listening to you speak about it is empowering. And a golf course facility that is way more than just golf. It's an experience.

I think the girls are really fortunate to be able to come here and share in that. You know, it determines what they're going to do for however many years. I mean, could be a year they play on the LPGA, it could be 20. It's a great place to be able to have the opportunity to grow the game of women's golf.

HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: And this is a new format this year. You played a little bit on the Symetra Tour before jumping to the LPGA, and in the Q-Series we will have 50 LPGA players, 20 Symetra Tour players, some Rolex ranked players and some top collegiates, so you've been through the -- you've been the top collegiate, you've been on the Symetra, and you've been on the LPGA. What do you think of this new format and putting these players in a pool together over 144 holes?

LAURA DIAZ: I really like the new format. I was discussing with my husband on the way over yesterday how I would like it to be even longer. I think that this determines your career, and a week is definitely not enough. Yes, it's a three-week stage thing, but you -- people can play really good for four or five days in a row, and then you don't really see the quality of the golf. We've always said it could just be you have a hot week. I think having more rounds under your belt to determine your future is crucial, and I like that they're going to be able to do that through Symetra, accrue how they did throughout the year to get into it. LPGA players who have played that year, they will have earned their spot into it, as well, and then they have to compete for two straight weeks.

The bigger, the longer the test for me I think is more incentivizing because players can get hot for four days, like I said, and then go totally flat, and then it's not necessarily as good of a representation of the player. So I think this will get a stronger field to go on to the next level and play the LPGA Tour.

HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: We'd like to take some questions from the media. If you have a question, we do have a microphone.

Q. Could you just talk about why you felt there was a need for a change in the system, and how long has this been talked about and developed?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: That's a great question. We've actually been talking about this new format far a couple of years. There are a lot of different components to that, but at the end of the day, back to what Laura was saying, we wanted to put more of an emphasis on year-long performance, whether it be year-long performance on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA, how a player played during their collegiate season over the course of the year, rather than five days at final stage at the end of the day. We feel like this format will really give us the best crop of LPGA players for the following year.

Q. How long was the commitment here? Is this here forever, or will you bounce around to other courses?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: We are here at Pinehurst this year and hoping longer term, and we're three years with Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Q. So is that a three-year commitment to Pinehurst?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: We're here for 2018. Tom? (Laughter.)

Q. Will the courses here be set up with the same amount of difficulty as the courses at stage 1 and stage 2? In other words, if this is the final course, are you going to make it just a little bit tougher to make it harder on the ladies?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: We plan to set up both golf courses as we would for a strong LPGA event, so they will be set up difficult. From my knowledge of No. 6 and No. 7, and Tom can speak to this better than I can, the layouts themselves, they're difficult golf courses. But we'll plan it probably to play 6,500, 6,600 yards for both weeks, and we'll set it up as a true tough test so that we can identify the best players over the course of the two weeks.

Q. How much time will the lapse between the first tournament of the Q-Series and the second tournament?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: There will be three days, so we'll play the first tournament on the Wednesday through Saturday. The players will essentially have a day off on the Sunday, play practice rounds Monday and Tuesday, and then roll right into the second week.

Q. And where will the ladies be staying in will they stay here at the resort, or will they be at the Motel 8 somewhere?
LAURA DIAZ: Wherever they can afford. That's what I would assume. Sorry, I spoke out of turn.

Q. Is there a pro-am for these tournaments?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: There will be one pro-am. Actually I'll actually direct that to Reagan because we do have a girls' golf component, and Reagan, if you could share your vision of that day, I think that would be terrific.

REAGAN GREENE PRUITT: Sure. Another great opportunity with this is the timing. So in October, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina has a real focus on women's health and the female audience, so we have a Drive For the Cure NASCAR race in Charlotte, and we're focused on breast cancer prevention and awareness. We have the SAS Championship, an Executive Women's Day, we've got some golf clinics that we're planning on, again, targeting the young female audience.

The girls' golf component of this, we get the opportunity to really target those young females, and obviously with those daughters come their moms, as well, who we like to call chief medical officers of the home, and they're either making or influencing most of the healthcare decision makers. So that's one part of the day of the pro-am; that afternoon we will be having one of those clinics.

For the pro-am, we're still working on planning that. I know we have 48 spots for that, and we're working on targeting females. Again, no decisions have been made yet, but in some planning sessions yesterday, do we make this an all-female pro-am, and what would that look like, and how will we target those people and who would they be?

But again, going for unique, impactful, and again, empowering folks so they're fearless. If you think about most pro-ams, I would say, and someone correct me if I'm wrong, the majority are males, and a lot of the females don't have the confidence to get out there and pick a club up and play because they don't feel like maybe they play as well as they would need to play in a pro-am. So what if we made this about empowering the females to live fearless by coming and playing. It really doesn't matter what skill level you are; we want you there and able to play. So really excited about that opportunity and alignment, again, with our mission of brand.

HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: And I love that tag line "live fearless." As somebody who went through the LPGA qualifying tournament five times before I actually got my card, living fearlessly, to get through this Q-Series, you're going to have to play fearless. It's such a perfect, perfect fit with the event.

Q. Laura, could you just talk about your experience making the Tour and how this kind of differs, what kind of different challenge this is? And also, what is your experience on 6 and 7 and how you evaluate those as a test for this?
LAURA DIAZ: So to the first question, I came out of -- I graduated from Wake in '97. I played about two -- it was called the Futures Tour at the time, events, and at that time you just signed up and played. There was no qualifier. You just -- if you had the money, you entered. Sometimes we had 50 people, sometimes we had 150. It was just totally random. So I did that to prepare to go to Q-school.

I went to Q-school. I missed and was like -- at that time I think the cut after the fourth day was like -- I don't know, what was it, maybe 90, something like that, and I was like 91st. So I missed it by a shot to get to the final day, in which I would have had to have played out of my mind to be in the top 20.

So then the next year, I -- I think within like two days, my dad called and said, European Tour school is on Friday; do you want to enter and go over. "What?" I said. Okay. So I flew to Portugal, played European Tour school, won Tour school over there, which got me into a couple other events. In fact, it got me into Evian, which is one of our majors now on the LPGA TOUR. So was able to play about eight events in Europe, eight to ten events on the Futures Tour, and in between there, I went to Asia and played four events in Asia. So that year was all over the map.

And went to Q-school at the end of that and was fortunate enough to get my card that year. I was actually the 19th card that year.

You know, I go back to I think the more experience you can get before going to Q-school, the better. Four years of college golf, a year of experience on the Symetra Tour, all that is an adjustment to a change in your golf career. So college golf is an awesome way to expand your junior golf, but it's still different from playing as a professional. You know, you travel with a group. You have a coach who does practically everything for you. You become a professional, you've got to do your own flights, book your own hotel rooms, get your own rental car. How do you do that when you're 25 and rental cars won't rent to you? Like all those kinds of things go into this is my new life as a professional golfer.

So I think the more time you have to adjust to that, the better. Again, that goes back to the more golf you can play before you get to the LPGA, the better. So my experience was totally different, but the week -- this will be two weeks, but the week of Q-school is sickening. I mean, I don't know a better way -- I mean, you want to throw up. It's so nerve-racking because you have this dream, and the only way to get to the Tour is to be top 20 that week.

I mean, your stomach is just churning the whole week.

So I think -- one, I think two weeks kind of will allow the girls to be a little more calm. I know that sounds kind of funny, but it's not just four rounds or five rounds and that's it. You can make a mistake. You know, you can realize that at the end of the first four days, you're 4-under or you're even, you can go out the next four rounds and play lights out.

So I think it definitely is a better test.

What was your second question? That was a long first answer.

Q. About 6 and 7, what's your experience there and what's your opinion?
LAURA DIAZ: I mean, 6, I haven't played 6 in years. I don't know that I've ever played 7. I can talk a lot about 2 and 8 because I really like them. 6 I played in college, and yeah, it's a great golf course. I can't imagine that any golf course out here is not an extreme test of your golf ability because all the courses that I have played here have tested me beyond anything that you could ever attest to. So I think it's -- I'm sure that they're great and will be a -- if nothing else, it's a change from -- and not to fault LPGA international, but we've been there for years, and I think a lot of our players go back every year, and you learn the golf course. I mean, I think that's part of having a tournament every year at the same venue. You learn the golf course, and so you can learn special ways to play it that other people who are just coming there for the first time just don't know.

And so this is a different experience for everybody going in, and I think that will bring out the best players to go on to play on the LPGA Tour. I think there's definitely something to be said for playing a different venue to test everybody's abilities in different ways. And two golf courses is even better because you play 6 and you're feeling really good, and then you get to 7 and it's tight, and you can't necessarily hit it all over the place and still get it in the hole.

I think the venue is perfect, and I'm all for us staying here for a very long time.

Q. What will happen in the event of a tie? Sudden death, three-hole playoff?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: There will be no playoff, so right now we're slated for a minimum of 45 and ties will earn their LPGA status. As opposed to previous years where the top 20 were in one category on the priority list, and the 21 through 45 were in a category further down, the top 45 and ties will all be in that same high category, so we won't need to break ties, and we won't have a need for a playoff.

Q. And is there a purse? Does the winner get something?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: There is a purse. The purse is $150,000, and it will be paid out at the end of the two weeks.

Q. Is there any cut in the two weeks?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: No cut, so the players -- the field will be a maximum of 108 players, probably will fall realistically between 96 and 108 players, and all 108 players will play all 144 holes. Again, you have to think about if we have eight rounds -- a player may not get off to a very good start on week one. They could be 10 shots out of 45th place but they have a whole 'nother 72 holes to make up for that deficit to still get their card.

Again, thank you all for making the trip over here to Pinehurst. Reagan, Tom and Laura, thank you for joining us. We're really looking forward to coming back here at the end of October. Hope to see you all there.

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