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LET eyes growth after crowning Aramco Team Series winner

(courtesy of Aramco Team Series)

Jessica Korda and Sophia Popov left the 17th hole arm and arm after a tense double-hole playoff to conclude the Aramco Team Series. What the two talked about is something Korda, who took home the team trophy at Glen Oaks, says will stay between the two competitors and friends.

“Sophia and I are great friends and playing anything against any of your best friends is tough,” said Korda, “but golf is golf and friendship is more important.”

The moment may have been a quiet exchange between friends, but the scene was apropos for a week focused on the expansion of the Ladies European Tour to U.S. soil and a return to team golf following the dramatic Solheim Cup. Popov and Korda found themselves on opposite teams, just as they did in Ohio for September’s Solheim contest between the U.S. versus Europe, with Korda walking away victorious this time around.

Team Korda take a selfie with the ATS trophy (courtesy of Aramco Team Series)

The Aramco Team Series, held over three days in Glen Oaks Club, Long Island, marked the first-ever Ladies European Tour event in the United States. The move is all part of a growing synergy between the LPGA and LET after the two entities signed a 50-50 merger in 2019. The joint venture seeks to grow the game and especially in Europe, where the tour was once struggling to put events on the calendar. Weathering the pandemic shutdown, the LET appears to be on the upswing, a point many competing in the Aramco Team Series were keen to point out.

Catriona Matthew, who captained Europe to back-to-back Solheim Cup wins in 2019 and 2021, says events like the one at Glen Oaks is “great exposure” for European players “who wouldn’t normally get the chance to play here in the States.”

“Obviously, with the LPGA and LET merging now, I think you’ll hopefully see this a little more over the next few years,” said Matthew, adding, “It’s a win-win for both tours. Obviously, the LPGA played in New Jersey last week and we’ve got the likes of Lexi [Thompson], Jessica [Korda], Nelly [Korda], and Danielle [Kang] this week and, again, that’s a good thing for the LET to have these top players playing.”

Sophia Popov in action at Glen Oaks (courtesy of the Aramco Team Series)

Alexandra Armas, the CEO of the LET, was present for the groundbreaking New York series, an event she couldn’t have imagined only a few years ago.

“On the back of where LET was, and it was struggling in the last few years, and then we had this big vision of where we wanted to take it and the collaboration with the LPGA and then COVID hit, we didn’t know how we wanted to get through that,” Armas admits.

In collaboration with Golf Saudi, the Aramco Series started in Jeddah in 2020 as a COVID solution for the Tour, growing to a four-leg event following the success of the contest in Saudi Arabia. The competition added a critical string of events to the LET and a prize fund of $1 million for each of the New York, Sotogrande, Jeddah, and London tournaments. The Series’ innovative set-up features teams of four, including three pros and one amateur, a format Armas hopes will attract new eyeballs to the sport.

“We have to, and on the back of COVID especially, be more creative about how we become relevant, how we appeal more,” said Amras, “you know it’s easy for the PGA Tour, it’s established, they don’t have to be that creative, but we have to be, we have to be kind of be modern with the game and try to get more attention and fan base and grow.”

Without the same coverage and television rights deals as men’s golf, Armas says the Tour is just at the beginning of their journey, making commercial partnerships, like the one with Aramco, imperative to the growth of the game.

England's Charley Hull with her ATS winner's trophy (courtesy of Aramco Team Series)

Charley Hull, who took home the individual trophy at Glen Oaks for her third LET title and first since 2019, agrees with Armas, praising the competition for its role in progressing the sport.

“The backing these Aramco Team Series events gets is so important to supporting and growing the game, and they are all done really well.”

Fellow LET and LPGA competitor Anna Nordqvist echoed Hull’s sentiment, calling the New York competition “one of the most professional events I have ever been a part of,” a major statement from a golfer that has been on the Tour for over a decade.

“For companies to believe in women’s golf and wanting to give girls an opportunity, I think that’s massive,” said Nordqvist, adding, “I think it’s changed a lot of girls on the European Tour’s life and the fact that they can play and go to these amazing places.”

World No. 1 Nelly Korda summed up the underlying and pervasive conversation around investment succinctly, stating, “Aramco also invests in men’s sports, so the fact that they equally support women is important. I like seeing companies step up and support men and women… because what we do is just as fun as what the men do.”

The 2021 Aramco Team Series makes its final stop in Jeddah next month at the Royal Green Golf and Country Club, with the future of the competition looking bright. Armas says she hopes to be back in New York next year to put on another Aramco Series, with a date yet to be announced.

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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