LPGA Quietly Sets a Standard for Women’s Sports | LPG extension

By DOUG FERGUSON AP Golf writer

Everyone seems to be talking about money in this disruptive year of golf and the LPGA Tour shouldn’t be left out of the conversation.

That alone is cause for celebration, not division.

The talent pool is as deep as it has been in years. A season ending this week at the CME Group Tour Championship has already produced 26 winners in 31 tournaments, 11 of which were first-time winners on the LPGA Tour. The winners came from 14 countries. The Americans led the way for the second straight year with eight titles.

But this week is all about the money, and for good reason.

Winner of 60-player course at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida receives $2 million, the biggest prize ever in women’s golf.

That’s more than the total prize money of 15 tournaments on the LPGA tour schedule and is nearly 10 times the top WNBA base salary.

At least six players are guaranteed to cross the $2 million mark for the year, double the previous record set in 2019 and 2014. Hye-Jin Choi, an LPGA rookie from South Korea, has already surpassed $2 million without winning a tournament.

The LPGA has never had more than 17 players earn more than $1 million in a season, a record set in 2017. This year, at least 24 players will make seven figures.

All the more remarkable is that it comes two years after the LPGA Tour weathered the COVID-19 pandemic – credit to former commissioner Mike Whan for stockpiling reserves – and came out stronger than ever.

Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan on Friday will announce a 2023 schedule that will push the total prize pool to more than $100 million for the first time.

The increase is incremental — the total purse this year was a record $93.5 million across 32 tournaments — and comes mostly from the biggest events.

But it’s a reference number.

“And the fact that the LPGA did it all on their own is even more extraordinary,” said Dottie Pepper, who retired from the LPGA Tour with 17 wins and two majors and now works as a golf analyst at CBS. Her rookie season was 1988, when the total prize pool for the year was just under $10 million. Here’s what the US Women’s Open purse was like this year.

Pepper still remembers when the Centel Classic began in 1990 as the $1 million grand prize for a regular LPGA Tour event. “Six figures for a win got your attention,” he said.

And there were leaner times.

“I remember in 1988 we had the Greater Washington Open a week after the US Open, which was in Baltimore,” he said. “On the Friday afternoon of the Open, there was a note in the locker room saying the money had been deposited because they weren’t sure if the tournament was going to take place. They couldn’t tell if they were going to get a purse.”

She came back home. The prize money went from $300,000 to $225,000, with the winner’s share for Ayako Okamoto at a whopping $33,750.

Nothing ever comes easy for the LPGA, and it has been since the inception of the largest and most successful women’s sports league in 1950. The league did it all on its own, with no outside help from the men’s league.

The late Mickey Wright, who led women’s golf with a game considered the greatest in LPGA history, once spoke of players who effectively run the entire tour, from setting up courses to administering the rules.

One of the founders, the late Marilyn Smith, recounted going to a boxing match with Shirley Spork in one city, where they would get in the ring between rounds and speak to the crowd.

“Well, this dude was just pulverizing the other dude, and I went lightheaded from the blood and all,” Smith said. “Shirley didn’t freak out. She came through the ropes, she took the mic and said, ‘Come out and watch the LPGA play at the US Open.'”

Yes, they have come a long way.

Momentum is real and best measured by money. The majors have corporate endorsements that have added nearly $15 million to the pot this year.

Cognizant became involved in golf as a sponsor at the President Cup and for women’s golf, taking over the Founders Cup and doubling the purse to $3 million. CME has been at the forefront of purse raising as the title sponsor for the season-ending Tour Championship and raised the purse to $7 million this year. Last place gets $40,000.

No one has cashed like Australia’s Minjee Lee, who won the US Women’s Open and Cognizant Founders Cup. Her $3,759,835 is already an LPGA record, with $2 million up for grabs this week.

Lee also won the Aon Risk-Reward Challenge, a bonus program for how players fare at par 5 during the season, worth an extra $1 million.

Still to be determined is whether LIV Golf, funded by Saudi Arabia, will play. Greg Norman said the LPGA was “at the forefront of my mind.” Marcoux Samaan said his main concern was to promote women’s golf and there were many factors to consider.

For now, as always, the LPGA is doing just fine on its own.

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