BETHESDA, Md. – Cristie Kerr says Congressional’s revamped Blue Course is one of the best she’s ever played. As LPGA players drive complimentary Cadillacs this week, dine in a giant clubhouse, complete with sugar cookies shaped like the Washington Monument, and compete for a $9 million purse, double that of last year in KPMG Women’s PGA Stacy Lewis has a message: “In our LPGA history, this is far from normal.”
The LPGA was in grave danger when Lewis joined more than a dozen years ago. There were 23 events on the show, and almost half of them were abroad.
“This current group of players, I don’t think they realize how lucky we are with the opportunities that we have,” Lewis said. “I mean, they’ve come to expect them over the last four or five years, that this setup this week is normal.”
Katherine Kirk, one of the few players over 40 to compete regularly on the LPGA, worries about the “entitlement attitude” that pervades the tour. She remembers what the LPGA founders themselves did in the 1950s to get this tour off the ground (promotions, course organization, decisions, marketing) and has deep appreciation.
“Compared to that, we have it easy,” he said. “We just prepare for the tournaments.”
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan said the total LPGA purse in 1972 was $972,000. This week’s winner will win $1,350,000.
“Pretty remarkable growth,” said Marcoux Samaan. “And even in 2021, I think our portfolios were over $70 million, and now, having over $97 million in 2022 is really cool.”
Of course, money is the talk of the game right now. As a field of 156 women celebrates the second-biggest purse in tour history this week, PGA Tour stars are ditching their already lucrative tour for mind-boggling amounts of guaranteed cash at Saudi-backed LIV Golf. The endless cycle of Saudi news is already drowning out the biggest headlines in women’s football, even in the major leagues.
Asked if he was concerned that a similar threat backed by Saudi Arabia could come to the LPGA, Marcoux Samaan said: “Listen, we wake up every day trying to make the LPGA the leader in women’s golf and make it the best tour. . That’s what we focus on. We have a great staff. We have great partners. We have the best players in the world. We’re really doubling down on what we’re doing.”
As for LIV Golf’s ambitions in the women’s game, CEO Greg Norman recently told the BBC: “We’re here to grow the game of golf globally, not just in one specific sector, which is men’s. It’s in all areas.”
A week after the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational series was held at Centurion Club, the Aramco Team Series London event presented by Public Investment Fund was held at the same course.
The Saudi-backed Aramco Series is part of the Ladies European Tour, which falls under the umbrella of the LPGA.
During a pre-tournament press conference in London, Golf Saudi Ambassador Bronte Law hailed Linn Grant’s groundbreaking victory on the DP World Tour, where the Swede defeated both men and women by nine strokes, and pushed for more events. mixed.
“The perfect example is tennis,” Law said. “Why are men paid more than us? The reason is because they play on the same site and get the same media coverage.
“So if we can play the same field, get the same TV coverage, there’s no reason why our bags can’t go up.”
With Golf Saudi already investing in women’s golf, many are wondering what comes next. Is it possible that Law’s call for more mixed events or concurrent events with men and women is already in the works for Golf Saudi? And if so, how many players would walk away for the chance to win more money?
“Put it this way, I think you’d see almost the entire tour do it here,” Kerr said. “For what we play here compared to the men’s Tour, the scale is different.
“But at the same time, KPMG just raised the purse to $9 million. We are starting to see a rising tide lifting all boats. … It will be interesting to see how this tour affects.”
LPGA player Sarah Kemp must compete in a minimum number of LET events each season to maintain her membership in Europe, and flying to New York for an Aramco Team Series event later this year would be very convenient. But Kemp doesn’t like that the money for the event comes from the Saudi government.
However, she understands that women who compete in the LET full-time have no choice but to compete in the six Saudi-backed events, noting that budgets are so tight on that tour that one player drove an Amazon truck during the COVID-19 pandemic. .
“It would be great to have a few more KPMGs in the world,” Kemp said, “a few more CMEs that would love to support women’s golf.”
KPMG US Vice President and COO Laura Newinski said Tuesday that they like the notion of pressure and momentum in the game’s growth, which it does to attract attention and awareness of the value of the product. The USGA set a new standard with a $10 million purse at this year’s US Women’s Open. Every LPGA major has significantly increased its budget in recent years.
“As a sponsor, this is not a competition,” Newinski said. “It’s a breakthrough and let’s get it right in the game in terms of what we’re putting into it.”
If LIV creates something new for women’s golf, Gaby Lopez thinks it will probably stay on the LPGA.
“Just because of my core values,” he said. “I don’t really play for money. I really play to win championships. For me, it’s more important.”
But, she can see that others see it differently.
“I think a lot of players will think about it because there are a lot of girls that are fighting, even on the sponsor side,” Lopez said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the girls drop out of this tour.”
When Kirk thinks of the possibility of Saudi money threatening the LPGA, he thinks not only of the tour itself, but also of the LPGA’s teaching division and the LPGA-USGA girls’ golf program that has been fired in recent years. What about those?
“I just hope that players understand the consequences of decisions that don’t just affect you,” Kirk said. “They affect generations to come.”