BETHESDA, Maryland – Christie’s describes the refurbished Congressional Blue Field as the best it’s ever played. As LPGA players drive courtesy Cadillacs this week, dine at a mega club—complete with sugar cookies in the shape of the Washington Monument—and vie for a $9 million purse, double last year’s KPMG Women’s, Stacey Lewis has a message: In our history in the LPGA, this is far from normal.”
The LPGA was in grave danger when Lewis joined over twelve years ago. There were 23 events on the schedule, about half of which were outside.
“This current group of players, I don’t think they fully realize how lucky we are with the opportunities we have,” said Lewis. “I mean, they’ve been expecting them for the last four or five years, that setting up this week is normal.”
Stacy Lewis blogs on the 11th lane during the training round for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Congress Country Club on June 22, 2022 in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Kathryn Kirk, one of a handful of players over the age of 40 who regularly compete in the LPGA, is concerned about the “entitlement situation” that permeates the tour. It looks at what the LPGA founders themselves did in the 1950s to launch this tour — promotions, course setup, provisions, marketing — and holds a deep appreciation.
“Compared to that, we have an ease,” she said. “We just rise to the championships.”
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, union commissioner Molly Marco Semaan said the LPGA’s total portfolio in 1972 was $972,000. This week’s winner will receive $1,350,000.
“Very noticeable growth,” said Marco Semaan. “And even in 2021, I think our wallets were just over $70 million, and now, in 2022, that’s over $97 million is really impressive.”
Of course, money is the talk of the game now. With 156 women celebrating the second largest purse in tour history this week, PGA Tour stars are leaving their already lucrative tour for staggering amounts of money guaranteed on the Saudi-backed LIV Golf. The never-ending cycle of Saudi news engulfs the headlines in the women’s game – even in the major tournaments.
When asked if she was concerned that a similar Saudi-backed threat might 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 ever. That’s what we focus on. We have a number 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 Leaf Golf’s ambitions in the women’s game, CEO Greg Norman recently for the BBC“We are here to develop golf on a global basis, not just in one specific sector, which is the men’s sector. It is across the board.”
One week after the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series was held at the Centurion Club, the London Aramco Team Series presented by the Public Investment Fund was held on the same course.
The Saudi-backed Aramco series is part of the Women’s European Tour, which falls under the LPGA umbrella.
During a pre-tournament press conference in London, Saudi golf ambassador Bronte Low hailed Lyn Grant’s groundbreaking victory on the DP World Tour – where the Swede beat a men’s and women’s field by nine strokes – and pushed for more mixed events.
“The best example is tennis,” Lu said. “Why do women get paid more than we do? The reason is that they play on the same site and get the same media coverage.
“So if we can play in the same tournament, get the same TV coverage, there’s no reason not to increase our bags.”
With Golf Saudi already investing in women’s golf, Many wonder what might come next. Could it be Low’s call for more mixed events or simultaneous events involving men and women already working at Golf Saudi? And if so, how many players would leave for a chance to win more money?
“Put it like this, I think you’ll see almost the entire tour do it here,” Kerr said. “What we’re playing for here compared to the men’s tour, the scale is different.
“But at the same time, KPMG raised its portfolio to $9 million. We are starting to see the rising tide lift all the ships. … It will be interesting to see how that impacts this tour.”
Bronte’s Law offers a new opinion on the matchmaking of women’s and men’s golf.
LPGA player Sarah Kemp must compete in a minimum of LET events each season to maintain her membership in Europe, and traveling to New York for the Aramco Team Series event later this year will be very convenient. But Kemp does not like that the money for this event comes from the government of Saudi Arabia.
However, she understands that women who compete in LET full-time have no choice but to compete in the six Saudi-backed events, noting that budgets are so tight in that round, one player drove an Amazon truck during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It would be great to have a few KPMGs in the world,” Kemp said, “a few CMEs that are willing to support women’s golf.”
They love the idea of the pressure and momentum in the game’s growth, and what it’s doing to drive attention and awareness of the value of the product, KPMG US Vice President and COO Laura Newinski said Tuesday. The USGA set a new benchmark with a $10 million purse at this year’s US Women’s Open. Each LPGA major has raised its portfolio significantly in recent years.
“As a sponsor, this is not a contest,” Neuinsky said. “It’s coming along, and let’s get right into the game as to what we put in it.”
Mexico’s Gabe Lopez celebrates after winning the Blue Bay LPGA title on November 10, 2018, on Hainan Island, China. (Photo by Zhi Jie/Getty Images)
If LIV creates something new for women’s golf, Gaby Lopez thinks it will most likely stay in the LPGA.
“Just for my core values,” she said. “I don’t really play for money. I really play to win trophies. For me, it’s more important.”
But she can see others see her differently.
“I think a lot of guys will think about it because there are a lot of girls struggling, even on the sponsor side,” Lopez said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the girls left this tour.”
When Kirk thinks of the potential for Saudi money to threaten the LPGA, she thinks not just of the tour itself, but of the LPGA’s teaching department and the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program that has exploded in recent years. What is the fate of these?
“I just hope the players understand the consequences of decisions that don’t just affect you,” Kirk said. “It affects future generations.”