The ridiculousness of the Aon Risk/Reward Challenge

Mark McGowan
Mark McGowan

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We all know that the money floating round golf’s top tier is, to be frank, obscene. The recent revelation that there will be $21 million up for grabs on TGL where a bunch of the top PGA pros will hit balls against a simulator screen might just be the ultimate example of that, but the cash doesn’t flow quite as freely in the women’s game.

This week, the prize money on offer for winning the LPGA event hosted by Annika Sorenstam is $3.25 million. That’s far from chump change, of course, and were it dished out on the DP World Tour, it would be on a par with the Italian Open, and higher than the majority of the purses on offer in 2023, but, the majors and next week’s CME Globe Championship aside, it is the richest prizefund on the LPGA circuit.

That being said, Angel Yin, one of the game’s top players who also just happens to be one of the most charismatic, is deliberately giving it a miss. And it’s not because she doesn’t want to play, she does, it’s just that she can’t afford to take the risk of playing.

Okay, so I’ve made that sound a little more dramatic than it needs to be. It’s not like she can’t afford the entry fee or the only motel she can afford is a two-hour drive away, it’s because playing could see her miss out on a $1 million bonus. Yin leads the LPGA’s Aon Risk Reward Challenge, an accumulated average across a selected hole each week, and such is Yin’s lead that not playing means she is virtually uncatchable. Playing – and playing poorly on that hole – and she could be.

As it happens, Atthaya Thitkul needs to eagle twice this week and with a birdie on day one, a par on day two, and flying dangerously close to the cutline at the time of writing, it looks a safe bet that Yin will collect the top prize. To put the $1 million in context, Yin, who captured her maiden LPGA Tour title at the Buick Shanghai last month – she collected $315,000 for that – has $1.6 million in total earnings this year.

$1 million is a lot of money by any standard, in fact, it’s more than will be doled out to this week’s winner, and on a par with that handed out to the winner of next week’s big-money season-ender.

Now, I’m all for Aon investing in the women’s game, particularly with equal equity to that given to the men, but any system where it can be potentially more lucrative for a pro to sit out multiple events than to participate is fundamentally flawed, and quite frankly, ridiculous.

And it’s not like there’s no precedent. In each of the last three seasons, first Carlotta Ciganda, then Hannah Green and Minjee Lee all chose not to play in the last event of the year. And yes, you’ve guessed it, all three were the Aon Risk/Reward leaders.

“The truth is everybody is doing math,” Yin said. By the last two months everybody is just talking to me about Aon. Anyone and their moms are texting me about Aon.”

Who could blame her for opting out, and who could blame Ciganda, Green and Lee before her? She is well aware of what the prize is, how could she not?

“It’s hard not to know about and do the math on it because you would be kind of stupid not to,” Yin said. “It’s $1 million. Doesn’t matter how much inflation is going on in this world. It’s a lot of money.”

It’s a lot of money indeed.

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