LPGA partnership a boost for future of the Ladies European Tour

Liam Kelly

LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Liam Kelly

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The historic partnership between the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA opens the door to a bright future for women’s professional golf this side of the Atlantic.

Mike Whan, the LPGA Commissioner flew to Spain for Tuesday’s LET Annual Membership Meeting in Spain hoping that the European players would vote in favour of the joint venture with his organisation.

Whan’s Board and the LET Board had already agreed the link-up, but without the players’ approval, it could not happen.

As events transpired, there was no dissent. European women professionals could see that a partnership with the biggest female Tour in the world was a no-brainer.

“Two teams, joining for one common purpose, will create opportunities we simply could not have pursued on our own,” said LET Board Chair Marta Figueras-Dotti.

“At its foundation, this joint venture is about creating opportunities for our members to pursue their passion, and their careers as professional athletes.

“In just the 60 days since we began working on this joint venture, we have already seen a dramatic impact on our LET Tour schedule – an impact that will be a positive result for virtually all of our LET Members.”

Figueras-Dotti’s members could only be impressed by the progress made in LPGA prize funds under Whan’s stewardship which began ten years ago in October, 2009.

The LPGA played for 28 events in 2010 for $41 million in prize money.

By 2016 that had risen to 33 tournaments and over $63 million, and in 2019 the stats were 33 official events and $70.2 million.

The 2020 schedule just released features the same number of official events as 2019, but with record prize money of $75.1 million.

Last Sunday, new ground was broken in the CME Group Tour Championship which offered a $5 million purse, with $1.5 million for the winner Sei Young Kim of South Korea.

Kim’s prize was the biggest first place cheque in women’s golf, and it came about because Terry Duffy, CEO of CME, decided it was time the women got some parity with the men of the PGA Tour.

Mike Whan, speaking about that breakthrough said: “Terry Duffy called me and said, ‘Mike, I want a $1.5 winner’s cheque. I’m sick of watching TV every weekend and watching a man win $1.5 million. At my event, a woman is going to win $1.5 million.”

Whan believes that more CEO’s like Duffy will come to see that the massive pay gap between the PGA Tour and the LPGA players needs to be resolved sooner than later.

For that, he needs a more television time and sponsors who will shell out the big bucks because, as he puts it, “it’s the right thing to do.”

“Pay gap is going to close in women’s golf just like it’s going to close in women’s sports.

“It’s going to happen because a couple people step up and say: ‘You know what, this is the right thing to do. I can afford to do it, and by God, I’m going to do it.’

“And I think we’re going to see the same thing happen in golf.

“Is that going to happen in a year or two or ten? I don’t know. But I have zero doubt that’s going to happen, and it won’t be because of the new analysis run on branding numbers,” said Whan.

Right now, the LPGA Tour is on the rise, and the energy, ambition, and vision of Whan and his team is just the ticket to improve the LET.

Fears of a ruthless takeover by the big sister in the world game are not relevant if Whan is to be believed.

“It’s literally a 50/50 joint venture that we’re proposing, six members of a Board from our side and six members of a Board from their side.

“And all proceeds stay in Europe, we can’t take any dollars out. We can put money into the LET, but we can’t take money back out, which I asked my Board to support.

“I want to make sure the European Tour players know that this is not some American growth strategy.

“I’m not expecting to make money at the LET, but, the way I said it to my Board is: ‘If you read the mission of the LPGA, it’s to provide women the opportunity to pursue their dreams in the game of golf, period.”

What a great time for Ireland’s Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow to be performing on the LPGA Tour.

There is, however, a long way to go before the women professionals can come close to matching the king’s ransoms that the PGA Tour offers week in, week out.

Stacy Lewis, 34, a two-time Major champion, presented sobering facts in an article she wrote in the November/December issue of Golfweek Magazine.

Lewis wrote: “PGA Tour players competed for more than $343 million plus an additional $71 million in bonuses in 2018-19, while the LPGA came in at $70.2 million with only $1.1 million in bonuses in 2019! I’ll do the math for you: The women play for roughly 17% of what the men do.

“This is significantly behind what women are making in the workplace in 2019. According to the latest report from Payscale.com, women make on average 79 cents to every dollar earned by a man.”

Lewis also noted the difference between the earnings of the 100th player on the LPGA money list, Mariah Stackhouse, and Carlos Ortiz, who finished 100th on the PGA Tour rankings.

Stackhouse earned $127,365; Ortiz took home $1,073,962.

Lewis wrote: “Once Mariah pays taxes and expenses, I bet she barely breaks even. The PGA Tour had 112 guys make over a million dollars in 2018-19, while the LPGA has 13 so far this year.”

She did concede – and with gratitude – that the LPGA players are competing for more prize money than they did in the Tour’s history.

However, these facts presented by a successful player illustrate the gulf between the women and men’s main Tours.

The good news is that Whan and his team are optimistic the next ten years will yield better returns for the LPGA players, and by extension, those who ply their trade on the LET.

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