Ten years ago, the LPGA Tour had eight players earn at least $1 million in the season. One indication of how much has changed is Nasa Hataoka.
The 22-year-old from Japan earned more than $1 million from two runner-up finishes this year.
They came at events with the two biggest purses on the LPGA Tour, the U.S. Women’s Open and the CME Group Tour Championship. Even so, it was an example of how much stronger the purses are, and now the LPGA Tour heads into a 2022 season where prize money is pushing $90 million.
This is what Mollie Marcoux Samaan takes over as she begins her first full year as commissioner. She spoke last week about the LPGA Tour being positioned for growth and that “this is our time.”
“I think people have also had an awakening around women’s sports,” she said. “And they said, ‘Wow, this is an undervalued asset out in the world. We need to accentuate that value.’
“So I think generally, because of the world’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, I think people have looked at women’s sports and said, ‘That’s an area in the world that there’s not a great deal of parity or a great deal of equity.’”
The LPGA just completed its 72nd season, with 15 players earning $1 million or more.
Terry Duffy, the CEO and chairman of CME, has been among the biggest proponents by providing the largest first-place check, at $1.5 million. The CME Group Tour Championship has raised its purse by $2 million next year to $7 million, with $2 million going to the winner.
The LPGA Tour has 19 of its 34 official events with a purse of $2 million or higher, up from 15 such events five years ago.
The five majors have total prize money of at least $26.3 million, up from $18.7 million five years ago. Still to be determined is the U.S. Women’s Open, which has been looking for a presenting sponsor and could announce early next year a purse that will be the biggest in women’s golf.
It still has a big gap to close with the PGA Tour, where already 16 players have earned $1 million or more in just nine fall events to start the new season.
“We’re constantly looking at all levels of the tour. How do our top players do, financially, how do the middle players do, how do the bottom players do? We look at pay equity,” Marcoux Samaan said. “We look at the deltas between the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour, and the delta gets bigger as you go down the money list.
“I think if we can close that delta, and also if we can make sure that the top players in the world can make a living commensurate with their talent, I think that is a real big goal of ours.”