LPGA commissioner Mike Whan has built his tour a nice war chest in his more than 10 years at the helm, but he won’t soft peddle what the coronavirus pandemic is doing to those financial reserves.
With yet another revision to the LPGA schedule announced Wednesday, and nine events now canceled this year, the tour is taking a substantial hit.
“It’s staggering,” Whan said. “It’s a staggering financial-impact year.
“It doesn’t take us to our knees. It doesn’t put us on a death watch. I’ve been very proud, and I’ve said it in many interviews, we’ve saved more money in the last 10 years than in the 60 years before that, but it’s possible in 2020 we could eat up most of the savings.”
Whan said the coronavirus testing procedures that will be put in place will add close to “seven figures” of costs in expenses that weren’t planned for at year’s start.
Though he wouldn’t put a financial figure on what losing nine events will mean, Whan said he feels good about what the tour can still offer its women, given a chance to re-start the season in mid-July, as is now proposed in the newest schedule revision.
The LPGA plans to return to play July 15-18 at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational. If all goes as planned, the LPGA will complete a 25-event schedule for prize money totaling $61.85 million.
That’s down from the 34 events and the record $75.1 million in total purses originally scheduled this year.
“I think we’re proud of the fact that we’re going to be able to provide some opportunities, some financial upside, and hopefully get started,” Whan said.
There are 21 events crammed into the second half of the year, with just two open dates the rest of the year. All five majors are still in play. There is more than $56 million to be played for in these remaining events.
“I’m excited about the fact that despite an awful lot of cat herding in the last eight weeks, we’re at a place where we can still provide opportunity,” Whan said. “We can still provide worldwide television coverage, and I’m really excited about not only being able to fill all these weeks but being able to put together a pretty strong finish.”
The season could end with some fireworks, with $10.5 million up for grabs in the final two events in December. The revised schedule ends with the U.S. Women’s Open ($5.5 million) Dec. 10-13 and the CME Group Tour Championship ($5 million) Dec. 17-20.
“I think if you would have told me a month ago that we could finish with 10-and-a-half million dollars of purses and finish up before Christmas, I’d be giddy,” Whan said.
In this latest revised schedule, five more LPGA events were officially canceled.
The UL International Crown, the Volvik Founders Cup, the Lotte Championship, the Hugel Air Premia LA Open and the Mediheal Championship will not be played this year.
All but the UL International Crown are scheduled to return next year. The Crown will skip its biennial spot but return in 2022.
Previously, the Honda Thailand, HSBC Women’s Championship, Blue Bay China and Pure Silk Championship were canceled.
The revised schedule got a boost with some of those nine title sponsors whose events were canceled generously offering to help fatten the purses of some of the remaining events, adding $1.65 million in the total prize money to the Marathon Classic, ShopRite Classic, Cambia Portland Classic, Kia Classic and the Volunteers of America Classic.
Those title sponsors with canceled events weren’t required to help, but they offered anyway.
“They’re realizing that, ‘Hey, we want to play, we know you want to play, we feel bad for the situation that you’re facing, from a players’ perspective . . . So, could we provide you guys some help? That wouldn’t be the same as putting on a tournament, (but) we’re going to save a lot of money that we would normally put into a tournament, but can we provide some money back to you,’” Whan said.
Whan said the revised schedule will be re-evaluated as events near, with each tournament re-evaluated 45 days ahead of its planned start. If there are more cancelations with the virus worsening, Whan said a hybrid schedule could be created, morphing the 2020 and ’21 seasons together. He said a lot of scenarios remain on the table as the tour works out testing, qualifying and Q-School scenarios.
All of that includes which event may have fans and pro-ams, and which may not. The long days promise to continue for Whan and his staff.