If you ever wondered why Europe needs a thriving women’s professional tour, then a look at the list of players currently competing for LPGA Tour cards says it all.
Nearly a third of the 110 players who advanced to the LPGA Q Series final field have European passports. Thirty two Europeans are currently teeing it up for one of the 45 cards to play the 2022 LPGA Tour. And those are the ones who made it through to final stage. Many others didn’t make it.
Who can blame them for trying?
After struggling in the doldrums for a number of years, the Ladies European received a boost in early 2020 when it merged with the LPGA. Increased prize money was announced, more tournaments, a real shot in the arm.
Despite Covid-19, the LET staged a record-breaking schedule this year. Twenty-seven tournaments in over 19 countries offered a total prize fund of €19 million, a €2 million increase on 2020, and €6 million more than 2019. Great news for LET players after the disastrous tenure of former chief executive Ivan Khodabakhsh (Seriously, what was the LET board thinking with that hire?)
As I noted recently, €19 million is chicken feed compared to what European Tour men play for. But let’s not compare balata with surlyn. A look at the riches across the Atlantic Ocean tells us why so many young European women aspire to play the LPGA.
Anyone lucky enough to have an LPGA card this season had the chance to play for total prize money of $69.2 million from 29 tournaments.
The smallest prize fund on this year’s LPGA schedule was $1.2 million. The LET has six tournaments worth just €200,000. Anyone playing in those six events probably has to finish top 20 just to break even considering flights, accommodation, meals, caddie, etc.
Atthaya Thitikul won the Race to Costa Del Sol with €602,042.02 in earnings. More than a decent year’s salary. Jin Young Ko topped the LPGA’s Race to CME Globe with $3,502,161.
The money disparity obviously continues down the respective money lists: England’s Alice Hewson made €204,760 for 10th on the Race to Cost Del Sol; the LPGA equivalent was $1,901,081. Christine Wolf of Austria finished 25th on the LET and earned €73,446; 25th place was worth $753,538 on the LPGA. Fiftieth place brought a reward of €44,615.17 for Finland’s Tiia Koivisto; she would have made $494,539 for that position on the LPGA. Finally, Spaniard Mireia Prat’s 100th place Race to Costa del Sol ranking equated to €10,991; Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow banked $147,374 for 100th on this year’s Race to CME Globe.
The numbers above are stark.
A few good seasons on the LPGA can set a player up for life. Forget about multimillionaires like Annika Sorenstam ($22,577,025 in career earnings), Suzann Pettersen ($14,837,579), Catriona Matthew ($9,732,920), and Laura Davies ($9,258203). Charley Hull has racked up $4,346,106 in just a few LPGA seasons. Georgia Hall has made $2,545,900, albeit the 2018 Ricoh Women’s Open win was a big part of that. Still, she made $856,659 this year.
Hull and company are only doing what the top European men have done by making the PGA Tour their main circuit, and paying lip service to the European Tour. Like any industry, people follow the money.
As I write, French player Pauline Roussin-Bouchard holds the lead on the LPGA’s Q Series leaderboard with two rounds to go. Roussin-Bouchard is a former World Amateur Golf Ranking number one. She won this year’s Didrikson’s Skafto Open on the LET (pictured), earning €33,000.
The French player obviously has a bright future that should see her win more tournaments, contend in majors and take her place in Solheim Cup teams. Just the sort of player European golf fans would want to see play on the LET, especially French fans. Like Hall, Hull and others, she will probably play full-time on the LPGA and make occasional forays back to Europe for the big events. Good for her, but not for the Ladies European Tour.
This blog isn’t a knock against all those hard working LET officials who bust their whatnots to put on the show. They're to be praised. Besides, they, too, want to see the stars play in Europe more often.
Why do we need a thriving Ladies European Tour? Not to turn young women into millionaires, but to get other young women to play golf. Everyone acknowledges we need to encourage more girls and women to take up the game. R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers has made it one of the tenets of his stewardship of the governing body.
Roussin-Bouchard and others can be role models for others to follow. Some will say Hull, Hall, Matthew and others already are, but they’ve done so on a part time basis while playing full time on the LPGA.
We need a strong LET to attract youngsters to the game, and so all those dreaming of major success don’t get to a point and think: Go West Young Woman.
#JustSaying: “We need a tour where people can actually stay in Europe and make money.” Helen Alfredsson
Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour