The millionaires club on the LPGA is a tight crew. So tight, in fact, that in 2013 there were only eight members. When commissioner Mike Whan says that adding a million-dollar payout is of significance on his tour, he’s not kidding.
The LPGA’s announcement of its new Race to the CME Globe, a season-long points competition within the schedule that boasts a $1 million unofficial payout, is the cherry on Whan’s 2014 sundae – or as he put it, “the bow on the present that we really wanted to get done.”
Consider Whan’s recent accomplishments:
• added four tournaments for the 2014 schedule, bringing the total to 32. (In 2011, the LPGA played 23 events.)
• added the new International Crown event
• dramatically increased the amount of TV exposure.
And now this: a lucrative season-long race that culminates at the newly renamed CME Group Tour Championship.
“An additional million dollars, even if you’re the No. 1 money winner on the LPGA, is more than meaningful,” said Whan, who is entering his fifth season as commissioner. “It can really make a difference.”
2013 marked the first time in LPGA history that two players (Suzann Pettersen and Inbee Park) topped $2 million in season earnings.
Last year on the PGA Tour, 82 players crossed the $1 million mark – more than 10 times that of the women’s tour. Already this season, the PGA Tour has minted seven millionaires.
“PGA Tour players have the opportunity to win a million dollars every week,” LPGA player director Paige Mackenzie said. “This is a once-a-year opportunity for an LPGA player to walk off the 18th with $1 million.”
The LPGA ran the numbers for the last three seasons, concluding that Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi and Yani Tseng would’ve banked the extra million. Three worthy winners, indeed.
So how does it work?
Tournaments will carry the same point values (regardless of field size), with the exception of the majors, which will carry 25 percent more value. For example, a tournament victory is worth 500 points at a regular-season event, and 625 points for a major.
For tournaments with a cut, all players who make it to the weekend will earn points. For tournaments without a cut, the top 40 and ties will earn points. At the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, the tour’s smallest field, points will be awarded to players who finish in the top 20 and ties. To keep the math simple, players who tie will receive the same number of points (so no decimals). Only players who are LPGA members are eligible to earn points.
The top 72 players on the Race to the CME Globe point standing after the Ochoa event will qualify for the Tour Championship in Naples.
The points will then be reset, giving 60 percent of the weight to the season-long performance and 40 percent to their finish at the Tour Championship. Only the top nine players on the list will mathematically have a chance to win the $1 million. The top three players can win the race with a victory at the Tour Championship, which will feature a first-place prize of $500,000. In the event of a tie, players would go back to the 18th tee for a sudden-death playoff, with $1 million on the line.
“We didn’t want the Globe decided in July,” Whan said when asked about the reset.
Mackenzie said the purist in her initially wanted the player with the most points to win the million dollars, period. But from a fan’s perspective, and from her seat on the Golf Channel set, she understands the importance of ensuring that the excitement extends to Sunday.
LPGA officials met with the points gurus behind the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs for guidance while ironing out the details during the past year.
“We found that to be very invaluable in developing this,” said Jon Podany, the LPGA’s chief marketing officer, who worked at the PGA Tour when the FedEx system was being developed.
The most obvious difference between the two year-long point systems is that Race to the Globe has no impact on player eligibility in the fall swing.
“Think of this more as your one shot,” Whan said.
Or one more reason for fans to tune in.