NAPLES, Fla. – LPGA commissioner Mike Whan won’t release the 2018 schedule until after Thanksgiving, but he confirmed there will be 34 events, including the International Crown. The new schedule will include three new stops – two in the western U.S. (reportedly a second event in Hawaii and a return to San Francisco) and one overseas. Three will likely disappear: Manulife (in Canada), Lorena Ochoa’s event in Mexico and the MCKAYSON New Zealand Women’s Open, which is taking a break until 2019 when it will move to the spring. Ochoa’s event went to match play this year but didn’t have the funds to be televised.
Whan said such ebb and flow of the schedule has become fairly normal. In 2019, he expects two more domestic events will be added (a source tells Golfweek that Orlando, Fla., is in the discussion) along with one international venue (reportedly in Vietnam).
They’ll play for $69 million in prize money next year, up from $65.5 million in 2017.
“The good news is I think we’re in a predictability and a stability on the tour that we haven’t had in a long time,” said Whan, “and I think that’s, that was really the thing we most wanted to give to women’s golf.”
Whan spoke to the media for nearly an hour on Friday at the CME Group Tour Championship and covered a number of topics.
Here are some highlights:
– CME Group Tour Championship extended its contract through 2023.
– Whan plans to move the Evian Championship away from its September date as early as 2019. He takes full responsibility for moving the event to a rainy September date with fewer hours of daylight that contributed to the tour’s fifth major twice being reduced to 54 holes.
“The challenges at Evian are man-made,” said Whan, “and I’m the man who made them.”
The idea going forward is to create a European swing, adding the Scottish and British Opens to at least a three-tournament swing. 2017 Evian champion Anna Nordqvist, who played in a frigid hailstorm when she won her second major, supports this decision.
“It’s too good of a golf tournament to be put in that position,” said Nordqvist. “It was one of the best tournaments we had when we had it in July.”
Stacy Lewis sat out this year’s Evian and won’t be returning until changes are made. Whan said he had no regrets about reducing this year’s event to 54 holes. He is, however, second-guessing the decision to scrape the scores from Round 1. Lewis said she’d stay onsite until the next Thursday to get 72 holes in at a major – whatever it takes.
“If we’re going to call it a major,” said Lewis, “we need to treat it like one.”
– There are currently 16 players on the LPGA who have crossed $1 million in earnings this year. That number will go up slightly following the CME. That’s twice the number of millionaires compared to Whan’s first full season as commissioner in 2010.
But the progress still pales in comparison to the PGA Tour, which had 102 players cross $1M in 2017. Whan knows they haven’t closed the gap, but he believes there will come a day when purses at select events will be the same for men and women.
“I also think that the globalization of women’s golf being so much farther ahead, quite frankly, of what’s happened at the PGA Tour, is going to be exactly what it’s becoming every year, more and more of an advantage,” said Whan. “Where it isn’t about how many viewers you delivered in the U.S., but how many viewers did you deliver worldwide? And as that becomes a more and more common question, (the LPGA) becomes a better and better answer.”
– Whan still feels a responsibility to help the Ladies European Tour get off of life support. Earlier this year the LPGA, men’s European Tour and the R&A put together an offer of “pretty significant financial infusion” over the next three years in which the LPGA would own it and run the tour.
In short, the LET made leadership changes and wanted the chance to fix the situation themselves.
“I said, if that’s the way you feel, let’s halt,” said Whan. “We’ll come back and talk about this later because, quite frankly, if the Ladies European Tour can be fixed and improved and flourish under the current Ladies European Tour structure, that’s the best news I could possibly have. I don’t think I’m ever going to make money running the LET.”