CME Championship boosts 2019 purse to $5M, winner's payout to $1.5M

NAPLES, FL - NOVEMBER 19: Lexi Thompson of the United States poses with a box containing one million dollars after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship at the Tiburon Golf Club on November 19, 2017 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

CME Championship boosts 2019 purse to $5M, winner's payout to $1.5M

LPGA Tour

CME Championship boosts 2019 purse to $5M, winner's payout to $1.5M

NAPLES, Fla. – When Terry Duffy calls, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan answers.

Duffy, CME Group Chairman and CEO, has a record of setting the bar higher in women’s golf. Duffy’s latest pitch: double the purse at the 2019 CME Group Tour Championship to $5 million and raise the winner’s paycheck to $1.5 million. And while it will remain a season-long race to qualify for the event, anyone in the field of 60 will be able to take home the record-setting prize.

“My kids see men walk off greens with $1.5 million dollar checks almost every week,” said Whan. “You never see a woman walk off the green with that. This a game-changer in terms of as Condoleezza Rice said to us at KPMG, ‘They’ve got to see it to be it.’ Terry is gonna let a few women see it.”

In the fall of 2009, Whan accepted the job of commissioner but asked not to start until January. He flew under the radar at the Tour Championship in Houston that year, where a field of 130 players competed for a $1.3 million purse with no title sponsor.

“To sit here and talk about $5 million, $1.5 million, and not to mention that my room is at the Ritz,” said Whan, “nothing against Houston, but pretty impressive week all in all.”

It’s no wonder that Whan refers to Duffy as one of the LPGA’s heroes.

“I want to be a leader,” said Duffy, who grew this event from a small pro-am tournament at Tiburon to one of the pillars of the tour. “From our standpoint, that’s what CME we’ve done our entire career. So we’re a leader, and we want to be a little bit of a trailblazer.”

Duffy asked Whan, “What’s the highest price on the LPGA?”

That would be the U.S. Women’s Open at $5 million. Duffy said he didn’t want to chase a number or get into a matching game with another tournament. What he did want to achieve, however, is getting others thinking about doing the same.

“It’s awesome,” said Brooke Henderson of the record prize. “I think a lot of girls on tour are really going to appreciate that. And I feel like even women around the world, when they see that, they’ll feel like we are getting closer to being level.”

Flying back from Asia last year, Whan looked at the number of LPGA players who made $1 million for the season. The number 17 looked a whole lot better than the eight from 2010. But then he Googled the PGA Tour’s 2017 money list: 102 millionaires.

There’s room to run, but what’s happening in Naples represents a significant step.

“The reality of it is if you’re one of the best 60, 50, 120 anythings in the world in your sport at a level that’s televised around the world, you shouldn’t need a rich uncle to help you cover travel expenses for the year,” said Whan. “This is an opportunity to say that financially, if I can make it to Naples and play good golf, I’m pretty secure financially not just for this year, but for next.”

This week at Tiburon, only 12 players have a mathematical chance of nabbing the $1 million bonus. Next year, all 60 players have a chance. Chella Choi likened it to winning the jackpot.

“I have a chance!” Choi said, pumping her fist.

Henderson is one of five players who can automatically claim the $1 million payout with a victory this week. It gets complicated crunching the numbers down the stretch at CME, making the new format much more fan-friendly.

The fact that anyone in the field can win the $1.5 million should not only strengthen the fall fields in Asia but the CME as well.

Duffy said CME’s partnership with the LPGA adds brand value to his company. It makes sense for him from a business side, but there’s a bigger picture at play as well.

For Duffy, it’s about the future of the country too.

“I think it’s an obligation not only as a CEO of a large institution, but others have that same obligation morally to do the right thing for young people,” said Duffy. “If you don’t get the young people at a certain age, they get to a certain time in their life and they’re lost. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just the reality of it.

“So I want to set an example where young girls can see this, and to Mike’s point, have aspirations to be a part of it. That’s how I look at it. It’s bigger than golf for me.”

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