For the first time in 10 years, I was home in Houston at the same time as the PGA Tour’s Houston Open. I have to be honest: I had no desire to set foot on the property.
It was very disheartening to watch all the stands go up, see all the courtesy cars around town and then see the purse that these guys are playing for. A $7.5 million purse for an event that didn’t have a single player inside the top 30 in the world competing? Well, you ask, why am I so disappointed? For starters, through last month’s BMW Ladies Championship, LPGA events averaged 19 top-30 players at each tournament. Let’s run through some more stats.
The purse at the Houston Open was greater than every single tournament on the LPGA tour’s schedule. The closest is the U.S. Women’s Open at $5.5 million, which will be played here in Houston next summer. We received courtesy cars at two events this year (KPMG, U.S. Open), and the men get them every week.
I think the one number that really highlights the difference is the total amount of money each tour plays for in a season. PGA Tour players competed for more than $343 million plus an additional $71 million in bonuses in 2018-19, while the LPGA came in at $70.2 million with only $1.1 million in bonuses in 2019! I’ll do the math for you: The women play for roughly 17% of what the men do.
This is significantly behind what women are making in the workplace in 2019. According to the latest report from Payscale.com, women make on average 79 cents to every dollar earned by a man. I’m not writing this to complain; I’m writing this to make you aware. I believe this topic needs to be talked about more and not be one we all shy away from because it is uncomfortable. It is the truth. Let’s talk about the truth.
Club manufacturers across the golf industry have begun to pull back on sponsorships on both sides, but this has been a huge hit to our tour. Callaway and PXG are the only companies consistently out every week, and we all so appreciate their investment, but neither have a tour van. I saw at least 10 companies with their trucks in Houston for the guys. The LPGA has a full-time employee who has to drive a van to service our players. I have heard of very good players having to buy their own equipment.
Life is very different on the LPGA. Another big difference is corporate sponsorships. While I don’t know specific numbers, I estimate the 17% applies here as well, and it may be even less. I have been very fortunate in my career off the golf course. I’ve had to work very hard for it, but I haven’t had to worry about covering my expenses every year. But there are plenty that do.
Let’s take the 100th-ranked player on the LPGA money list. This season Mariah Stackhouse made $127,365. No. 100 on the PGA Tour money list for 2018-19, Carlos Ortiz, made $1,073,962. Once Mariah pays taxes and expenses, I bet she barely breaks even. The PGA Tour had 112 guys make over a million dollars in 2018-19, while the LPGA has 13 so far this year.
The truth is LPGA players are playing for more than we ever have in our history. We have seen significant increases specifically in our major purses over the last few years. Why? Because the person/sponsor writing the check said 17% is not OK. I would love to see more companies that sponsor the PGA Tour come to an LPGA event and ask them if 17% is OK. Another truth is we currently have great sponsors and partners. Many have been with the LPGA for a long time, and we are so appreciative of them for our progress over the last decade. But I think it’s time we start looking forward and figure out how to narrow the gap.
This is an uncomfortable subject I know, and it’s not a simple fix. It goes back to the chicken or the egg, which comes first. You need to spend money to make more money, but how do you make more money if you don’t have it to spend? I’m OK with not having totally equal purses, but I think we can do better than 17%. Gwk
This story originally appeared in the November/December issue of Golfweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.