LPGA adds intrigue with points race
Commissioner Mike Whan offhandedly said something that sounded kind of funny when talking about the LPGA's new season-long points race, which has a $1 million winner's payoff. He mentioned that he wished it were even more.
Whan is a guy who has set the bar high, which has been beneficial in his time atop the LPGA. The thing is, though, a million is a lot of money to most of the earth's population, including those who are professional female athletes. Sure, there are a select few -- maybe a Serena Williams in tennis, for example -- who might not see it as a windfall. But there are no LPGA players, past or present, who wouldn't be impressed with a million-dollar check.
And in November 2014, someone will get just that for what's being dubbed the Race to the CME Globe. Whan spoke with the media about the points system earlier this week and officially announced it Wednesday morning.
The format is fairly simple: Players will earn points for their finishes in all tournaments from the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas (which starts Jan. 23) to the next-to-last event, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational (which ends Nov. 16).
Then there will be a points "reset" that guarantees the Globe winner will be decided at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. It has been renamed from the CME Group Titleholders, but remains in Naples, Fla., and will be held Nov. 20-23.
The reason for the reset is so the drama will still be there for the last official tournament. Otherwise, someone might wrap up the Globe points race earlier in the season, as is sometimes the case with various awards such as LPGA player of the year or the Vare Trophy.
Getting viewers tuned into an LPGA event on television near the end of November isn't the easiest thing. The Race to the CME Globe and its million-dollar payday give people one more reason to watch.
And the concept of a points race that lasts the entire season should be helpful in boosting the profile of "smaller" LPGA tournaments, considering they now also have value in terms of CME Globe points.
Whan noted that the points race also gives more context to the tour's Asian swing in the autumn. Throughout October and early November, the LPGA is in countries such as China, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan. That swing is important financially to the tour and gives the LPGA's many Asian players a welcome chance to compete closer to their homelands. But those events can be a little "out of sight, out of mind" for American fans. The points accumulation from them now will make those tournaments more interesting to fans.
The CME Group Tour Championship will have a first-place prize of $500,000, down from the previous $700,000, but more in line with a typical big LPGA event. Conceivably, a player could come away with $1.5 million on the final Sunday of the LPGA season if she wins the tournament and the points race.
It's also possible there could be a playoff for that amount at the tournament, which would be a lot of pressure and pretty fun to watch.
As mentioned, $1 million is a hefty chunk of change, even for the top LPGA players. For the 2013 season, eight on the tour finished with $1 million or more in earnings, led by Inbee Park's $2,456,619. By contrast, 10 times that many players -- 82 -- won at least $1 million in 2013 on the PGA Tour, led by Tiger Woods' $8.55 million.
It has been Whan's mission since he took over in late 2009 to fill in the LPGA calendar's blank spaces and increase the purses. He has done both. And by adding the Globe points race, the LPGA Tour has made its season-ending event as enticing as it can be for viewers.
"There will be a heightened level of interest knowing that a million dollars is at stake," Whan said. "I think it should help make for an exciting 2014."