GOLF

As LIV Golf threatens to disrupt the men’s game, is the LPGA vulnerable?

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Angel Yin left the 18th green of the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles with a USGA pin attached to her shirt where a logo was sewn. The pin was a gift from a tournament official, but it highlighted the fact that a 23-year-old former Solheim Cup player had no sponsors. Nothing on his hat, his shirt or his bag.

Earlier this year, Yin replaced defending champion Lydia Ko, who tested positive for COVID-19, at Aramco Saudi Ladies International. Yin finished tied for 10th at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club and said she couldn’t pass up another opportunity to work on her game and earn some cash. She compared the quality of the Saudi tournament to a high-profile LPGA event like the Cognizant Founders Cup.

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Yin, who admittedly hasn’t watched the news much to learn about the latest human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia, was heartened by the number of young girls on the beach each day for clinics, and what She had heard from Americans on the ground about the Kingdom’s progress.

“The way I see it, if they’re willing to invest money in women’s golf,” Yin said. “I don’t see how it can hurt.”

In recent years, laws in Saudi Arabia have changed to allow women to travel abroad and drive a car. However, the male guardian system that is still in place requires permission from a male relative to marry, divorce, or leave a shelter or prison.

Last month, LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman was seen as downplaying the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the media day for the inaugural event in London. In March, Saudi Arabia put 81 people to death in a mass execution.

Many see the massive sums of money being poured into golf by the Saudis as shameless sports washing.

As the golf world grapples with the potential ramifications of the new LIV Golf Series, which kicked off this week in London and resulted in the suspension of some of the game’s biggest names from the PGA Tour, many are wondering what Future plans Golf Saudi might have for the women’s game.

Already rooted in the Ladies European Tour, Golf Saudi currently supports six events – including the Aramco Team Series – which offer prize money three to four times higher than a typical event on this circuit. LET players must compete for Saudi money to stand a chance of keeping their cards, forcing some to choose between their livelihood and their beliefs.

As the LET is under the umbrella of the LPGA, the tour is already a partner of the Saudi government. Additionally, several LPGA players – such as three-time major champion Anna Nordqvist, Carlota Ciganda, Bronte Law and Alison Lee – sport both the Amarco Series and Saudi logos on their hats and shirts.

Everything seems to beg the question, what comes next in the women’s game?

Alison Lee of the United States reacts after making a putt on the 13th hole during the second round of the DIO Implant LA Open at Wilshire Country Club on April 22, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

Nordqvist would not comment golf week on its partnership with Golf Saudi. Lee, a former UCLA star, won the Aramco Team Series event in Sotogrande by five strokes last year for his first pro title.

“To be honest with you, it’s hard to compare the partnership that Aramco Series has with the women versus what’s happening with the men,” Lee said, “it’s apples and oranges. The women of the LET, they play for next to nothing.They are very similar purse sizes on the (Epson) Tour.

“A million dollar scholarship for them is huge, absolutely huge. It’s almost life changing for some of these girls when they write a big check at the end of the week. I feel like that on the men’s circuit there are no guys sharing a room every week with another player; you don’t have them sharing an Airbnb; you don’t have them sharing a rental car, staying with families reception each week.

For LPGA players, the lure of a rare appearance fee at Aramco events is too good to pass up. Yin said the year’s spending on the LPGA can reach six figures. As Lee said, even those who make the cut in an LPGA with a $1.5 million purse might not make enough to cover the week’s expenses.

“Sponsors are meant to help you with your expenses throughout the year,” Yin said. “When you’ve removed that stress, you can play golf more freely and not worry about whether or not you can pay rent.”

The LPGA would not comment on this story except to say the tour did not receive an offer from LIV Golf, which is contrary to what CEO Greg Norman told the BBC. Norman said their offer to make a similar substantial investment in the Asian Tour was rejected by both the LPGA and the LET. But, he continued, that doesn’t mean it’s over. (LIV Golf has already invested $300 million in the Asian Tour.)

“Just because we came up with this,” Norman said, “we might have a different strategy in the future, so sit back and wait. We’re here for a long, long time. We’re here to develop the game of golf on a global scale, not just in one specific sector, the men’s sector. It’s at all levels.”

Lewis, an LPGA board member who said golf week at the end of last year that she would not be competing in Saudi Arabia, said the tour was very concerned about what might happen later.

“We don’t have all the money and the power that the PGA has to withstand all of this,” Lewis said. “If the players on the tour left and started doing what the guys do, I don’t know what would happen to our tour. … We kind of kept them at bay.

A Saudi man watches a golfer compete in the Saudi Ladies International golf tournament, November 15, 2020, in the King Abdullah economic city, north of Jeddah. (Photo by Amer HILABI/AFP) (Photo by AMER HILABI/AFP via Getty Images)

American veteran Marina Alex thinks it would be foolish not to think the LPGA is in a vulnerable position.

With 15 events on the LPGA schedule with $2 million in prize money, it wouldn’t take much for LIV to create a women’s series that could attract many of the tour’s top stars.

What could the LPGA do to potentially fortify itself against such a potential threat? Alex isn’t sure there’s a right answer to this question. As a women’s organization it is even more complex.

“I just wish the girls had more sponsorship in general,” Alex said, “and it’s a shame they don’t. And that’s the next option for players, and I can’t blame them for it. If they think it’s going to change the trajectory of their career, how can you deny someone that opportunity?”

Ryann O’Toole looks at the situation on the men’s side and thinks it shouldn’t become a battle over where players can compete. Although she was not invited to participate in the Aramco series, she would like to participate.

“This is where it really becomes a fine line,” O’Toole said. “When the LPGA says, ‘Hey, you play for the LPGA.’ Well as players we own the LPGA Ultimately there should be no discrimination as to where we should go to play or what events we choose to play or how we choose to work in. The same with the PGA Tour.

If another women’s circuit were created, O’Toole thinks it would bring awareness to what many players have been saying: no more $1.5 million purses.

“We don’t want any more events,” O’Toole said. “We want bigger scholarships. We want fewer weeks on the road.

Lizette Salas has previously participated in Aramco Series events. Should a rival tour come up similar to LIV, Salas said she would have to see where she is in her career. Many players, she continued, would take this opportunity “no matter where (the money) comes from”.

What if such a tour or series crushed the nearly 75-year-old LPGA?

“Again, it has to be in the right place at the right time for me,” Salas said. “I would just have to analyze where I am in my career, what my core values ​​are and if it’s a good place for me to play…but I’m not taking it off the table at the moment. .”

Top American Nelly Korda, who competed in the Aramco Series last year in New York with her sister Jessica, was asked at a pre-tournament press conference at Pine Needles if she would be interested if anyone presented and offered a $10 million scholarship each week. .

“Yeah,” Korda said, “I don’t know if anyone would say no to that.”

Instead of the LPGA?

“Oh, that’s something I never thought about,” she continued. “Right now my eyes are on the LPGA, and that’s where I think.”

Brittany Altomare, 31, earned $3.1 million during her LPGA career. She hasn’t been invited to the Aramco series yet but is keeping a close eye on what’s going on in men’s golf.

“Honestly, I don’t know what I would do if I was offered something,” Altomare said. “It’s hard, because morally I have a problem with everything that’s going on there, especially with women…but like Rory said, $100 million isn’t going to change his life. But a few million completely change my life.

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