The global golf business is simultaneously threatened and fascinated by LIV Golf’s challenge to the established PGA Tour. But the more immediate threat could be to the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), where female stars compete for a fraction of the prize money awarded their male counterparts.
Founded in 1950, the LPGA has survived multiple business challenges. But with its bottomless checkbook and proven ability to poach stars, the Saudi-backed LIV could cripple if not destroy the LPGA — the longest continuously running women’s pro sports organization in the U.S.
That’s the warning from LPGA legends and players closely tracking the astronomical salaries and all-expenses-paid accommodations dished out to LIV defectors like Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, and Bubba Watson.
Front Office Sports previously reported LIV chief executive officer Greg Norman wants to raid the LPGA for talent, with an eye toward establishing a rival women’s golf tour and/or “mixed” tournaments.
Yes, many LPGA stars could stand on principle against Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women and history of human rights abuses. But money talks in pro sports.
LPGA players compete for a combined purse of only $97 million vs. $405 million from LIV and $429 million from the PGA. Consider some of the comments Golfweek reporter Beth Ann Nichols got from LPGA players past and present.
Annika Sorenstam, the LPGA career money leader with $22 million in prize money, said LIV’s financial advantage could “crush” the LPGA. “Hopefully they have the intention of growing the game and working together with the LPGA,” she told Golfweek.
“To crush the LPGA doesn’t do anybody good, history-wise, futurewise, sustainability-wise. There’s so much negativity around this. I think that we need to somehow find a way to get a positive image with all this, if you know what I mean.”
Juli Inkster, who won $14 million over her career, said the choice of LIV vs. LPGA would not be a hard one for many female pros. “I think if Norman does do this, it’s going to totally ruin the LPGA, because I think most of the girls would go, just because the money is a game-changer,” she said.
Former No. 1 Stacy Lewis just hopes the LPGA “survives” the current power struggle.
“I think you have a majority that would ask, ‘What’s the number?’”