Suddenly, There Is Money in Women’s Golf

When second-year L.P.G.A. player Allisen Corpuz tapped in her final putt on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links this month, she won the United States Women’s Open with a memorable final round, overtaking the leader and holding off a surging challenger in Charley Hull.

Corpuz also cashed a $2 million first-place check, which was more than double what Annika Sorenstam won for all three of her U.S. Women’s Open victories combined.

Despite losing ProMedica, the health care company, as presenting sponsor for the Open, the United States Golf Association increased the total prize purse by $1 million to $11 million this year.

It’s part of a broader move in women’s professional golf to increase sponsorship for tournaments as well as for individual golfers. Over the past few years, purses have risen at tournaments, new sponsors have sought out golfers and even players who are not at the top of their careers have reaped the benefits.

“Elevating purses continues to elevate everyone,” said Mollie Marcoux Samaan, the L.P.G.A. commissioner.

At the tour level, the L.P.G.A. has been increasing prize money for players up and down the tour ranking. This year, the total purse for 36 official events is more than $100 million. Ten years ago, that number was $49 million, but even in 2021 it was around $70 million.

Charley Hull, who made a charge at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, has cultivated support from a significant number of sponsors over the years.Credit…Harry How/Getty Images

Last year, 27 L.P.G.A. players earned $1 million in prize money (up from 15 the year before). That number still pales in comparison with the men’s PGA Tour, where, last year, 126 players earned more than $1 million. (Only 125 players have fully exempt status on the PGA Tour, meaning even players who couldn’t play every event or who qualified for all of the majors earned more than the top L.P.G.A. players.)

Yet Samaan and other leaders are also focused on the individual players. The L.P.G.A. said that from 2021 to 2022, the No. 1 player in the world earned 22 percent more, but the 50th ranked player saw her earnings rise 44 percent. The 100th ranked player got a 30 percent raise, to $167,000 from $128,000.

While the top players in any sport will always be compensated well, golf is unique in that many of the players in each tournament get cut and sometimes don’t get paid anything for the week.

“We’re also looking to our partners and not just how to grow the purses, but also for help on the expense side,” Samaan said. “Some of the challenges our players face is half of them don’t get to play on the weekend each week. Some sponsors include miss cut payments. Some offer stipends or travel bonus to cover basic expenses.” But not all of them.

Another factor driving increased interest — and money — in women’s golf is the desire among companies to sponsor both men and women. Whereas a journeyman player on the PGA Tour has rarely wanted for a sponsor, women, even those just below the top ranks, have often struggled.

Many companies, as part of broader efforts at diversity, equity and inclusion, are looking to add female players. Early to this was KPMG, which broke ground — and set a new standard — by continuing to pay Stacy Lewis under her sponsorship contract when she had her daughter in 2018.

Stacy Lewis holding her daughter after finishing the Drive On Championship in March. She was among the first players to continue being paid under her sponsorship contract while out on maternity leave.Credit…Darryl Webb/Associated Press

Previously, golfers had to play a certain number of events in order to receive all of their sponsorship dollars. Instead, KPMG opted to do what it would have done for an employee who went on family leave. Many other sponsors have followed suit.

Aon, the risk management consulting firm, now offers the same prize money to men and women for its yearlong Aon Risk Reward Challenge, which assesses a player’s overall score on a challenging hole at each week’s tournament.

Lizette Salas, ranked 80th in the world and in her 12th year as a professional, is sponsored by Aon. She said the conversations she’s had with sponsors were radically different today from when she began.

“In the beginning the conversations were short,” she said. “I was pretty much pitching myself, as opposed to an agent or manager doing it. Now as the investments become bigger, the conversation between player and sponsor has changed. It’s created a more personal relationship between the executives and the player. I’m a big person in diversity and inclusion. A lot of the companies I’m sponsored by have taken that big step in their companies, too. It’s refreshing.”

Smaller companies have also gotten in on supporting L.P.G.A. players. Cozen O’Connor, a law firm based in Philadelphia, has sponsored players on the PGA Tour for several years. This year, it added Ally Ewing, who was the L.P.G.A. Rookie of the Year in 2016, finished 11th at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open and is ranked 36th in the world.

“When we decided sponsoring players was part of our branding strategy, we wanted to make sure it was inclusive, said Michael Heller, executive chairman and chief executive of Cozen O’Connor. “We wanted it to represent our firm and our clients. It was important to add a female player.”

The firm selected Ewing because of her story: battling through Type 1 diabetes, and succeeding at every level of the game.

Law firms, like insurance and financial-service companies, are natural fits for the L.P.G.A., given the history in those industries of using golf for entertainment and marketing.

Hull, the British golfer who made a charge at the U.S. Women’s Open, has a significant social media presence that has allowed her to cultivate support from a variety of sponsors, including traditional golf brands like TaylorMade, the financial adviser Hachiko Financial and a wellness supplement.

“My early sponsors were brands that were already in golf and who were looking to activate their partnerships, like Ricoh around the Women’s British Open, or Omega around the Olympics,” Hull said. “Now I feel my sponsors are more personal to me, such as Drink Mojo which is a supplement I use, or Hachiko, who are helping to educate me on investment.”

Hull said her sponsors have changed as she’s grown as a player, and she’s fine with that.

“As I’ve grown up and matured, so have my sponsors, and that’s not always just on my behalf,” she said. “A sponsor might be looking for a specific type of person to fit their ambassador role, so as I get older I might grow out of the type of person they’re looking for.”

Jessica Korda was the first female player to sign a deal with FootJoy to wear its apparel from head to toe.Credit…Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The top players — who have the ability to transcend the sport — have the most power in negotiating deals with their sponsors. Jessica Korda, who was ranked 14th in the world last year before a back injury, signed a deal with FootJoy to wear its apparel from head to toe. She was the first female player to sign such a deal with FootJoy.

She particularly appreciates the sponsors who were with her when she started.

“My rookie year [2011], I played in 14 or 15 events,” Korda said, and she made about $50,000. “So having a sponsor really, really helped to cover my cost. We don’t have health care. We have to pay a lot out of pocket. Expenses are quite high.”

Korda, who has made $7.6 million on the golf course, said that she’s hopeful for players coming out of college now, in a different sponsorship environment.

“It allows them to play with a bit less pressure and not go paycheck to paycheck. Having that comfort was huge for me back then. Now it’s aligning with brands I really enjoy.”

Back to top button