European Tour Executive Director Keith Pelley, LET Chair Marta Figueras-Dotti, LET CEO Alexandra [+] Armas, European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew and LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan at the LET’s headquarters for an historic board meeting, on Friday.
LET / LPGA
If the news late last year that the LPGA, European Tour and R A were joining forces with the Ladies European Tour in an attempt to revitalize the latter’s fortunes offered women’s golf in Europe hope, today’s announcement of the 2020 schedule provided solid evidence that such optimism has not been misplaced.
Back in 2010 there were 26 tournaments on the calendar with 17 in Europe itself, yet by last year that home continent tally had fallen to just eight. To compound frustrations prize funds had stubbornly refused to swell and frequently they actually diminished in size.
In effect, players were travelling further afield to fight for smaller dividends.
How refreshing, therefore, that as of today they can look forward to a 2020 season which will take in 24 tournaments, 15 of them in Europe, all whilst playing for a record-breaking total prize fund of nearly $18 million.
“The LET and the LPGA only began working together in September 2019, but we’ve been blown away with the results in the first 90 days and the positive response from across the golf industry,” said LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan, who chairs the LPGA-LET Joint Venture Board.
“With overall purse increases and seven new events, our athletes will have more opportunities for success,” he added. “It’s exciting to think what we can accomplish after a full year of working with our new board. We have a long way to go, but I’m so happy to say that this is the best position that European women’s professional golf has ever been in.”
“We’re not in this for the short-term, we expect to be doing this for 70 years just like we’ve been doing the LPGA for 70 years, and we’re in it to succeed. We said that if we get involved with this we can’t fail.
“This is historic. When I have my day in the rocking chair, thinking about my time in golf, I’ll think of this day, not only because of what it means for the LPGA or the LET, but also the fact that the European Tour and the RA are involved too.
Earlier this week Alexandra Armas was confirmed as the new LET CEO (she had been Acting CEO since October), returning to the Tour she had served as Executive Director from August 2008 to December 2012.
She had been encouraged to do so by Chair of the LET Marta Figueras Dotti whose passion for the tour was singled out by European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley as fundamental to its revitalization in the last six months.
Armas inherited a difficult situation. “It was clear we weren’t delivering,” she said. “And I was sure that we needed to revisit the LPGA possibilities.
“I went to meet them and discovered they were really motivated to make this a success. Together we had a simple message: we needed more tournaments, more prize money, more tournament spots and all with a focus within Europe itself.”
The new schedule includes three events with prize funds in excess of $1 million, two new ventures in Sweden, returns to Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, plus an exciting addition to be revealed in February.
Initial news of the joint venture broke at hectic pace toward the end of last year and therefore, with the schedule still a little sketchy, only five spots in this year’s Order of Merit were allocated places in the LPGA Q Series, but Whan vowed that the number is open to discussion based on the quality of future schedules.
As become increasingly apparent, the presence of a clear pathway to the LPGA (“an incredible pipeline to the best in the world,” in Whan’s words) has been key to earning the trust of and, just as importantly, financial support from, Europe’s golfing federations (and by extension the lack of it explained previous difficulties).
“Once national organizations heard about the pathway they were keen,” said Armas. “The LET had not been in a position to help players progress to the LPGA, to earn significant world ranking points and in time win Olympic medals. Those are essential objectives for the federations. It is how they are measured and in turn how they gain funding.”
Board member Liz Young, still active on the tour, was able to shed light on the effect of the announcement upon the membership.
“Put simply, I can actually have a career in golf again,” she said. “I can fully commit after years of needing to work part-time between tournaments and I was not alone–there were lots and lots and lots of us in that boat.
“How have things changed? It’s Q School this week and I’ve got friends out there who are so motivated. In the last few years there’s been a sense of ‘What does winning a card actually get you? Nothing – like seven starts maybe.’