LPGA total prize money keeps climbing, yet it's still possible to make the cut and lose money. Some players are asking, should the winners make less? (2023)

LPGA total prize money keeps climbing, yet it's still possible to make the cut and lose money. Some players are asking, should the winners make less? (1)

LPGA total prize money keeps climbing, yet it's still possible to make the cut and lose money. Some players are asking, should the winners make less? (2)

Beth Ann Nichols

November 13, 2022 10:25 am ET

BELLEAIR, Fla. — The winner’s check at the upcoming CME Group Tour Championship will be equal to or greater than the purse at 20 of the 32 events on the LPGA this season. That record-setting $2 million payday will make headlines across the country and continue the narrative that there’s more money than ever in the women’s game, and while that’s true, it’s not the whole story.

For those players who have conditional status on the LPGA and fall between No. 101 and 150 on the money list, it’s becoming increasingly harder to make a living.

As major championship purses soar and more players than ever (currently 22) are enjoying seven-figure seasons on the LPGA, the majority of week-to-week purses on the biggest tour in the women’s game have barely increased over the last decade.

“I’ve seen so many players quit due to finances and not due to lack of talent,” said nine-year veteran Amy Olson, who also happens to be a CPA.

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“You have to have a tour that provides sustainability for that next generation, and we don’t have that right now.”

Increased purses

The CME Group Tour Championship’s purse has increased from $1.5 million to $7 million in the last decade, surpassing and pushing even major championships to put up more cash. This year, the U.S. Women’s Open offered a record $10 million purse. The AIG Women’s British Open prize fund has increased 125 percent since 2019. Over the past 10 years, the average winner’s check at the majors has risen from $422,000 to $1.2 million. That’s life-changing money.

The money at other week-to-week events that have been the backbone of the LPGA for decades, however, have only slightly increased in that timeframe. This includes longstanding limited-field events in Asia, which have gone up only $100,000 or $200,000 since 2012.

The limited-field Asian events (where there’s no cut) have always been considered rewards for top players. But, despite tournament organizers paying expenses, those who have a bad week in Asia now lose money after paying their caddie’s expenses due to stagnant purses and increased travel costs.

The average purse on the LPGA 10 years ago – not counting the majors or CME – was $1.57 million. This year it’s $1.87 million.

That’s an increase of 19 percent over the course of 10 years, below the rate of inflation in that timeframe. Consider that from 2002 to 2012, the average purse increased by 43 percent.

In 2012, there were 19 events with purses below $2 million; this year there were 15.

Making cuts but losing money?

It’s not unusual for a player to make the cut on the LPGA and still lose money after paying her caddie and expenses for the week. Olson said many resort to using credit cards.

“Can you even imagine the pressure standing over a drive with OB right and water left thinking, I just put $4,000 on a credit card for this week,” said Olson. “That is not a sustainable way to play golf. There’s already enough pressure the way it is.”

LPGA total prize money keeps climbing, yet it's still possible to make the cut and lose money. Some players are asking, should the winners make less? (3)

Amy Olson chips to the fifth green during the second round of the Dana Open presented by Marathon at Highland Meadows Golf Club on September 02, 2022 in Sylvania, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

While the top half of the tour has never been richer, the bottom half remains pinched, despite each position on the money list improving. The range of purse sizes on tour has become so large, in fact, that in 2021, the LPGA transitioned to determining status based off the Race to the CME points list rather than the money list.

Why does the average purse matter? Because those are the fields that up-and-comers are getting into through Qualifying School and the Epson Tour. That’s where most players begin the dream, with purses that are $1.5 million. And while most of the top players coming from other countries have the financial backing and support from their national programs, American players who aren’t superstars are mostly on their own.

“If you make the cut and finish 50th or 60th,” said Cheyenne Knight, “you’re breaking even or still might be losing money.”

Life on the road ain’t cheap

As the nation struggles with inflation, women who live most of their year on the road are taking a significant hit. Dana Finkelstein said a plane ticket from Phoenix to Tampa that used to run $170 is now $370. She looked into flights on Tuesday, in case the Pelican moved to a Monday finish, and they were running $560. A weekly rental car that used to run $200 is now more than $300. She estimates most players who stay in a hotel – Finkelstein relies on host housing – have at least $3,000 a week in expenses after paying their caddie.

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“And that’s on the cheap side,” she said.

Caroline Inglis, who currently ranks 99th on the CME points list and 98th on the money list ($164,798) estimates that she has spent six figures on her team and travel through 16 events.

“I just had a month off and have this one (Pelican), and then I’m going to have four months off,” said Inglis, referring to the LPGA’s 2023 schedule that begins with limited-field events. “I feel like I spent so much money this year, it’s unreal.”

Olson notes that the LPGA has about 200 active members and 150 who play a decent-sized schedule every year. Last year, the 100th player on the money list earned $128,647 and the 150th earned $28,305.

Stephanie Meadow says her expenses for the year typically range between $115,000 to $125,000, including what it costs to pay her team. That’s staying in average hotels and with a couple of host families.

“This is the best tour in the world, you’re practically top 100 in the world at what you do,” said Meadow, “and there’s not another job out there (in the top 100) that you wouldn’t be making a living enough to buy an average-sized house.”

Not to mention quality healthcare and retirement investments.

What’s the solution?

The Pelican announced a $3.25 million purse for next year’s event – renamed The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge – making it the highest purse for a non-major event outside of CME. The new JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire will offer a $3 million purse next year, double the money from 2022. The new Mizuho Americas Open hosted by Michelle Wie West will have a purse of $2.75 million.

(It’s worth noting, however, that this year the LPGA had both the Gainbridge LPGA and the Pelican LPGA for a total of $4,000,000. They’ve combined now into one event for a purse of $3,250,000.)

More premium events like these is the first goal, said LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan. New events on the LPGA schedule must start with a minimum $2 million purse.

“We’re also looking at other opportunities,” she told Golfweek. “Is there a stipend at some event or a minimum that players make by getting into the field?”

This already happens at some of the majors, of course, where at the U.S. Women’s Open, those who missed the cut at Pine Needles made $8,000, double what was given last year.

“Listen, it’s a meritocracy,” said Marcoux Samaan. “It’s so hard to win out here and it’s so hard to make the cut, that we feel like those players should be significantly compensated for achieving that goal. But are there other ways that we can help players out?”

LPGA total prize money keeps climbing, yet it's still possible to make the cut and lose money. Some players are asking, should the winners make less? (4)

Minjee Lee poses with the trophy after winning the 77th U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club on June 5, 2022 in Southern Pines, North Carolina. (Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Last week, the DP World Tour announced that players would be guaranteed a minimum of $150,000 against their earnings next season, provided they make at least 15 appearances. The move comes amidst the ongoing threat of LIV Golf and its guaranteed payouts.

The PGA Tour announced a similar program back in August that guarantees $500,000 up front for rookies and those returning to the Tour. Everyone else who doesn’t meet the threshold at the season’s end will be paid the difference.

“If you look, we’re now the only main tour that isn’t offering some sort of compensation,” said Ashleigh Buhai. “It makes a huge difference, and we are the only spot that you’re not guaranteed money.”

When asked if the LPGA could provide a similar program, Marcoux Samaan said, “I think, again, we have to just look at where we are in the moment and look at what we can do. Our goal is to provide as much as we can to the players.”

Olson would like to see each player in an LPGA field be guaranteed $3,000 up front. Those who make the cut will earn at least an additional $4,000.

Where does that money come from?

One option, Olson believes, is to change the purse distribution. Currently, the winner at most LPGA events receives 15 percent of the purse. After that, six percent of the purse goes toward the tour’s operational costs.

That leaves 79 percent for everyone else who makes the cut. (The U.S. Women’s Open gave 18 percent of the winner and CME will give the winner roughly 29 percent.)

“I think we have to go down to 12 percent,” said Olson, “or take from that top 10 and be able to feed that into the bottom ranks.”

Top players have multiple sources of revenue, she notes. In addition to prize winnings, they get into limited-field events, are offered appearance fees on other tours, and more corporate sponsorship opportunities.

“I would say the top 30 have opportunities for great sponsorships,” said Olson. “Beyond that, I think it’s pretty iffy.”

Olson believes a change to the purse distribution could be a short-term solution until all LPGA tournaments are above $2.5 million.

LPGA total prize money keeps climbing, yet it's still possible to make the cut and lose money. Some players are asking, should the winners make less? (5)

A general view of the Race for the CME Globe Money Box on the 18th green prior to the LPGA CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on November 14, 2018 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

If stipends are given out, Stacy Lewis would like to see some additional responsibilities be added so that players do more to help out events.

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Lewis, a former No. 1, concedes that because of her early success, she never worried about money. On one hand, she said, it’s difficult to think about giving a stipend when players are competing for more money than ever before. But, on the other hand, it’s a top-heavy money list.

“I do think we need to look at our purse distribution,” said Lewis.

Karen Stupples knows what it’s like to win a major championship. But, prior to that, she also knew what it felt like to be down to her last $500. Stupples likes a model that encourages players to fight for their money. To grit it out. The way she sees it, the struggle is part of the process. Everyone has an opportunity to grow and improve.

“Part of playing professional golf, what you signed up for,” said Stupples, “is that you have to play well in order to make it.”

As Olson has canvased her peers on the subject, some top players have understandably shown resistance. “Play better” is a common refrain when it comes to money problems, and Olson believes there will always be about 20 people who are firmly against a change that would take away money from top finishers.

Count top American Nelly Korda among them.

“I feel like that would be a step back in women’s sports, lowering the prize money,” said Korda, pointing out that PGA Tour winners receive 18 percent of the purse.

Lydia Ko, however, said that while taking some money away from the winner sounds shocking, she understands why something like that might need to happen.

“I think we’re moving in the right trend of things,” said Ko, “but I do think it does probably need to be a little bit dispersed better.”

Three-time winner Gaby Lopez thrives when conditions are hard, when it feels like her back is against the wall.

“I like the challenge,” she said. “I also understand my peers, like they said, they need to make a living.”

Ryann O’Toole floated the idea that players get paid for participating in the pro-am. Others wondered if moving the cutline from 70 and ties to 60 or 65 and ties might help. Meadow, an accounting major, said she’d need to get out a spreadsheet to weigh the options.

“At the end of the day we’re entertainers,” said O’Toole, “but we sometimes don’t get paid for our entertainment.”

Olson has been ranked as high as seventh on the money list (2020) and as low as 119th (2016) and has seen many of her peers come and go over the years. One friend who walked away due to finances had credit card debt that took over five years to pay off.

A native of Oxbow, North Dakota, Olson especially has a soft spot for those who, like her, grew up in a small town with a short season. She’d like to see them have more of a fighting chance.

“We want to create a place where women can pursue their dream of professional golf,” said Olson, “and we don’t want to see that dream become a nightmare … where they have to spend the next five years recovering from their dream.”

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FAQs

How much do LPGA winners make? ›

This week at Lake Nona Country Club in Orlando, Fla., the 29 pros in the field were competing for $1.5 million, with the runaway winner, Brooke Henderson, banking $225,000 for her wire-to-wire victory. At the start of the final round, the 25-year-old Canadian held a three-stroke edge over Nasa Hataoka and Nelly Korda.

What is the prize money for LPGA tournaments? ›

Prize money payouts for each LPGA player at 2022 CME Group Tour Championship
FinishGolferEarnings
1Lydia Ko$2,000,000
2Leona Maguire$550,000
3Anna Nordqvist$340,000
T4Georgia Hall$222,500
11 more rows
Nov 20, 2022

How much does Lydia Ko make a year? ›

LPGA Career Earnings
PlayerEarnings
2Karrie Webb$20,293,617
3Cristie Kerr$20,166,399
4Inbee Park$18,262,344
5Lydia Ko$16,695,357
96 more rows
5 days ago

Who won the LPGA Top money 2022? ›

2022 – Lydia Ko: $4,364,403

Ko won Player of the Year and Vare Trophy titles and topped the money list, finishing only $591 behind the all-time record.

How much does a Caddie make on the LPGA Tour? ›

LPGA caddies make a weekly base salary of around $1,200.

More importantly, caddies make around 7 to 8% of their golfers' winnings. In 2022, the purse for the USGA was $10 million, so the caddy of the winning golfer would pocket at least $700,000.

Who has the longest driving average on the LPGA? ›

2023
RankNameAverage Driving Distance
1Yuka Saso271.750
2Nelly Korda264.000
3Charley Hull262.380
4Brooke M. Henderson259.750
25 more rows

How much does it cost to sponsor an LPGA event? ›

By comparison, an LPGA title sponsorship often can be purchased for $3 million annually, and at most, $5 million for events with network TV coverage, according to Higgs.

What is the richest prize in golf? ›

How the Players Championship compares to the majors
  • The Players Championship: $20 million prize fund/$3.6 million winner.
  • Masters: $11.5 million/$2.070 million.
  • PGA Championship: $12 million/ $2.16 million.
  • U.S. Open: $12.5 million/$2.25 million.
  • Open Championship: $11.5 million/$2.070.
Mar 9, 2022

Who has won the most money on the LPGA Tour? ›

Annika Sorenstam of Sweden tops the all-time list for prize money earners on the LPGA tour. Having achieved 207 career top tens and 72 career victories, the Swede took home over 22.58 million U.S. dollars across her career.

How much does Nelly Korda make a year? ›

According to Forbes, one of the highest-paid athletes in 2021 will be Nelly Korda, who earns about $5.9 million annually.

Is Lydia Ko in a relationship? ›

Lydia Ko married Jun Chung in Seoul's massive Myeongdong Cathedral five days after Christmas in South Korea. After keeping the relationship relatively private, the 25-year-old announced her engagement to Chung in August.

What clubs did Lydia Ko switch to? ›

Ko goes graphite

For Ko, she follows a similar blueprint to Tiger Woods by transitioning from AeroTech SteelFiber FC 70 graphite in her irons to FC 80 in her wedges.

Who is the most popular LPGA player? ›

Ranking: Race to CME Globe
PosPlayerCountry
1Brooke M. HendersonCAN
2Charley HullENG
2Maja StarkSWE
4Nelly KordaUSA
25 more rows

How much does the average female golfer make? ›

Women's Golf

According to the recent LPGA money list, the median income for female golfers is around $150,000, with the top players earning a median of a little over $1 million. Salaries also vary with the number of tournaments available and the country it is being held in.

Who is the number one player on the LPGA Tour? ›

History of the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings Number One Position
#PlayerTo:
31Jin Young Ko (2)June 27, 2021
30Sung Hyun Park (4)July 28, 2019
29Jin Young Ko (1)June 30, 2019
28Sung Hyun Park (3)April 7, 2019
34 more rows
Nov 28, 2022

Do caddies pay their own expenses? ›

Professionals' caddies, just like the golfers for whom they work, are self-employed, independent contractors responsible for paying their own expenses.

Who is the highest paid caddy on tour? ›

Jimmy Johnson.

Caddying for US golfer and former world number one Justin Thomas, Johnson netted over half a million dollars in that one year alone making him officially the biggest earner amongst his kind.

What is Rory McIlroy caddie salary? ›

McIlroy earned a cool $18,000,000 for winning the season-long prize, with Diamond expected to have earned $1,800,000 for his role.

Who's the longest hitter on the LPGA Tour? ›

Drive Distance
RankNameDistance
1Yuka Saso271.75
2Nelly Korda264
3Charley Hull262.38
4Brooke Henderson259.75
25 more rows

How far does an average woman golfer hit each club? ›

LPGA vs Beginner Golfer Distances (In Yards)

Driver: 290 yards. 3-wood: 260 yards. 3-iron: 215 yards. 4-iron: 200 yards.

What is the average driving distance for a 70 year old golfer? ›

60-69: 204.5 yards. 70+: 190.4 yards.

Do women's golf scholarships unused? ›

Yes, there are unused girls golf scholarships out there. But not at top universities. In fact the opposite is true! It's incredibly competitive to get recruited, let alone earn a substantial scholarship, to a top university.

Who is the main sponsor of the LPGA Tour? ›

Mizuho Americas is part of the Japan-based Mizuho Financial Group, Inc., a leading provider of financial services with approximately $2 trillion in total assets at the start of this year, and entered a multiyear agreement with the LPGA Tour and Liberty National.

Who finances the LPGA? ›

LPGA Foundation Funding

The LPGA Foundation is funded solely through corporate and private donations, foundation grants, and contributions from the LPGA.

How much did Dustin Johnson get from Liv? ›

The victory capped a monster earnings year for Johnson, by far the biggest winner in the first year of LIV. Including his $18m for winning the season-long individual title, Johnson finished with $35,637,767 in earnings.

Who is the richest pro golfer of all time? ›

Richest Golfers Of All Time
  1. Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods Net Worth in 2022: $800 Million. ...
  2. Arnold Palmer. Arnold Palmer Net Worth in 2022: $700 Million. ...
  3. Greg Norman. Greg Norman Net Worth in 2022: $500 Million. ...
  4. Phil Mickelson. Phil Mickelson Net Worth in 2022: $400 Million. ...
  5. Jack Nicklaus. ...
  6. Gary Player. ...
  7. Rory Mcilroy. ...
  8. Fred Couples.
Nov 14, 2022

Who is considered the greatest female golfer of all time? ›

Annika is often regarded as the greatest female golfer of all-time. During her 15 year, Hall-of-Fame career, she rewrote the LPGA and Ladies European Tour record books, won countless awards, and changed the way women's golf was played, viewed and covered.

Who is the richest female golf? ›

Annika Sorenstam

Who is the highest paid LPGA golfer? ›

Annika Sorenstam

What is the payout for the 2022 Women's Open? ›

The R&A announced that the total prize fund for the AIG Women's Open, played from 4-7 August 2022 at Muirfield, will be USD7. 3 million, a 26% increase on 2021.

What is the average women's tennis salary? ›

The Average Tennis Players Salary

Therefore the median is a more accurate representation, at $22,362. The comparison isn't an exact match for the WTA as there are only 550 female players who earned prize money in 2021. The average earnings for a WTA player were $254,394.55 and the median $75,888.

What is the highest paid female sport? ›

Tennis is one of the few sports in the world with equal prize money between the sexes (at least at Grand Slam level), which is part of the reason the sport has dominated Forbes' list of the highest paid female athletes over the past few years.

Who is the best girl golfer of all time? ›

Annika is often regarded as the greatest female golfer of all-time. During her 15 year, Hall-of-Fame career, she rewrote the LPGA and Ladies European Tour record books, won countless awards, and changed the way women's golf was played, viewed and covered.

Who is the richest female athlete? ›

Naomi Osaka once again tops the list of the highest-paid female athletes in the world, bringing in $51.1 million in 2022, according to Forbes. She's followed by Serena Williams, who earned $41.3 million.

How much does women's U.S. Open runner up make? ›

Whoever ends up hoisting the trophy after the two-week tourney will walk away with $2.6 million, followed by $1.3 million for the runners-up.

How Much Will Emma get for winning the U.S. Open? ›

Teen tennis champion Emma Raducanu is set to receive $2.5 million from her record-breaking U.S. Open victory — a sum more than eight times her previous career earnings.

How much does the Ladies winner of U.S. Open get? ›

$688,000

How many black female golfers are on the LPGA Tour? ›

In the 70 years of the LPGA, there have been eight Black players on tour, with tennis champion Althea Gibson being the first to join in 1964. Today, the 26-year-old Stackhouse is the only Black player on the LPGA Tour with full status.

Has a man ever won an LPGA event? ›

The tournament was played over 72 holes. Snead won by five strokes over future Hall-of-Famer Mickey Wright, making him the only man to win an official LPGA Tour event.

What is the average drive on the LPGA Tour? ›

The average driving distance for a female golfer on the LPGA tour is about 250 yards. These women can hit their 7 iron close to 160 yards.

Which female tennis player is a billionaire? ›

THE heiress to a billionaire's fortune, tennis sensation Jessica Pegula needn't work for a living. But the 28-year-old American star, who faces Victoria Azarenka in the Australian Open quarter-finals, has reached the last eight in four of the last five Grand Slams.

Do losers in tennis get paid? ›

Tennis players get paid even if they lose.

The way the prize money works is that – before a tournament starts – the tournament's organization announces how much money a player will make depending on which round he or she exits the tournament.

How much prize money do tennis players keep? ›

We estimate that players keep anywhere between 55 and 100% of their prize money, with the average amount ranging between 60 – 80%.

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