LPGA Players Past and Present Explain the Importance of Conversations with LIV

While it may have shocked many when they heard LPGA Commissioner Molly Marco Semaan say she was going to speak to LIV Golf, Annika Sorenstam thought it was the right call. As did Julie Inkster.

These LPGA legends understand one important point: If Greg Norman and LIV Golf aim to create a competition tour similar to what they did for the men’s game, it will destroy the LPGA, the longest-running professional women’s sports organization in continuous operation in the United States.

“I think if Norman did that, it would completely destroy the PGA,” Inkster said, “because I think most girls would go, just because the money would change the rules of the game.”

As the best in the women’s game meet at historic Muirfield for the first time this week, they will battle it out for a $6.8 million purse. This season, the LPGA will play for a total of $97 million, nearly a fifth of the amount of money as the PGA Tour. LIV Golf announced last week that its players will compete for $405 million in 2023 across 14 events.

With a schedule made entirely of field-limited and unspecified tournaments, even a fraction of that would be enough to attract plenty of big-name LPGA players to the LIV Women’s League. Not to mention the possibility of signing bonuses.

“I hope we survive it,” former top seed Stacey Lewis said. “I am afraid of this round. I am afraid of losing all the opportunities we created.”

Greg Norman, CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf, looks on from the first starting point during the final round of the LIV Golf Championship at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. (Soobum Im / USA TODAY Sports)

Sorenstam believes the Commissioner’s job is to listen to potential opportunities, and that includes LIV. Since the LPGA is part of a 50-50 joint venture business with the Women’s European Tour, a partnership already exists with the Saudi-backed Aramco chain, which features prize money three to four times a typical event on that tour, totaling $6 million.

Sorenstam, a 10-time Grand Prix winner and 72-time LPGA winner, looks at the rival league formed in the men’s game and sees the need for a more LPGA-friendly version.

“If the money they have is in LIV, you know they are going to crush the LPGA,” Sorenstam said. “We hope they have the intent to develop the game and work with the LPGA.

“Crushing the LPGA doesn’t do anyone any good, from a history, future, and sustainable perspective. There’s a lot of negativity about this. I think we need to find a way somehow to have a positive image with all of this, if you know what I mean.”

It is not an exaggeration to imagine the LPGA being forced to decide between getting into business with the Saudis in a big way – or utterly decimating it.

While there have been calls for talks with LIV officials, it’s not clear exactly what the talking points might be – there are many ways all of this could change it. An independent competition tour that hunts down dozens of top players would cripple the LPGA. Alternatively, a series of official Saudi-backed LPGA events is one possible way the two could work together, such as the Aramco Team Series on LET. It’s impossible to know what LIV wants, of course, without having a conversation.

What seems unlikely, however, is that the major players will band together to support the Saudis in principle.

“I think you have a bunch that feel the same way as me,” Lewis said. “I think you have a majority asking, ‘What is the number? ”

“Should we talk to them? Absolutely. In the end, I think we have to find a way to coexist.”

Critics of LIV often point to the widespread human rights violations that Saudi Arabia is accused of, including politically motivated killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Members of the royal family and the Saudi government have been accused of involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a columnist for the Washington Post.

How can a women’s organization reconcile doing business with a system that has such an appalling record of human rights abuses, especially towards women?

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons why we’re entering into a partnership, to be able to make a difference,” Sorenstam said.

Marco Semaan said Golf Week In the past week I did not have a conversation with LIV, and it is too early to speculate on the outcome or potential options.

“We’ve been breaking barriers for a long time,” said Marco Semaan. “I think we always step back from our values ​​and goals before making a decision.”

Phachara Khongwatmai wears the 18th green during the opening round of the LIV Golf Invitational at The Centurion Club near London in June. (Chris Troutman/Liv Golf/Getty Images)

A voluntary round meeting was held last month at the Dow Great Bay Lakes Invitational to discuss the potential threat from LIV, among other things, and only a few dozen players attended.

Nancy Lopez has always been concerned about the LPGA. As a debutante in 1978, she was convinced the LPGA would close the pay gap. Still baffled by the fact that there continues to be such a large gap between rounds, it’s even more baffled than there might be on the horizon.

“I’m a very loyal person,” Lopez said when asked what she would have done in her prime if faced with the prospect of piles of cash.

“It would be hard to say ‘No, I don’t want money,’ but God it would be really hard to quit LPGA. It would just eat me.”

Lopez thought she would retire from the LPGA after giving birth to her first daughter, Ashley, but the competition was still there, and she needed the money.

“The money I made was good,” Lopez said, “but it won’t keep me until I’m 93 and need to pay someone to look after me one day.”

While the PGA Tour has the best retirement plan in the sport, an LPGA pension ensures that most will need a second career.

With many PGA Tour players talking about going to the LIV to make a fortune for generations, think about what it would mean for an LPGA player to play five more years and then retire to start a family without having to worry about money.

For some, continuing to chase major titles and Hall of Fame points pales in comparison to kids and financial security.

Jessica Korda, Alexandra Olloulin, Caroline Lambert and Lena Bockvist

Jessica Korda, Alexandra Olloulin, Caroline Lambert and Lena Bockvist, the Aramco Team Series winners (Photo courtesy of Team Aramco Series)

Saudi activist Omaima Al-Najjar said there is no denying the fact that conditions for women have improved in recent years, although she stresses that the right to drive and the right to travel are basic basic rights and not a sign of much progress.

“It is important to remind the women participating in this tour, that the Saudi women activists who made these changes are still on trial, being prosecuted, banned from activism and banned from travel,” Al-Najjar said.

Al-Najjar, now a surgical doctor living in Ireland, was a prominent blogger who co-authored the campaign in Saudi Arabia and fled when she felt the stakes were too great. It’s still too dangerous for her to come back now.

Al-Najjar is the head of ALQST campaigns for human rights, documenting prison conditions and demanding the release of activists.

Al-Najjar wants players to talk not just about activists, but about the conditions of many migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. Al-Najjar said the women come from developing countries to work in the kingdom as maids and their passports are often confiscated as they are forced to work seven days a week without a fixed schedule, “a kind of slavery.”

Meanwhile, Saudi-born women are fleeing the country, despite recent reforms to the kingdom’s lack of safe homes for victims of domestic violence.

Al-Najjar said, “There is a case of women killing in Saudi Arabia, a lot of husbands kill their wives or a lot of fathers kill their daughters, and the Saudi authorities do not do much about it.”

These are the issues that Al-Najjar hopes LPGA players who compete in Saudi Arabia will speak out against, even if it means a financial loss.

“It is important that you make such a statement, and stand by Saudi women,” she said.

2022 Saudi Aramco International for Women

Georgia Hall poses with the trophy after winning the 2022 Saudi Aramco International Women’s Race at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. (Women’s European Tour)

Few have dated LPGA so diligently and passionately as Ron Sirak, the 2015 PGA Lifetime Award winner in the press. For those wondering how the LIV Golf differs from LET’s Aramco series or players who wear Saudi Golf logos on their caps and T-shirts, Sirak said it’s important Learn the difference between sponsoring a tournament and owning a tour. Much like there is a difference in sponsoring and owning a player.

“I think this is a difficult situation for the LPGA to know about its relationship to the people who want to fund it,” Sirak said. Will the Tour support them and the LPGA still be an independent entity? Or will it be owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund? ”

Given the Saudis’ seemingly endless supply of money and their lack of interest in market value – this appears to be more about power and image – the LPGA is not in a position to throw money at a potential threat, and therefore has little leverage.

LPGA veteran Ryann O’Toole believes the PGA Tour made a mistake by not partnering with LIV Golf. If what Norman says is true, and LIV plans to build a women’s league, O’Toole would like to see the LPGA work with them so players don’t have to choose.

“I think it would be a great opportunity to take advantage of, say, the possibility of having some great financial opportunities, and to come together as two organisations, as opposed to having two separate organisations,” O’Toole said.

Whatever happens, it is important that Marcoux Samaan maintains a sustainable model, even if the Saudis decide to abruptly withdraw from the golf business. One, even if the LPGA takes a financial hit, it will still survive.

Imagine if the Saudis – a country widely said to have a 49 per cent gender pay gap – became the first to pay elite male and female golfers on an equal footing. or even close.

Maria Vasey, whose agency, GSE, said a number of LIV clients include Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Paula Casey, Jason Kokrak, Brendan Grace, Abraham Ancer and Carlos Ortiz.

“Whatever they come in and offer me, $10 million, $20 million, 15, 7, whatever, it’s money that 99 percent of the girls here don’t see.”

And for many, where the money comes from may not ultimately matter.

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