The clock is slowly ticking towards midnight for the Smiling Cinderella on her decision to join the LPGA Tour. By November 18th, Hinako Shibuno will have to submit notice to the LPGA if she wants to become a Tour member for the 2020 season. As Shibuno returns to play on the LPGA Tour for the first time since her victory at the AIG Women’s British Open, here are her options as the deadline is three weeks away.
Can Shibuno become a member for the remainder of the 2019 season?
In short, not likely. When Shibuno won in England, she had five days to tell the LPGA she would like to become a Tour member for the 2019 season. She declined membership then.
If Shibuno finds the winner’s circle this week at the Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA presented by CTBC, once again she can become a Tour member for the remainder of the year. She would not gain any CME points for the victory this week, so she could only earn up to 500 CME points. That’d require a victory at the TOTO Japan Classic as an LPGA Tour member but the 500 points would not be enough to get Shibuno into the CME Group Tour Championship, as Madelene Sagstrom sits in the final CME position heading into this week at 651 points.
A potential victory would present only one more opportunity for Shibuno to play as an LPGA Tour member, and she is already into the TOTO Japan Classic field in via a JLPGA exemption. And if she accepted immediate LPGA Tour membership following any win in the next two weeks, her rookie season would officially be 2019.
If Shibuno takes membership off a win, she can pack her bags for the 2020 and 2021 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. Her victory as a non-member allows her to play, as long as she is an LPGA Tour member by the start of the 2020 season.
If Shibuno Accepts Membership at the Deadline
The likely path for Shibuno to join the LPGA Tour is notifying the LPGA before the CME Group Tour Championship that she plans to become a member for the 2020 season. Shibuno would start her rookie season in Category 7 on the LPGA Tour Priority list. Category 7 is for non-member wins, which she would stay in for only the 2020 season. If she had that status at the start of the 2019 season, that would have put Shibuno at 94th on the priority list, giving her starts at most LPGA Tour events.
Accepting membership does not mean Shibuno has to commit to a full LPGA Tour schedule. She would be required to play in a minimum of 10 LPGA Tour events, along with finish in the top 100 on the money list to retain her card. Her major victory lets her play in all five majors from 2020-2024 regardless of status, along with the HSBC Women’s World Championship.
Similar to her taking LPGA Tour membership after another win in 2019, her victory at the AIG Women’s British Open presents the same opportunity of playing at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. As long as she’s a member by the time the tournament begins, she will have a spot in the Diamond Resorts field in 2020 and 2021 thanks to her major victory.
Her opportunities to retain her LPGA Tour card for 2021 would be the same as everyone else. She would keep it if she finishes in the top 150 on the 2020 money list, with better status if she finishes in the top 100. She’d also be able to retain it with a victory during the 2020 season.
If Shibuno Declines Membership at the Deadline
If Shibuno decides to remain in Japan for 2020, she does not have to do anything but let the membership deadline pass. Shibuno will still have opportunities to play on the LPGA Tour if she declines her membership. Her victory at the 2019 AIG Women’s British Open will get her into all five majors and the HSBC Women’s World Championship. She would play those as a non-member. In addition, Shibuno would have up to 6 sponsor invites she can use to play in LPGA Tour events.
All the money she earns in events with a cut can present Shibuno a path to 2021 membership. If she finishes the 2020 season with earnings that would be equivalent to the top 40 on the LPGA Tour official money list from what she earns in events with a cut, then she can earn status in 2021. As an example, if she got into the Toto Japan Classic next year via the JLPGA, the money would not count towards that total, as the tournament doesn’t have a cut. Shibuno’s earnings from the AIG Women’s British Open Victory of $625,000 would put her, as of now, at 27th on the official money list for 2019.
Because she would not be an LPGA Tour member, Shibuno would not be eligible to earn CME points and couldn’t play her way into the CME Group Tour Championship. She also would not be able to play in the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
Otherwise, her two other avenues to membership are what every other LPGA Tour player has available. If Shibuno remains in the top 75 in the world, she can go straight to Q-Series and finish in the top 45 and ties there for status.
Or, the smiling Cinderella can enchant us all with winning another event.