NAPLES, Fla. – The Race to the CME Globe is like the lottery – you got to be in it to win it. And this year, each of the 60 players who tee it up Thursday at the Tiburón Resort in the CME Group Tour Championship can win the $1.5 million first prize – the largest in the history of women’s golf.
In the past, you needed a calculator, an abacus and perhaps those women from the movie Hidden Figures to calculate who was going to win the CME bonus. Not anymore. Thanks to some bold changes, the season-ending event has one winner, one impressive purse and one spectacular prize for finishing first.
In the past, finishing on top of the Race to the CME Globe points list gave the player a leg up on the season-ending bonus. This year, being No. 1 gets you a couple hours extra sleep by getting a later tee time.
Under the old format, in which points were reset going into the Tour Championship, there was the awkward possibility of two winners – one for the Tour Championship and one for the Race to the CME Globe bonus. In fact, in five years it happened four times.
The first year of the CME bonus was 2014 and Lydia Ko made the math easy by winning both the tournament and what was then a $1 million bonus. In 2015, Ko again won the bonus but Cristie Kerr won the Tour Championship.
The next year, Ariya Jutanugarn captured the CME bonus while Charley Hull took the Tour Championship. Lexi Thompson won the bonus in 2017 while Jutanugarn took the tournament and last year Jutanugarn took the bonus again while this time Thompson won the tournament.
Pretty confusing, eh? Well, no more. Last year, the move was made to bump the total purse up to $5 million and make first place $1.5 million. And to make things really easy to understand, the top 60 on the points list qualified for the tournament and, with the elimination of the points reset, anyone in the field could win the big prize.
The overwhelming feeling among the players and most observers is that the changes are for the better, adding to the intensity of the tournament. Even Jin Young Ko, who leads the money list by more than $700,000 but could be passed by someone as far down the list as No. 10 Danielle Kang, likes the change.
“It's fine, because that is a really great motivation to me so I will keep [playing] harder, even more keep harder,” she said. “So, we will be fine. I'm fine.”
While some have groused that those who worked hard all year to get to the top of the points list get the short end of the stick because of the reset, the vast majority like the excitement created by the new format.
“I love it,” Golf Channel commentator and 26-time LPGA winner Judy Rankin said Wednesday.
“The players have known this is the format all along,” Rankin said. “I equate it to the fans who say, ‘When does the everywoman get a shot at the big check,’” said Rankin, who notes that her first LPGA winner’s prize in 1968 was $1,875. “I find it very exciting.”
Placed into the broader context of the movement toward pay equity between women and men in sports, the $1.5 million first prize takes a place next to the inaugural Aon Risk Reward Challenge in which Brooks Koepka and Carlota Ciganda each earned $1 million this year for overall performance on designated holes during the course of the season.
The Aon bonus was the first time both men and women competed for an equal prize of that magnitude in golf. Certainly, the $1 million Aon prize coupled with the $1.5 million CME winner’s share hint at an extremely positive trend in women’s golf.
“When you look at Carlota and the way she reacted to winning the $1 million for the Aon Challenge and this, there’s a feeling of respect,” said Karen Stupples, a Golf Channel commentator and winner of the 2004 Women’s British Open.
“They feel valued,” Stupples said of the attitude players have to the influx of prize money. “And everyone should feel value in the workplace.”
One of those who likely feels valued is Stacy Lewis, who finished No. 60 on the Race to the CME Globe points list and is No. 62 on the LPGA money list at $314,163. If she wins the Tour Championship, she’d nearly quintuple her winnings and could finish as high as No. 3 on the money list.
And that’s what makes the CME Group Tour Championship special. It can be a life-changing event for a player and it already is an industry-shaping tournament in women’s golf. Fifty years after man first walked on the moon, the Race to the CME Globe will be one small step for a woman and one giant leap for women’s golf.