In a series of calls with LPGA Tour and Epson Tour players as well as members of the media on Wednesday, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan outlined broad revisions in how the LPGA will treat the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
The biggest changes involve player status and qualifying. Pursuant to the goals of presenting as many playing opportunities as possible while being fair to everyone in this abbreviated season, the LPGA Tour will essentially freeze players’ status in 2020, with that status carried into 2021. This is because players will not be given the season they earned through their 2019 results.
The 2020 season will be considered official. Winners on both Tours will earn winner’s category placement for the 2021 season, if that improves their ranking on the Priority List. For example, Hee Young Park moved from Category 14 to Category 4 following her victory in February 2020 at the ISPS Handa Vic Open, an improvement of 33 positions. But rookies in 2020 will remain rookies in 2021 even though the 2020 season will officially conclude with the CME Group Tour Championship in December.
“We will have official wins, players can shuffle into a winner category, they can play their way into the (Diamond Resorts) Tournament of Champions in Orlando, but we feel players were not given the season that they earned in '19 for '20,” Whan said. “They might have some version of a '20 season. But they don't have a full season to perform under the categories they earned coming into the year. And not knowing exactly when we'll play, what will happen with travel restrictions; knowing that there will still be changes, we really felt that the right thing to do was make sure that while COVID-19 is going to affect 2020 for everybody, it shouldn't affect your career. And you shouldn't find yourself back trying to play your way onto a Tour when you probably didn't get a chance to play your way on or off a Tour in the first place. You'll essentially have the same priority position in '21 that you had walking into '20.
“There are a couple of exceptions,” Whan said. “You could have winners who could shuffle ahead of you or you could be a winner and shuffle ahead. And you could have people coming back from medical (exemptions) who return and step in front of you. But, plus or minus a couple of points, you're probably going to walk into (2021) with the same (status) that you had before.
“You can play '20; you can win; you can come back from medicals, maternities, that kind of thing, but generally speaking, outside of wins, you'll likely be starting 2021 with your 2020 starting place.”
Also, the first and second stages of LPGA Q School, traditionally held in the fall, and the Q Series sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, originally scheduled for November at Pinehurst Resort, will not be held in 2020.
The LPGA Tour will also suspend all pre-tournament qualifying for the remainder of 2020. Fields will be set prior to the week of competition.
As for the Epson Tour, Whan said, “We think the Epson Tour is going to be a much smaller tour in 2020. We're really targeting 10 tournaments this year and not the 20 or so (tournaments) we thought (we would have) walking into the year. If Epson plays eight or more events (in 2020), we'll offer the top five finishers LPGA status in '21, but not the status they would normally see playing a full year. They'd be probably like 190 to 200 on (the LPGA) Tour, which will maybe get them into an event or two but having status if they get a sponsor invite or if they play in a Monday qualifier. If they get into an event, they'll play as a member and could reshuffle onto the LPGA Tour (in 2021).”
While players have been understanding and cooperative, Whan recognizes the challenges these changes present to the larger golf community.
“I know for college kids who want to go to Q School this year, this is terrible news,” Whan said. “I think for most Epson Tour players who wanted to play their way (off the Epson Tour and onto the LPGA Tour), it's terrible news. I'm sure LPGA players who didn't like (their status) entering '20 still won’t like their priority entering '21. But it takes a lot of the anxiety off the table about what is or isn't going to happen in 2020.”