BETHESDA, MARYLAND | It was a joke, but only a little. Within minutes of the announcement that KPMG and the PGA of America had upped the purse of this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship from $4.5 million to a whopping $9 million with the winner taking home $1.35 million, player dining emptied out and the range and putting green at Congressional Country Club filled up.
“I sent an email out a little bit before the announcement to the players, and I haven't had a chance to go through all of my emails, but I've looked at a few of them, and they have been hysterical,” said LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan. “They've been some 'holy you know what’ and 'oh, my God.' And then someone else said that the news hit while the players were in dining, and all of a sudden, they all scurried out to the range. That was the joke in dining.”
Maybe those players had planned to practice after lunch anyway. But the timing couldn’t help but bring a smile to the faces of those who saw it.
Major championship titles are important, but money certainly helps, especially in the women’s game, which has seen its share of struggles in the last two decades.
“A couple of girls already said to me how amazing it is, and I did know it was coming, but I didn't know it was going to be quite this big,” KPMG ambassador and former Rolex Rankings No.1 Stacy Lewis said on Tuesday afternoon not long after the announced increase became official. “I knew it was going to be big, but not quite this big.”
She wasn’t alone. Bianca Pagdanganan, who got into Bethesda, Maryland on Monday and planned to rest most of Tuesday, read Mollie’s email announcement while lying on the bed in her hotel. Within half an hour, she was on the putting green with her instructor Gary Gilchrist.
Pagdanganan had trouble finding a hole. Within an hour of the announcement going live, 25 players were practicing their strokes with a variety of gadgets, markers and tees littering the large practice green.
“It's amazing,” Lewis said. “I don't know how many times you can say it. KPMG from the start, you know, they raised the bar when they came on board for this championship. It pushed the USGA. It pushed the RNA to step up, and they're doing it again. I don't think they're done is my guess.
“They've always had ideas that have been far ahead of everybody else, so I think there's more coming. I think they're in this for the long haul. We've got some great courses announced for the next four or five (events) now.”
Those include Baltusrol next year and back to Congressional Country Club in 2027, a course that has the players raving.
“This championship is in a great spot,” Lewis said. “And (KPMG) has elevated women's golf. They're going to continue to do it.”
“How cool is it that this on the week of the 50th anniversary of Title IX we can make this amazing announcement,” Marcoux Samaan said. “In 1972 I think the total purse at the LPGA was $972,000. Now the first-place prize (here) is $1,350,000. Pretty remarkable growth. And even in 2021 I think our purses were just over $70 million. Now, in 2022 to be over $97 million is really great.
“This is extremely meaningful but as these guys said, it's more than just the purse. I would say KPMG and PGA of America have been leaders with the LPGA for a number of years, and they've dug in.”
Lewis wasn’t around in 1972 but she does remember a day when the LPGA Tour wasn’t on the strongest footing.
“I think back to 2011 and I think we had 23 events, almost half of those were outside of the United States,” she said. “This current group of players, I don't think they quite realize how lucky we are with the opportunities that we have. I mean, they have come to expect them over the last four or five years, that this setup this week is normal. In our history of the LPGA, this is far from normal.
“So, it's getting those players to understand how lucky we are and how we have to keep working. We have to keep building on this and making sure we're thanking the right people and doing the right things to continue to raise the bar.”
Lewis has become the evangelical leader of the “raise the bar” message among players.
“It’s saying it, saying it, and making sure they hear it over and over and over again,” she said. “You just have to keep putting it out there and getting your veteran players to say that and to realize it. I think it means a lot more coming from your peers than even a commissioner or somebody on tour coming in and telling you. I think your peers telling you how things used to be and how lucky we are, it means a lot more.”
Hearing it from a veteran with the gravitas of Lewis is important. But the words of a commissioner who cares doesn’t hurt either.
“I think from our perspective we wake up every day trying to think about how we provide the environment for the best players in the world to reach their peak performance and play at their best,” Marcoux Samaan said. “That's a tremendous commitment. The players feel that and care about that. We are confident that they'll have that this week.”