Two top American players say they love the idea behind the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, but they aren’t certain they will play as they wrestle with concerns over how the new tournament is coming together.
Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr both told GolfChannel.com Tuesday that they want to honor the cause, but they have serious issues with how the inaugural Founders Cup was planned and is being structured.
The Founders Cup was created by LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to honor the pioneers who founded the tour and to fund the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf Foundation. The event is scheduled March 18-20 in Phoenix as the first American event on this year’s schedule.
The unique tournament format will feature a $1.3 million “mock purse.” That money is all imaginary.
RR Donnelley isn't putting up the purse, but, instead, is paying tournament operational costs.
Though players will be credited for official money won, they won't actually pocket any real money. The winner will get credit for $195,000 in official money but receive no check. The same applies to every player who makes the cut.
Tournament proceeds, projected to be $500,000, will be donated to the LPGA Foundation.
“I think it’s a great cause to honor the founders, I think it’s something we should have done a while ago, and I think it’s an important event, but I am just really struggling with the structure of it and the format,” said Creamer, the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion.
Creamer said she has no problem donating an entire purse to the LPGA Foundation, but she has an issue with the “mock purse” not equaling the charitable donation while counting toward the money list.
“To have the purse be $1.3 million and the charity not get $1.3 million because it’s imaginary money, I’m having a difficult time with that,” Creamer said. “I don’t understand how a sponsor or company like RR Donnelley, a $10 billion company, can’t be on board to put up prize money equal to what’s given to the charity. I don’t understand how that can happen.
“If we were able to have $1.3 million in real money sitting there, and donate it back, I would be the first one to sign up for this event.”
LPGA officials say the 'mock purse' was set at a level equaling the smallest purses on tour.
While players won’t get paid, the tour will be issuing stipends to cover player and caddie expenses for the week.
Creamer, a First Tee ambassador supporting youth golf, said she has issues with the message the tour is sending to other loyal title sponsors, who put up real money every event.
Kerr, winner of last year’s LPGA Championship, has similar concerns.
“I’m not sure I’m going to play or not,” Kerr told GolfChannel.com via text message. “It’s a great idea but went from concept to an event on the schedule too quickly without enough input from the players.
“It’s turned what was an opportunity into an obligation.
“Credit is due to Mike [Whan] for his vision with this concept, and I am definitely a supporter for an idea like the Founders Cup. I’m an avid fundraiser for different charities, including my own, and I support the idea of helping youth golf and honoring our founders. However, I’m not sure this year’s format accomplishes the objective as outlined to me.”
Creamer said she also has concerns about how she sensed the plan was being pushed through.
“It just happened very fast in how it was put together,” Creamer said.
Whan couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon. When announcing the event, he told reporters he was pleased with the players' overwhelming support of the idea.
According to tour officials, the LPGA already has commitments from Rolex No. 1 Jiyai Shin. Also committed are Na Yeon Choi, Ai Miyazato, Juli Inkster, Brittany Lincicome, Angela Stanford and Christina Kim.
Creamer, Kerr, Michelle Wie, Suzann Pettersen and Morgan Pressel are among players who have not yet committed. Players have until March 8 to commit.
Creamer said in doing her due diligence, she reached out to four of the five living LPGA founders to express her concerns. She said all four founders expressed concerns with elements of the event’s execution.
“I did talk to Paula, and I told Paula the only problem I see is the players won’t be getting any money,” said Marilynn Smith, one of the tour’s founders.
But Smith said she’s strongly behind the event, and that she left a message with Creamer Tuesday encouraging her to play. Whan said earlier this month that Smith cried when she thanked him in a voice mail for creating an event to honor the founders.
Creamer said she’s addressed her concerns with Whan and that she is waiting to learn more about how the tournament’s formation is progressing before committing to play.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell