The LPGA is studying the possibility of more than just a change to its Monday qualifier rules as a benefit to non-members.
Commissioner Mike Whan told GolfChannel.com that he also is exploring the possibility of changing tour rules so that money won in elite events like the U.S. Open, the Evian Masters and the Canadian Women’s Open will start counting as non-member earnings for players trying to earn their tour cards. No changes, however, are planned this year.
Under current rules, non-members whose winnings would have ranked among the top 80 on the money list at year’s end are eligible for tour membership, but there’s a catch. Only money won in “LPGA co-sponsored domestic tournaments with fields of 75 or more” counts in the calculation of non-member money winnings.
The U.S. Open isn’t a co-sponsored event. As foreign events, the Evian and Canadian Women’s Open don’t count. They haven’t counted in the past because the LPGA’s governing body believed their large purses skewed earnings. The belief was that it was unfair that a non-member could have one strong performance in an entire year and earn tour membership.
If a change were made to non-member money calculation, Whan would also consider lowering the top-80 money ranking as the non-member cutoff for tour membership. For example, non-members might be required to finish among the top 50 or top 40 or top 30 in the future to earn tour membership.
Calculation of non-member money winnings became an issue last year with speculation mounting that 15-year-old Lexi Thompson would petition for a waiver of LPGA age restrictions and seek membership based off money won in 2010. Bobby Kreusler, Thompson’s agent, called it “ludicrous” that three of the most important events on the LPGA schedule don’t count for non-member earnings.
Thompson made $336,472 last year in LPGA events. As a tour member, that would have ranked 34th on the money list. As a non-member, she only got credit for $21,362 because the bulk of her money was won at the U.S. Open, Evian Masters and the Canadian Women’s Open. That would have ranked 129th on the money list as a non-member.
Where Thompson would have ranked on the money list ultimately didn’t matter as she never petitioned for tour membership, but the rules were part of the discussions Thompson’s camp had with Whan this winter.
“I was looking at that way before I knew who Lexi Thompson was,” Whan said. “In her case, it’s irrelevant. Regardless how she does in 2011, if she would come back and petition at the end of 2011, she would still be an underage non-member. It really wouldn’t matter to me, nor to our regulations, what money she earned. It’s irrelevant before she’s 18.”