SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. – Money can’t buy happiness, and it also doesn’t buy major championships.
Lydia Ko, a two-time major winner at the Chevron and Amundi Evian championships, is chasing the third leg of the career Grand Slam at the U.S. Women’s Open. She’ll be competing for a $1.8 million winner’s check, which is part of an all-time high $10 million dollar purse. But Ko says all the money in the world won’t change what it means to win a major title.
“When there's just so much on the line, none of us – I can say none of us are going to think about the money,” Ko said Tuesday about the purse, which doubled from 2021. “I don't think anyone is going to have a putt on the 72nd hole to possibly win and go, ‘Oh, my goodness, if I miss this putt it's like something, something thousand dollars.’”
Making history versus making money. That’s become a hot debate in recent months in the men's game as LIV Golf has reportedly offered the world's best players unprecedented amounts of money to walk away from history-making opportunities on the PGA Tour.
Luckily for the women competing at the U.S. Women’s Open, they won’t need to make that choice. The winner on Sunday will have her name etched in history and take home nearly $2 million in prize money. In 2022, the USGA brought on ProMedica as a presenting sponsor, a first for the championship, which allowed the purse to be doubled and the winner’s check increased.
Like Lydia Ko, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko is chasing the third leg of the career Grand Slam at Pine Needles. For her, the chance to etch her name alongside the game’s greats far outweighs the financial windfalls.
“I don’t care about money because these are majors,” Ko told GolfChannel.com. “I want to get my name on the trophy. It’s a bigger deal than money.”
It's tough to anticipate what the money might someday mean as this is the first time players on the LPGA are competing for such substantial prize money. For their entire careers, they’ve competed for substantially less than their male counterparts in both regular tour stops and major championships. Are the best female players in the world just used to playing for much less? Or does winning a major championship simply mean more to players than padding their bank account?
“At the end of the day, yes, the more zeros are better, but we're all professional athletes and trying to play well in what we do and just having a good time out there,” Lydia Ko said. “And to be able to play for more money doing that is a bonus.”
The USGA has long been a frontrunner in driving the women’s game forward. For years they’ve offered the largest purse in women’s golf, which spurred the other sponsors of the women’s majors – KPMG, Chevron, AIG and Amundi Evian – into raising their prize money to keep pace with the USGA. The CME Group Tour Championship has also joined the race as the season-ending event will offer the largest payday in the women’s game, with a $2 million dollar payout to the winner. Lydia Ko says she is hopeful that the conversation around increased purses won’t just be about the dollar amount they’re playing for but what it means about the future of the women’s game.
“We should be very grateful, but at the same time I think there's still a ways to go, and I'm excited where women's golf and golf is trending,” Lydia Ko said. “For them to believe in women's golf and see women empowerment I think is awesome.”
It is indeed an exciting time for the women’s game. In addition to the higher purses, they’re competing on venues they’ve never played before. The U.S. Women’s Open heads to Pebble Beach in 2023.
Despite the money and the venues, it’s still the priceless gift of getting to add their name to a major trophy that remains the biggest prize of all.
“I don't need to make more money, I want my name on the U.S. Open trophy,” said Jin Young Ko, “and I want history.”
And that is something money can’t buy.