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LPGA announces CME overhaul: $5 million purse; points system scrapped at finale

Lexi Thompson at the 2018 CME Group Tour Championship
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NAPLES, Fla. – CME Group CEO Terry Duffy is seriously upping the ante in the women’s game.

He’s teaming with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to overhaul the Race to the CME Globe with the aim of making the season-ending Tour Championship richer, more dramatic and easier to follow.

Duffy said it’s really about a larger aim to elevate women to a more equitable standing in sport.

“Terry just moved the stick,” Whan said in a news conference Tuesday at the Ritz Carlton’s beach resort in Naples. “It’s a game-changing moment for the LPGA.”

The overhaul begins next year with the CME Group Tour Championship’s purse doubled to $5 million. That’s more than the prize money offered in five PGA Tour events and nearly as much as the purse at the PGA Tour’s venerable Desert Classic ($5.9 million).

Since its inception in 2014, the Race to the CME Globe’s season-long points race has ended with $1 million going to the winner. That bonus will be eliminated next year. Instead, all the money will be poured into the Tour Championship’s purse, raising the tournament’s first-place check to $1.5 million, the richest in the history of the women’s game. That’s more than the winner’s check in 33 of the PGA Tour’s 47 events.

“I'm a big proponent of equality,” Duffy said. “I have a very balanced management team between women and men. I think it is best generated from those ideas, and I make sure there is equal pay for equal jobs. So, I'm very much in favor of that.”

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LPGA pros have grown more outspoken in recent years over the differences in prize money and endorsement opportunities in the men’s game. PGA Tour pros played for $340 million in total prize money last season. The LPGA is playing for $67 million this year. Ariya Jutanugarn is the LPGA’s leading money winner in 2018 with $2.67 million in earnings. She would have ranked 41st on the PGA Tour's earnings list last season.

The Race to the CME Globe overhaul goes beyond money. It’s also about trying to heighten drama by simplifying the season-ending competition.

The CME Globe’s season-long points race will continue under the new format, but it will only be used to determine the field for the Tour Championship. The top 60 in points at the end of the regular season will qualify for the Tour Championship; that's 12 fewer than this year’s 72-player format.

The points will be scrapped at The Tour Championship. The season finale will be played like a regular stroke-play event, with every player in the field eligible to win the $1.5 million first-place check. 

Whan said the simplified format wasn’t a reaction to the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup overhaul but something that has been in the works since last year.

“The new Race to the CME Globe is easier to understand and easier to follow, and, quite frankly, it’s a huge win,” Whan said. “At the end of the day, any player can look at the leaderboard at any time and know where she stands, because that's what she has done the 33 weeks before that.  Makes it pretty simple.”  

Duffy said he is hopeful other LPGA title sponsors will be inspired to follow CME Group’s lead and raise purses.

“We want to be a little bit of a trailblazer,” Duffy said. 

Whan said the CME Globe overhaul was all Duffy’s idea.

“He is the only sponsor I know that called me and said, `I think it's time we set a higher mark for women in women's golf,’” Whan said. “This announcement is really about setting a new standard in women's golf.”