NAPLES, Fla. – CME Group CEO Terry Duffy put his company’s money where its mouth is this past week.
He’s a champion for women and equal rights, and he showed it is more than something he believes in as an ideal. The $1.5 million winner’s check he put in play at the Tour Championship – the largest payday in the history of women’s golf – gave the LPGA equal footing in golf, for at least a day, his shining day at Tiburon Golf Club.
That paycheck was larger than the winner’s check in 32 of 46 PGA Tour events this past season.
That’s a staggering feat given the giant overall difference in the men’s and women’s game, with the PGA Tour’s total prize and bonus money ($414 million) almost six times greater than that of the LPGA ($71 million).
This past week may well be remembered as a sort of friendly offensive in the women’s game, with its best and brightest advancing against corporate sports marketing inequities in a bonhomous siege. There was ground won at Tiburon in both word and deed.
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan delivered a compelling argument for closing the gender pay gap in women’s sport in his annual state of the tour address this past week, words that landed as both a challenge to corporate America and as gratitude to Duffy and other LPGA sponsors who are standing up as champions for women in sport.
“Live your values,” Whan said. “If you’re going to say something is a value, it has to be involved in everything you do.
“I’ve had this conversation with a lot of CEOs. Some like it and some hate it. Don’t call it a value statement unless you’re going to hold that mirror up to everything. You can’t just decide it’s a value statement, and it really works for this employee meeting, but it doesn’t work for this marketing meeting. Or, it doesn’t work for this sponsorship discussion. If that’s what is important to you as a leader, then it needs to be important to you in everything you do.”
Now that’s a general with his saber drawn while leading an uphill charge.
That’s the father of three sons and about 200 LPGA daughters.
To understand the power in those words, you have to understand Whan is as skillful an accommodator as there is in all of sport. He leads with servanthood-style leadership. As one of the best salesmen in golf, he is the LPGA’s greatest asset. He will cringe at this notion, but he rebuilt the tour on the strength of his trustworthiness, on the idea that you can’t have a better partner than the LPGA.
That’s what made the challenge he issued to corporate America so powerful this past week.
Whan took off his salesman’s cap and put on his commissioner’s helmet in Naples.
Knowing there are so many companies who sponsor men in sport and don’t fund women in sport emboldens Whan more than it frustrates him. It tells him a lot of companies don’t see the mixed message they send in their pledge to honor women in the workplace. They don’t see how their marketing budgets don’t align with their stated values.
“I can tell you that 95 percent of companies disagree with me, evidently,” Whan said. “But I do think it’s coming. I’ve met investors in the last four years, mega-investors, that will only invest now in companies that have these kind of values reflected in everything they do.”
Whan trumpets partners like Duffy and CME, like KPMG and Aon and so many more in his sponsorship ranks.
The beauty of this past week is how Whan’s players stepped up in word and deed, too. They added a nice new chapter to their “Drive On” campaign.
“I understand we’re in an entertainment business,” LPGA veteran Amy Olson said. “But it’s not that we have half the eyes on us, so we only get half the pay. It’s more disproportionate than that. It’s extremely disproportionate. There are so many companies that spend millions of dollars on the men and not a dime on women. That’s probably where we’re coming from in our thinking.
“We aren’t asking for the same paycheck as the men, because they do have more eyes on them than we do, but it should be more proportionate.”
Two-time major champion Stacy Lewis took a strong stand in Naples, pointing out that women in golf make roughly 17 percent of what men make.
“This is significantly behind what women are making in the workplace in 2019,” she wrote in a first-person article for Golfweek. “According to the latest report from Payscale.com, women make on average 79 cents to every dollar earned by a man. I’m not writing this to complain; I’m writing this to make you aware. I believe this topic needs to be talked about more and not be one we all shy away from because it is uncomfortable. It is the truth. Let’s talk about the truth.”
God bless Sei Young Kim, Charley Hull, Danielle Kang, Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson.
They made the week’s gentle siege all the more relevant turning the CME Group Tour Championship’s finish into such dramatic theater.
Sei Young Kim’s 25-foot birdie putt at the last to win the $1.5 million paycheck was as clutch as you’ll ever see, but she had co-stars making Sunday’s finish riveting theater. It’s as if the game’s best players raised the level of their games to match how CME Group was raising the bar in prize money.
It’s as if the women were crying out, “Hey, we’re worth the investment! This is what we can deliver!”
This writer ended the day riding an elevator with UL International Crown CEO Keith Williams, another leader living his values with his investment in the women’s game.
“You couldn’t have scripted Sunday’s finish any better,” Williams said.