Women don’t measure up.
They aren’t as talented, skilled or exciting as the men who do what they do.
They aren’t good enough.
That’s the message women in sport get hammered with after choosing to become professional athletes.
What else are they to conclude when they look at the bottom line measured to evaluate their worth in the workplace?
There isn’t a single woman among Forbes’ list of the top 100 paid athletes in the world this year.
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said he felt proud sifting through his tour’s money list while flying back from the Asian swing late last season, as he counted up 17 of his pros with money winnings over $1 million. That was a substantial increase from back when he was hired before the start of the 2010 season.
“My first year, we had two,” Whan said. “I was all excited until, of course, I Googled the PGA Tour.”
Whan counted 98 PGA Tour pros above $1 million in earnings for the season.
Women are less deserving.
They aren’t equals.
They don’t draw the gate, the TV audiences or the media interest the men do.
They’re inferior that way.
That’s the paradigm that looms as the last but most formidable challenge Whan seeks to overcome in his reign as the tour’s leader.
It’s the Goliath on his list of foes yet to vanquish.
Whan gets so many high marks in what he has achieved in his nine years as commissioner, but he is frustrated over the financial disparities his players still face as athletes.
“I feel like we can’t talk about having truly turned the LPGA around, and about being in a great position, until we fix that part,” Whan said.
This Goliath won’t go down with a single stone.
Whan needs allies to help bring down the giant, a towering sexist attitude that lingers from more backward times, with biases still ingrained.
Yes, women don’t draw the gate, TV audiences and media interest the men do, but they’re still climbing out of the ancient hole they started in, still battling thinking that limits views of what is possible.
There have been spectacular breakthroughs for females in sport, where the attention paid to women surpassed the men. The U.S. Open women’s tennis final drew more TV viewers in the United States than the men’s final did five times in this decade. The excitement the U.S. women’s soccer team has created at the World Cup stands as another example of what’s possible. So do Korean women in golf, whose popularity helps the women’s majors draw larger TV ratings than all the other men’s majors televised in South Korea, including the Masters.
More and more, women in golf are talking about the gender pay gap in their sport, not just in the prize money offered, but in endorsement opportunities. The tone ranges from frustration to anger to resignation.
“The income gap in golf is as much a concern to me as the corporate income gap is to working women,” two-time major champion Stacy Lewis wrote in an essay for the World Economic Forum earlier this year.
The issue is more and more on the mind of Hall of Famer and U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster.
“It’s not like I’m a feminist, but I’m just trying to change the culture,” Inkster said. “I just don't understand how all these companies get away with supporting PGA Tour events and not supporting the LPGA. It makes me a little upset, because I think we've got a great product. We deserve our due.”
Whan relished trumpeting a breakthrough last week at the CME Group Tour Championship. He reveled announcing one of his greatest allies was stepping up in historic fashion. CME Group CEO Terry Duffy upped the ante in women’s golf, doubling his tournament purse to $5 million and raising the first-place check to $1.5 million, the largest in the history of women’s golf.
That’s greater than the winner’s check in 33 of 47 PGA Tour events.
The hope last week was as much in Duffy’s words as in his actions, in his belief that his commitment will inspire other title sponsors to follow his lead.
“Why not other corporations?” Duffy said. “What I want to do is get others thinking, that hopefully purses will go up ... We want to be trailblazers.”
PGA Tour pros are playing for $340 million in prize money this year.
LPGA pros played for $67 million.
Yes, the PGA Tour draws a lot more eyeballs in the United States and Europe than the LPGA today, and that’s a bottom line consideration for corporations choosing to title sponsor. It’s a cold, hard business reality, but it’s also a shortsighted business strategy.
A purse ought to reflect more than the business value of a golf event. It ought to reflect the investment value of a business opportunity, in the potential of the people who present an event.
An LPGA event is a growth opportunity.
The purse is seed money.
It’s time for corporate America to wipe its eyes of old, limiting attitudes, to see through the fog of past prejudices and glimpse a clearer vision of what women continue to become.
The women’s tour is already more global than the men’s tour, more popular in Asia than the men’s tours. The women’s game is deeper than it’s ever been, with 26 different winners this year, with five different major championship winners from five different countries. The fastest growing segment of golf today is the girls’ game, as reflected in the staggering growth of the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program.
Whan sees all his title sponsors as allies. It doesn’t matter how small the purse, he’s grateful for the commitment made signing up with the LPGA. You will never hear him trying to shame an ally into more, but he loves the idea that Duffy’s big move may inspire greater commitment.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Terry's move will impact others,” Whan said. “Why? Because I'll give you the [2019 LPGA] schedule in a couple weeks and you'll see. I think the reality of it is that Terry’s not alone in his desire to continue to see the women's stake get moved forward, as it relates to what we're playing for.”
The shame in all of this isn’t really the disparity at the top of the men’s and women’s games. It’s down on the bubble, among players struggling to keep their tour cards.
It’s a lot more difficult for a fledgling female pro to keep pursuing her childhood dream than it is a male pro.
The LPGA player who finished 100th on her tour’s money list this year made $113,220. The PGA Tour player who finished 100th on his tour’s money list made $1.2 million.
“If you're one of the best 50, 60 or 120 in your sport, at a level that's televised around the world, you shouldn't need a rich uncle to help you cover travel expenses for the year,” Whan said.
Goliath may not go down anytime soon as Whan’s last great opponent, but he’s collecting more than one smooth stone in his effort to slay the giant. He can thank CME Group and the other LPGA allies investing in the future of women for that.