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Whan sees strength in growth, not gap, of LPGA prize money

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer

Every week brings a sobering reminder of how much more money the men play for on the PGA Tour than the women do on the LPGA Tour.

With four tournaments left in the LPGA Tour season, Danielle Kang became the 11th player to break the $1 million mark. The PGA Tour had 112 players earn at least $1 million last season. Already nine players have made at least $1 million through six PGA Tour events this season.

Mike Whan brought a different perspective Tuesday at the LPGA Tour's new BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea.

Prize money for the women is growing at a rate Whan didn't think possible when he took over as commissioner in 2010. It's also growing for the men.

"Not sure if we have closed the gap, even though we are playing for dramatically more money," Whan said. "When I started, we were playing for just over $40 million and now we're playing for over $70 million. But the fact is, the men's (prize money) has grown as well. As a result, I don't want to be depressed by that. I think when golf and golf purses are growing for men and women, that's a good opportunity."

The LPGA Tour had 24 events and official prize money of $41.4 million in 2010. Whan said it had only one tournament with a purse of $3 million or more. This season, it had 32 official events and $70.2 million in prize money, an increase of 70%. Five tournaments had prize money of $3 million or more.

The PGA Tour had 46 official events in 2010 and 2019, and prize money grew from $310.1 million (including $35 million in FedEx Cup bonuses) to $413.6 million (including $60 million from the FedEx Cup and $10 million from the Wyndham Rewards). That's an increase of 33%.

Whan still has his eye on the gap, and he knows that closing it will take time.

"I have not had to be too loud about closing the gap because society has taken that banner for me," he said. "Almost all of my sponsors, almost all of my tournaments, almost all of the people that help lift the LPGA are interested in lifting those purses and equalizing that difference, as well.

"But the reality of it is we have grown significantly, and the gap is about the same."

Arnold Palmer is getting his own stamp.

Three years after Palmer died, the U.S. Postal Service said Tuesday it would recognize the King as part of its 2020 stamp program. The Postal Service says Palmer's drive and charisma "helped transform a game once seen as a pastime for the elite into a sport enjoyed by the masses."

The stamp features James Drake's photo of Palmer in the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional. It will be a Forever stamp, meaning it will always have equal value to the current first-class mail price. The Postal Service will announce later when the Palmer stamp will be issued.

"To have my father celebrated in this way is a true honor," said Amy Saunders, Palmer's daughter and chairwoman of the Arnold & Winnie Palmer Foundation. "It's something I think he would be proud of as both an individual and as an American, and it's a wonderful way to preserve his legacy."

Palmer's career took off at about the time television arrived, a combination that popularized golf and made him one of the sport's most beloved figures. He died on Sept. 25, 2016, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Phil Mickelson did just enough at the CJ Cup in South Korea - a 68 in the final round to tie for 31st - to fall only to No. 50 and keep alive for another week his remarkable streak of 26 years among the top 50 in the world ranking. How long will it last? That depends.

According to a world ranking analyst who goes by "Nosferatu" on Twitter, Mickelson still has a chance to stay at No. 50 even though he is not playing the ZoZo Championship in Japan.

One simplified outlook: The top 12 at the end of the tournament must all be currently in the top 50. And that assumes Lucas Bjerregaard, Tom Lewis or Lee Westwood does not win the Portugal Masters on the European Tour.

If he survives, the ball is back in Lefty's hands. He is to play the following week at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, where he has won twice.

Lanto Griffin couldn't find a place to eat during the Korn Ferry Tour opener in the Bahamas, so he and Will Wilcox dropped in on a pro-am dinner at Sandal Emerald Bay on Great Exuma, where the golf course designer was speaking. Greg Norman's words went a long way.

"He said when he looks at players on this tour, he looks at guys finishing consistently in the top 20," Griffin said. "He doesn't look at guys who finish solo second and MC (missed cut) 10 times in a row, finish third and get their card. He was telling me I'm not who he looks at."

Griffin thought back to the first time he earned a PGA Tour card through the Korn Ferry. In his first 11 tournaments, he missed seven cuts and finished out of the top 50 in three others. And then he won. After that, he finished out of the top 10 in seven of his eight tournaments.

Most peculiar about that regular season? He didn't have any finishes in the 20s or 30s.

He tied for 62nd that week. Griffin says finishing 60th is like "taking a week off without taking a week off."

"I started thinking and playing smarter," he said. "When you're 45th going into the weekend, you're being so aggressive to win a tournament and that's not always the best mindset. Let's see how many top 20s you can rack up. You need luck to win. The weeks you don't get lucky, turn 50th into 20th.

"That's the difference between having a good year and a bad year."

It will be hard to top winning the Houston Open, his first PGA Tour victory. But he thought about the Safeway Open, where he made the cut on the number. He made one bogey on the weekend, shot 67-70 and tied for 17th.

"The year before if I made the cut on the number, I would have shot even on the weekend and finished 66th," he said. "I was happy to make the cut, but I never got anything out of it."

Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson will be among those playing the PNC Father-Son Challenge on Dec. 5-8 in Orlando, Florida. They have 35 majors among them. ... Justin Thomas has 11 victories on the PGA Tour, five of them on the U.S. mainland. He has won twice in Malaysia, twice in South Korea and twice in Hawaii. ... With her victory in Shanghai, Danielle Kang became the 11th player to earn more than $1 million on the LPGA Tour this year. ... The French Open had a strength-of-field value of 288 points last summer ahead of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National. It was moved to October this year and had a points value of 51.

Cheyenne Knight and Danielle Kang are the first Americans to win back to back on the LPGA Tour since Kang and Nelly Korda won consecutive events last October.

"There's a lot of countries trying to emulate what Korea has built. It's great, and it's creating opportunities for young girls in countries that didn't even play golf 10 or 15 years ago." - LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan.

Updated October 22, 2019

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