PARADISE ISLAND, BAHAMAS – It’s not often that you have a warm Bahamian breeze at your back and the emerald blue Caribbean ahead when Davos, Switzerland, comes up. But that’s what happened on Wednesday at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic.
Gender, and how public-private partnerships can bridge inequality, is an agenda item at the World Economic Forum, underway in Davos this week. Adding to the discussion, LPGA standout Stacy Lewis penned an essay for conference attendees on the earnings gap between men and women in golf.
“Golf is a numbers game, plain and simple,” Lewis wrote. “The ball doesn’t know if you’re six-foot-six, 240 pounds or, like me, just 5-5, 132. Take the fewest strokes and you win – period.
“So, some numbers from last year. In 2017, the PGA Tour leading money winner earned more than $9.9 million, while the LPGA Tour’s top earner pocketed just over $2.3 million. I earned just over $1 million, 15th on my tour – about one-quarter what No. 15 on the PGA Tour did, at $4.2 million. The trend only grows further down the line. No. 100 on the PGA Tour: $1.07 million. No. 100 on the LPGA Tour: a shade over $98,000, or less than 10 percent of her male counterpart. Endorsement deals paint a similar picture.”
Lewis then asked the elephant-in-the-room question: “Is this wage gap due to a talent gap?”
The case she made clearly says, ‘No.’
“Our most accurate driver hit 86 percent of fairways, one percentage point more than the PGA Tour’s best,” she wrote. “Our Scoring Average champion averaged 69.11 strokes per round, only about 0.9 worse than the PGA Tour’s.
“My point isn’t that women could compete successfully on the PGA Tour. It’s that women are playing the same game as men, at an equally high level. We work just as hard on and off the course. Bottom line: PGA Tour and LPGA Tour golfers are world-class athletes playing a sport as well as it’s ever been played while engaging with their fans. Only women get paid a lot less.”
Yes, of course, men hit it farther. They’re stronger. They have faster swing speeds. But the same is true in tennis and just as many people are interested in the Australian Open women’s matches as watch the men. And in tennis – at least four times a year, at the majors – women and men receive the same prize money.
“If you look at the last six years, our increase in purses is greater than our increase in events,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said on Wednesday, just a few steps from the Ocean Club Golf Course clubhouse at Paradise Island, where the tour begins its season this week. “Unfortunately, six years ago I wouldn’t have told you that we were going to raise our purses by 70 percent and have an even bigger gap with the PGA Tour. Their (purses) have grown faster.”
Whan was reserved with his comments for good reason. “I’m always leery of discussing the topic (of a gender gap) because, while there’s nothing I’d rather see than equality of purses between men and women, I don’t want the 35 companies that have stepped up for women’s golf bearing the brunt of that. A lot of times in a setting like this (the Bahamas) you start talking about it and somebody says to Tom Murray (CEO) of Pure Silk, ‘What do you think about (the gap in purses) between men and women?’ and then Tom, who is writing a significant check to the LPGA, helping women’s golf, sponsoring 15 women, is being questioned about whether or not (he’s doing) enough.
“Now, there are a lot of people who could answer that call, people who run companies where 60 percent of the workforce is female and 80 percent of their customers are women,” Whan said. “I’d like someone to ask them, ‘How do you feel about talking a good game when it comes to women’s advancement but then not spending any money on it?’ ”
The answer isn’t simple. Whan’s strategy has always been to fill the LPGA calendar with events and let economic pressures push purses higher as sponsors compete for the best fields. That has worked. But the chasm between men and women continues to grow. Steve Stricker played in only 13 events last year and finished 107th on the PGA Tour money list. He made $1,002,036. The closest LPGA player to that number won $1,005,983. That was Danielle Kang, who played 25 events and won a major championship.
“One key reason for golf’s wage gap is TV ratings,” Lewis wrote. “The PGA Tour has a lot more exposure than the LPGA Tour. We need more eyeballs on our game. Our deal with Golf Channel has definitely helped in that effort, but we need network TV and other media outlets to showcase our product – our talents and our personalities. Once we pick up fans, we generally keep them for life.”
Whan agreed. “We wouldn’t be considered a good media buy,” he said. “That makes it harder for us because I can’t walk into an ad agency and say, ‘For $3.5 million we’ll give you (35 ads on CBS or NBC over a weekend).’ If I could, they would say, ‘Wow, that’s a great deal. We don’t even have to talk to the head of marketing.’ It works (for the men) from an ad-buy standpoint alone, regardless of the strength of the field. If I had more network exposure, I could sell that additional value to the sponsors and they would be happy to pay for it because it would make sense as a media buy.”
The USGA made a significant investment, upping the U.S. Women’s Open purse to $5 million, by far the largest in the women’s game.
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“I think in the coming years you’ll see some non-major purses make a significant jump as well,” Whan said. “And you’ll see some other sponsors increase purses to keep up. But in terms of comparing men to women, it’s going to take someone saying, ‘I’m going to put on an event at the same price as men,’ and have other sponsors start responding to that.”
Lewis certainly hopes that’s the case. “I’ve been very fortunate in my golf career,” she wrote. “So my concern is for the next generation of players. The income gap in golf is as much a concern to me as the corporate income gap is to working women.”