NAPLES, FLORIDA | It’s the same every year. The practice range on Thursday at the LPGA’s CME Group Tour Championship always has the feel of an episode of The Walking Dead, one where it’s hard to the tell the difference between the dead-eyed zombies and the thousand-yard stares of survivors. Players are exhausted, not just from the long season but from the globetrotting inherent in the fall LPGA schedule.
Since the second week of September, the tour has been to Evian, France; Incheon, South Korea; Shanghai, China; Taoyuan City, Taiwan; Shiga, Japan; and Hainan Island, China, before coming to southwest Florida for the season-ender. That’s 35,491 miles worth of jet lag since the last event on American soil, more if you took a week off in the middle and came home. So, the players are whipped.
Most players take it in stride. All but a handful are out of the running for the $1 million Race to the CME Globe bonus. That makes this just another event for most. If you catch lightning in a bottle and win, great. If not, it’s a nice place to give farewell hugs to everyone until January.
Next year, that will change. By eliminating the $1 million bonus while raising the overall purse of the Tour Championship to $5 million and the winner’s check to $1.5 million (the largest in the history of women’s golf) – CME Group and its chairman, Terry Duffy, likely will change the way players view the Asian swing. Those locked into the top 60 in the season-long points race and thereby guaranteed a spot in Naples figure to skip more events in Asia to prepare for the biggest prize in the game.
“It’s too early to tell,” said Mo Martin, a CME brand ambassador. “Obviously if you’ve had a good year you can pick and choose. But, yeah, it’s probably going to put some pressure on people on the back end, more so than it has.”
Those who aren’t in the top 60 will fly a million miles if that’s what it takes to get into this field. Those guaranteed a spot in Naples might take a couple of weeks to adjust to Florida greens and the eastern time zone.
“I will always take off the week before (the CME Group Tour Championship),” Lexi Thompson said. “This event is so important to me and I want to take the time to rest and be ready.”
“I’m more concerned about what the schedule is going to look like next year,” Jessica Korda said. “It’ll definitely be one of those things where if you’re on the bubble of getting into here, you might want to play all of (the Asia events). That’ll be a lot of scheduling. But, yeah, it’s definitely going to change things.”
When the last event of the year becomes the biggest event of the season, you plan differently. You rest more. You get in earlier. You look at the events leading into it the way Jack Nicklaus used to look at the tournaments he played before majors: as tune-ups.
“We’re going to wait until the schedule comes out,” Martin said. “I think there are still a couple of things up in the air. But as always, (LPGA commissioner) Mike Whan has been an incredible leader. And everything is getting fleshed out in the right way, too.”