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LPGA's Futures Tour adds a title sponsor

ORLANDO - The Futures Tour, the LPGA's developmental circuit from which 10 players annually earn privileges for the following season on the LPGA, has a new title sponsor and a new name. Symetra Financial Corporation, headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., has a multi-year deal for the naming rights. Financial terms were not disclosed at the Wednesday announcement, but LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said he did not expect purses on the Symetra Tour to increase in 2012. There were 16 Futures tour events in 2011, with purses ranging from $100,000 to $135,000. A similar schedule is expected in 2012, "15-plus" events, according to LPGA spokesman Kraig Kann. "I would tell you 16 to 18 events is sort of what would be our minimum," Whan said. "To me, if that number was 20, I'd feel a lot better. I think 16 to 18 is fine. I think 20 is better. I don't know that it has to be 20-plus, because what we're really talking about is a season-long qualifying tour." Kathleen Ekey topped the 2011 Futures money list with $66,412, with the 10th-ranked player, Sophia Sheridan, earning $28,724. "I think you'll see some [purse] increases over the years, but it's not designed as 'Wow, look how much the top five players are making,' " Whan said. "It's not really a tour where you can sustain a living long-term." As on the PGA Tour, where more cards are now being awarded through the Nationwide Tour rather than Q school, the LPGA is moving in the same direction. "One of the things we're looking at is providing more opportunity through the [Symetra tour] and maybe a little less through Q school," Whan said. "We like the idea that somebody qualifies over the course of a season as opposed to a few weekends." The Futures Tour began in 1981 and has been tied to the LPGA since 1999. In 2011 Symetra sponsored the Symetra Classic in San Antonio. "This is an exciting day for Symetra," said company CEO Tom Marra. "Like the rising stars of the LPGA, Symetra is a company on the move." -- Bill Fields
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