PGA Championship

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The Loop

LPGA facing an exodus?

October 22, 2009

The word filtering out of Japan is that a significant number of Asian LPGA members are trying to secure Japan LPGA playing privileges for 2010. This makes complete sense for a variety of reasons. First, the JLPGA will have more than 30 tournaments next year while the LPGA is likely to be closer to 20. Also, with many LPGA purses being cut for 2010, the gap between LPGA and JLPGA prize money - the JLPGA used to pay out about two-thirds what the American tour pays - the gap will be much smaller.

And then there are the cultural advantages to playing in Japan. For Koreans, for example, it is just a two hour flight from Seoul to Tokyo. And once in Japan travel is very easy. The entire country is about the size of California. There would be no five-hour flights like in the United States.

According to the website, four-time LPGA winner Candie Kung of Taiwan, Shanshan Feng, the only LPGA member ever from China, Korean major championship winners Eun-Hee Ji and Inbee Park (below) and fellow Koreans Meena Lee, Young Kim, Na Yeon Choi, Seon Hwa Lee and Amy Yang will be at JLPGA qualifying school next month. The word is that the JLPGA is actively encouraging LPGA and Ladies Europe Tour members to pursue membership. [#image: /photos/55ad7211add713143b4237be]|||inbeeweb.jpg|||

LPGA prize money was off nearly $13 million this year, when there were 27 tournaments, and will almost certainly be down even more next year. As of now, fewer than 20 events have committed to the LPGA for 2010, and not all of those contracts have been finalized. Those folks who have complained that the 47 Koreans on the LPGA have grabbed too much of the prize money may find fewer of them playing next year, but the tour may lose some Europeans and Americans as well.

Certainly, scheduling will become more of a challenge for the LPGA if some top players obtain JLPGA membership. This year, Paula Creamer, for example, skipped the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill to play in a JLPGA major. With fewer tournaments next year, the LPGA is not going to be able to afford to have players with dual membership choosing a Japan event over an American tournament.

The LPGA, which has been run by acting commissioner Marty Evans since Carolyn Bivens was ousted in July, is close to making a decision on a full-time commissioner. Sources familiar with the situation say the search process will be finalized in the next five-to-seven days. USGA chief business officer Peter Bevacqua is still seen as the front runner, but there are sources who say a faction within the LPGA close to Bivens and Rae Evans, the Washington lobbyist LPGA Board chair when Bivens was hired and a longtime Bivens friend, still have a hand in the selection process. Joie Gregor, who was vice chairman of the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles International, Inc. when it recommended that Bivens be hired, has re-emerged in the current search process. Gregor left Heidrick & Struggles after Bivens was hired and worked in the Bush White House. Sources say it is still possible a surprise candidate not yet mentioned in media speculation could emerge at the last minute.".

-- Ron Sirak

(Photo credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)