LPGA sponsor creates record purse, wants 'more eyeballs' on events in the future

March 25, 2024

Hannah Green poses after winning the 2023 JM Eagle LA Championship.

Harry How

The JM Eagle LA Championship will set an LPGA Tour purse record when it is played in late April, with the prize money payout being raised by $750,000 to $3.75 million—the largest payday available on tour outside of the majors and the CME Group Tour Championship. Since JM Eagle took over the tournament at Wilshire Country Club in 2022, they have raised the purse by $2.25 million.

"I thought that each year we should do a little bit better, right? We should motivate more people to watch and more ladies to compete. So I raised the purse again," JM Eagle CEO Walter Wang told Golf Digest.

Wang said he views the tournament as a critical purse trendsetter on the LPGA. He noted that the average female professional tournament purse is one-fifth the size of the PGA Tour, yet players’ expenses remain similar. Wang believes that by raising the purse, other sponsors will follow suit.

Already, the number of non-major tournaments with a $3 million prize money payout has increased from four in 2023 to 10 this season. The average non-major purse grew from $2.1 million last year to $2.4 million this season. While that number might seem small, those purses are the only opportunity for many LPGA members who don't qualify for the five women's majors to earn money. The FM Global Championship, a new event for 2024, was the previous non-major or Tour Championship leader at $3.5 million.

The purse bump is in addition to the event paying for the players' hotels for the first time this season—a perk the tournament announced in January. That was a step Wang wanted to take after playing at Liberty National last year, when a course caddie explained to him that the Mizuho Americas Open paid for players’ hotels.

With the purse increase, hotels, a lavish pro-am party with more than $75,000 in giveaways for players, and local activations to bring more children to attend the tournament, Wang estimated his total investment for the week to be $7.5 million.

"They continue to move the needle for not only LPGA athletes but also for girls and women everywhere," LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan said in a statement.

JM Eagle is in the second year of a five-year agreement with the LPGA, with Wang already hinting at possible future purse increases, and they’ve explored getting the tournament onto network TV.

Wang said he doesn't see the tournament's return on investment purely as additional brand recognition for JM Eagle and hopes his continued investment fuels tour-wide expansion. He said the tour's growth is the most important data point on if he re-ups his support beyond 2027.

"I would really like to see more eyeballs," Wang said. "We all need to do a better job of marketing the LPGA as a whole. It is not critically important that this tournament is on national TV or not, but I think at the end of the day, we need to see many more people come in and really enjoy watching and participating in the LPGA."

The JM Eagle LA Championship will be played April 25-28. Australian Hannah Green is the defending champion.