Hinako Shibuno of Japan, playing golf outside her home country for the first time, won the AIG Women’s British Open which concluded at Woburn on Sunday, prevailing by a shot from Lizette Salas of the United States.
Shibuno’s cheque was for £540,000, 40% up on the £392,000 Georgia Hall took home after her victory at Royal Lytham & St Annes last summer. That’s still some way behind the £1.5 million that Shane Lowry received for becoming the men’s Open champion at Royal Portrush a fortnight previously but there is a process of catch-up underway. The R&A, which runs the Women’s British Open in conjunction with the LPGA Tour, the Ladies European Tour (LET)and the International Management Group (IMG), has said that the 40% purse increase will continue year-on-year.
A bit of context here. In 2018, 100th place on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai was worth €392,000. The women’s equivalent was €10,500. In the United States, finishing 100th on the PGA Tour Money List was worth $1,223,000. The analogous figure for the LPGA Tour was $99,000. It will not surprise you that men’s sport pays better than women’s even if the discrepancies may appear a little shocking. But as Ray Volpe, one of the earlier heads of the LPGA Tour, put it: “Men’s golf is bought. Women’s golf is sold.” (The late Mark McCormack, the founder of IMG and the man who effectively invented the concept of sports marketing, used to remark how fortunate women tennis players were compared to their golfing counterparts because their Grand Slam events were historically and logistically tied into the men’s sport, which has led to the situation whereby today the prize funds for both sexes are the same in all the Slams.)
The present commissioner of the LPGA Tour is Mike Whan. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph last weekend, he suggested the growth in prize-money for women golfers promised by the R&A was not confined to that one tournament. Admitting that his early years in the job had been tough, he added: “The past few years have been the opposite, thanks to women’s empowerment, the MeToo movement and women’s leadership. It’s a global thing. And the good news is that it is not a fad; it is not going away. We have signed more corporate sponsors to the LPGA in the past three years than in any period in our history.” In fact, over the past six years prize-money on the LPGA has increased by 58%. How Mark Lichtenhein at the LET must wish he could have similar news to impart.
Meanwhile, back at Woburn, had Salas holed the five-footer she had for a birdie on the final hole she would have finished level with Shibuno. There would then have been a sudden-death playoff…which in another respect, beyond prize-money, shows how far this championship has progressed since it began. The second staging of the Women’s British Open was held at Lindrick in 1977. The winner’s purse of £168 (that is not a typo!) was collected by Vivien Saunders after a playoff against Mary Everard. Well, I say playoff. She won on a card countback because she had the better last round. I mean, how monthly-medal is that?
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