LPGAer Outrage At “Imaginary” Tournament Purse

Some of the top current and former female golfers in the world, including Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Annika Sorenstam, have expressed serious reservations over the LPGA’s decision to stage an official tournament event in which the entire purse will be “imaginary.

Michelle Wie Morgan Pressel

(Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel may skip ill-conceived tournament)

Randall Mell of The Golf Channel - via Geoff Shackelford - reported this week the details of the inaugural RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, which was created by new LPGA Commissioner Mike Whanto honor the pioneers who founded the tour and to fund the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf Foundation. The event is scheduled March 18-20 in Phoenix as the first American event on this year’s schedule.”

Now for the weird part:

The unique tournament format will feature a $1.3 million “mock purse.” That money is all imaginary.

RR Donnelley isn’t putting up the purse, but, instead, is paying tournament operational costs.

Though players will be credited for official money won, they won’t actually pocket any real money. The winner will get credit for $195,000 in official money but receive no check. The same applies to every player who makes the cut.

Tournament proceeds, projected to be $500,000, will be donated to the LPGA Foundation. The tour announced today that it will donate $200,000 to the charities of choice for the top-five finishers at the inaugural event to be held March 18-20 in Phoenix.

According to tour officials, before teeing it up each player will be asked to designate a charity she’ll be playing for at Wildfire Golf Club at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort. The tournament will donate $100,000 to the charity of choice of the winner, $50,000 to the runner-up’s choice, $25,000 to the third-place finisher’s choice, $15,000 to fourth-place’s choice and $10,000 to fifth-place’s.

Let me translate that for you: New commissioner Whan is staging a tournament in which he was unable to raise the proper funds to properly operate it. Whan is asking the players to play in his pet project tournament for free, while donating an embarrassing small amount of money to charity.

Emily Kay of WaggleRoom.com has the flaccid financials of the tournament:

Donnelley, which signed on after Whan shared his vision for the contest, will fork over $800,000 in operational costs (less than the $1.2 million or so that it typically takes to run a tournament, since Marriott will donate rooms and food) and $500,000 for the charity. Given another year, Whan might have raised enough cash to fund the foundation to the tune of the entire $1.3 million purse, which, he conceded, may have been less confusing to explain. He decided, however, to err on the side of philanthropy.

In other words, RR Donnelley, a multi-billion dollar company, will get title sponsorship for one of the highest-profile events on the LPGA Tour without having to pay the full cost of title-sponsoring an LPGA event (Around $2 million.)

By RR Donnelley not putting up the necessary funds required to stage a full-fledged LPGA event, LPGA Commissioner Whan is making the company look cheap and unwilling to donate an amount to charity that would placate all players. (Keep in mind that the Founder’s Cup charity donation will be at or below what a fully-funded, typical LPGA event raises every week anyway!)

Hope saving that $1.3 million to RR Donnelley was worth it, as the company - along with Commissioner Whan - is likely to be a hot topic of negative conversation leading up to the March tournament.

Morgan Pressel on the situation:

“I am certain that all LPGA members are deeply appreciative of the pioneering work done by our founders, and I am all for honoring them in a special tournament. Likewise, like all our members, I have a strong commitment to charitable endeavors, including my own personal fundraising efforts.

“The LPGA contributes to charitable causes, as far as I know, through virtually every Tour event, in an amount similar to that provided by the proposed Founders Cup.

“…I feel that the event belittles all other events that donate similar numbers to charity and still provide a full purse. They are attempting to hold an event with a short budget. If the event donated closer to 2 million dollars to the charity, that would really be something substantial, considering there is no purse.

“Unfortunately, with the vast amount of resources that are being used, it does not match the charitable contribution. I feel we have better ways to honor our founders, donate to charity, not alienate any sponsors and increase the value of our brand.

“When so many of our players are having a hard time getting into tournaments and making a reasonable living. I am leaning towards not playing the event, but am very unhappy that myself and others have been placed in the uncomfortable position of looking uncharitable and unappreciative if we choose not to play. In summary, the Founders Cup is not a bad idea, but the ramifications of this format should have been given more thought and planning before moving forward so quickly.”

Pressel knows of what she speaks when she talks about charitable contributions. Just three weeks ago she raised $502,000 for cancer research with her personal charity golf event. (More than what the Founder’s Cup has proposed to donate!)

Cristie Kerr:

“I’m not sure I’m going to play or not. It’s a great idea but went from concept to an event on the schedule too quickly without enough input from the players.“It’s turned what was an opportunity into an obligation.

“Credit is due to Mike [Whan] for his vision with this concept, and I am definitely a supporter for an idea like the Founders Cup. I’m an avid fundraiser for different charities, including my own, and I support the idea of helping youth golf and honoring our founders. However, I’m not sure this year’s format accomplishes the objective as outlined to me.”

Paula Creamer:

“I think it’s a great cause to honor the founders, I think it’s something we should have done a while ago, and I think it’s an important event, but I am just really struggling with the structure of it and the format.

“To have the purse be $1.3 million and the charity not get $1.3 million because it’s imaginary money, I’m having a difficult time with that,” Creamer said. “I don’t understand how a sponsor or company like RR Donnelley, a $10 billion company, can’t be on board to put up prize money equal to what’s given to the charity. I don’t understand how that can happen.

“If we were able to have $1.3 million in real money sitting there, and donate it back, I would be the first one to sign up for this event.”

Sorenstam:

“If I was playing. I’m not really sure I would [participate].

“It’s kind of a funny set-up with a fake purse and it counts toward the money list. That I disagree with.”

Though she’s yet to speak out on the subject, Michelle Wie is also said to be on the fence about playing in the tournament.

By staging an underfunded event, charity or otherwise, LPGA Commissioner Whan is cheapening the LPGA brand, unwittingly embarrassing a major sponsor, putting the players on the spot and making himself look minor league. If the tournament was funded to the extent that other typical LPGA tour stops are, I have no doubt that there would be no complaints from the players if the entire $1 million+ purse went to charity.

But you don’t ask players to play for free, set up an embarrassing imaginary purse thing and then donate what is a relatively small amount to charity all in the name of founders of the LPGA Tour. (Pressel proved she can raise more money for charity herself in a single day!)

If Whan wants to salvage his reputation, he’ll postpone the tournament to next year - or whenever he gets the event fully-funded - and ask RR Donnelley to donate its current charitable commitment to junior girls golf anyway.

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