Is CME the LPGA’s premier non-major event? — Rose Zhang plans to return to school
The IX: Golf Thursday with Addie Parker, Nov. 16, 2023
NAPLES, Fla. – Welcome to a very special edition of Golf Thursday, where I am live and in action at the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburón Golf Club. The LPGA’s season finale has been epic, to say the least, so here’s a rundown of the week thus far.
As soon as I arrived in the media tent, a new addition to the tournament this year, Angel Yin was being prepped for her press conference as the 2023 Aon Risk Reward Challenge winner — and in Angel Yin fashion she pulled out her best Coach Prime shades.
When asked what she’d do with the money, Yin kept it as hysterically real as ever, “Save it. Pay my caddie. Pay tax. Don’t get in a white-collar jail. Don’t get arrested. Yeah, and then see what I can do with it. Maybe invest it. Do what I want to do.”
Never change Angel, never change.
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Later, on Tuesday evening, I received an email announcing the sponsorship extension agreement between the LPGA and the CME Group. In complete transparency, I was too exhausted from my 14-hour drive to register just how monumental it is that CME is increasing the purse to $11 million in 2024. But before we can dissect the announcement let’s go back in time to just one year ago.
If you recall, chairman and CEO of the CME Group Terry Duffy spoke out prior to the start of the tournament voicing his disappointment with the leadership of the tour as no players showed up for his Tuesday night dinner.
Duffy told Golfweek, “I am exceptionally disappointed with the leadership of the LPGA. “They better get their act together because they’re going to lose people like me over stuff like this.”
Commissioner of the LPGA Mollie Marcoux Samaan was quick to take the fault after the “incident”, stating, “There was clearly a disconnect, and it’s my responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t happen. So on this particular issue, I’m taking full responsibility as a leader of the organization to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Flashforward to the present day, and it’s safe to say that they [Duffy and Marcoux Samaan] were quite chummy at their Wednesday morning press conference.
When Beth Ann Nichols of Golfweek, the same person who broke the story last year, asked about how they reached a resolution, Duffy was quite political with his answer.
“I think it was of breakdown more than anything else. As I said, when communications go bad, a lot of other things can snowball with it. I think we started to see a little bit of that.”
“We [Mollie], got together throughout the year and talked about a lot of the different things and still do, and I think that helped give me more confidence to come to this point today to extend our relationship.”
To which the commissioner added, “As Terry said, communication is the key, and being accountable for things that don’t go perfectly. We had communication right after the incident and we continued during the season. As he said all along, I just wanted to push you guys to be better. We moved on right away and moved on to the future and we moved on to continuing to work together to elevate the tour and elevate our impact.”
Watching the Wednesday press conference between these two leaders of their organizations, it felt very much like a business transaction. Golf is an industry where money rules everything. Women’s golf needs more money, plain and simple, but as sponsors begin to (hopefully) open their wallets and increase purses as CME and Duffy have, I hope they understand what I and other golf fans see.
In just two short days I have witnessed the camaraderie between the LPGA staff and players. The direct access the media has to players, and the ability to grow interpersonal relationships is unlike anything I have seen before.
I shared a quick elevator ride with Rose Zhang on Tuesday night as we were both heading to dinner — and I can confirm she’s just as kind in person. I’m sandwiched between Beth Ann Nichols and Amy Rogers (from the Golf Channel) in the media center. I even get to wake up each day and hug my friend and Golf Thursday predecessor Sarah Kellam.
I even got to witness a funny, yet special moment during Rose Zhang and Rookie of the Year winner Hae Ran Ryu’s press conference yesterday as Ruoning Yin playfully interrupted them.
Despite the torrential downpour that hit the course yesterday, canceling the pro-am and eventually causing the golf course to close, spirits were high and fun was had. You can tell that people on both sides of the LPGA and CME Group have gone to great lengths in making this tournament a premier end-of-season destination for players and fans!
From DJs to a bigger merchandise tent (check our socials for that content…coming SOON!!!), there’s effort being put in…but I don’t think CME has reached its full potential.
The CME Group Tour Championship is the gold standard in women’s golf when it comes to prize money — but there are top players who are missing from the week (i.e. Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson) that keeps this event from being bigger and better. And it’s a much larger issue, one that really isn’t even CME’s fault. Being the last event of the year is hard, players are fatigued and because it’s a tour championship the field has to have some type of stipulations otherwise it would be just any old week.
Duffy’s answer to this issue is quite literally throwing money at it and seeing if it will stick. Giving the incentive that the largest single payout in women’s sports can be yours, you just have to play in (potentially) more events to earn a spot to play for the $4 million.
The LPGA schedule this season was grueling, and I don’t foresee it being any better in 2024 with the addition of the Olympics and another Solehim Cup (the LPGA just announced FYI). I don’t know if there is a solution, perhaps CME will be as good as it’s going to get, or maybe someone in the near future will find a solution that benefits all.
As for now, we sit back and rejoice in this huge moment for women’s sports because CME just set the bar for all title sponsors across all sports to open their wallets, and chime into some world-class golf — which is streaming on ESPN+ all weekend.
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This week in women’s golf
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Five at The IX: Rose Zhang will take a competition break and hit the books
Q. Reading your transcript in Japan, sounded like you were pretty tired. You’ve had a big year. I guess first, how are you energy-wise? What have you learned about spacing out your schedule next year?
ROSE ZHANG: Yeah, well, I got half a week of rest coming back from Japan. Had another sponsor outing.
I feel like energy-wise we’re yearning for a little bit more of just that little break. I just hope to end the year off with the best efforts I can put out on the golf course.
But, you know, following next year, I’m definitely taking a little bit more of a break in the beginning of the year before starting off the rest of the season with plenty of golf tournaments to play.
I’m also going back in January to school, so it’ll be a good time for me to be grinding somewhere else apart from the golf course.
Q. Can you remind us of how the system works, the quarter system, from January to what? How many classes will you be taking?
ROSE ZHANG: So Stanford is a quarter system; a quarter is ten weeks. You know, school starts in winter quarter, January to March, to close to the end of March, and that includes finals weeks and whatnot.
So I’ll be kind of taking that time to go back and study in person. And we have the Asia swing, Florida swing, so it’s to be determined on whether or not I’m playing those yet.
Q. How many classes will you take?
ROSE ZHANG: I’m taking five classes, 22 units potentially. If I’m slacking off a little bit, 20. (Laughter.)
ROSE ZHANG: I kind of have to. It’s something that I have to grind on.
Q. How many units do you need to graduate?
ROSE ZHANG: I am 55% done with my graduation, so I have like 90 units, 85, which means I’m going to have to be working a little harder in the next couple years if I want to kind of simultaneously play golf and study.
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