Layoff too long for LPGA's lower rung

Updated: October 30, 2003, 2:37 PM ET
By Nicole Coffey | Special to ESPN.com

The end of the season is coming quickly for the LPGA Tour. But for some, it's already arrived.

LPGA Tour schedule/purse breakdown
Year Total events Full-field Total money fill-field Avg. purse full-field
2000 41 27 $25.45M $942K
2001 40 27 $28.05M $1.039M
2002 35 23 $26.45M $1.15M
2003 34 23 $29M $1.26M
Source: LPGA Tour

The schedule began in March, and now much of the tour is off for the next five months because the final few events on the slate are limited-field. If you're not among the top 70 or so on the money list, you're shut out for the rest of 2003.

The LPGA Tour condensed its schedule from 27 full-field events in 2000 and 2001 to 23 in 2002 and 2003. In previous seasons, several events would have already been in the books before the first tournament of 2003, the Welch's/Fry's Championship in mid-March.

"It's tough," said Kris Tschetter, a 16-year veteran who sits 114th on the money list. "Especially in the last couple of years. If you don't play in the end events (limited-field) you only play half the year."

The LPGA Tour's full-field schedule concluded with the Longs Drugs Challenge earlier this month, and now many players face a five-month layoff before they return to work in 2004.

"I don't like it. It is all well and good if you are in the top 30. From players 60 and down it is a long time off. That's a long time to not make money," said LPGA Tour veteran and ESPN commentator Jane Crafter, who sits 112th on the money list. "Some players will have to think of doing other things. It makes you appreciate the value of the dollar."

The LPGA Tour has four limited-field events remaining in 2003: this week's CJ Nine Bridges Classic, the Mizuno Classic, the Mobile LPGA Tournament of Champions and the ADT Championship. All have specific criteria to gain entry, and the fields range from 39 to 69 players -- which means there's no room for Nos. 70 and above on the money list.

"Obviously, I wish I could play in those fun events for the top 50 on the money list," No. 117 Diana D'Alessio said. "It would be nice if we could have more full-field events through October. Everyone would be a little happier."

For D'Alessio, it's a matter of maintaining the bottom line. The four-year veteran earned a mere $40,811 in 21 events, but estimates she spent $70,000 in travel and living expenses. D'Alessio, who last week earned her playing privileges for 2004 at Q-school, said she made up the difference with the help of sponsors, but the point is the same.

Still, the LPGA did increase its total prize money in full-field events (from $26.45 million in 2002 to $29 million) and average purse ($1.15 million to $1.26 million) in 2003.

The guys on the PGA Tour don't have the same problems. In addition to having more full-field events available to them (43 compared to 23), they get considerably larger paydays (thank you, Tiger Woods). For example, the 117th player on the PGA Tour money list will make more than 10 times his LPGA counterpart in 2003.

"That makes me sick. That is ridiculous," D'Alessio said. "I'd like to be able to play in the first few events that I can't get into now. Being in the top 90 makes life a lot easier."

The top 90 on the LPGA Tour are fully exempt for the 2004 season, meaning they are first in line for entries and can easily create their travel schedules. Also fully exempt are the 28 who emerged from Q-school last week, including D'Alessio. Nos. 90-125 are non-exempt, and will get shut out of some events.

This offseason, some players will compete in Australia to make money, while others will participate in pro-ams. Many will get second jobs to help set up their bank accounts for next season.

In 2000 and 2001, the official women's golf season began in January, and the LPGA Tour hosted a combined 11 events those two years before the March start date that was adopted in 2002 and carried over to 2003.

"When the economy turned (in 2001), sponsorships were harder to get and that led to the departure," said Rob Neal, the LPGA's vice president of tournament business affairs. "The effects of 2001 made it a lot harder."

Five of those 11 winter events were played in Florida, tournaments Neal said were difficult to maintain on a longterm basis.

"Some of the (early-season) events we knew weren't going to come back were the Florida events," said Neal. "They weren't in great shape to be longterm events. There wasn't a ton of local business support."

We also got feedback from some players that a 11-12 month season is too long and they wanted an opportunity to have back a true offseason."

Some players would like to see the tour return to a January or February start to the season, but bringing back events isn't an easy thing to do, particularly because of the difficulty of finding sponsors during the winter months.

"Our biggest challenge right now is climate and geography, because the needs of the sponsors is coming from a northern region," said Neal. "The key is finding a combination of sponsors that can play in the tropical-type climate (during the colder months).

Neal added that the tour is working to add more full-field events in October, and that the schedule could be expanded as soon as next season. The tour will release its 2004 schedule next month.

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