NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — The LPGA will have either 25 or 26 different winners in 32 events this season, depending on what happens when the final putt of the CME Group Tour Championship drops Sunday.
Commissioner Mike Whan is just fine with that sort of diversity.
Whan delivered his annual “state of the LPGA” address Friday during the second round of the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, revealing that next year’s total purses will exceed $70 million for the first time. A new sponsor for the Women’s British Open will be revealed soon, and the entire 2019 schedule is expected by the end of the month.
And having a tour where women from 10 countries have won this year is just fine with Whan.
“I’d definitely prefer the top 10 players in the world rankings come from 10 different countries,” Whan said. “And the reason is, if I get one player that wins 33 percent of the time she tees it up, when she doesn’t tee it up it’s not the same event.”
The way this tournament has gone after 36 holes, there might be one more name added to the winners’ list for 2018.
Lexi Thompson — still winless this year — shot a 5-under 67 on Friday to move to 12 under for the week, three shots clear of first-round leader Amy Olson (72) and Brittany Lincicome (71).
Thompson hit all 18 greens in regulation, and hasn’t dropped a shot yet through two rounds.
“This is one of my favorite tournaments just because I can drive to it and I have so much family and friends out here and a lot of fans,” said Thompson, a native South Floridian. “It means the world to me just to come here to Naples and play in front of them. Whether I do good or bad, they’re always there supporting me, giving me high fives. That’s what makes the game.”
The tournament within the tournament this week is the conclusion of the Race to the CME Globe, with world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn now in control of that again. She’s one of five women who entered this week with the best chance of taking that trophy and $1 million bonus, and is back atop the projected standings after shaking off a bogey-bogey-bogey start to finish with a 71 and get to 3-under.
“I’m very proud of my back nine,” Jutanugarn said.
Nasa Hataoka, who was flawless Thursday — eight birdies, no dropped shots — to move into the top spot in the Globe projected standings, went the other way Friday. She shot a 76, four bogeys and no birdies.
Only four women have won multiple tournaments this season — player of the year Jutanugarn has three wins, as does Sung Hyun Park. Hataoka and Brooke Henderson are two-time winners, and 21 other women have prevailed once.
“Everyone always says we need more American players to do well, but it’s not that we’re not doing well,” said Lincicome, one of eight American women to win once this season — and whose round Friday went haywire when a suddenly balky putter forced her to drop four shots on the final four holes. “It’s just this tour is so global and everybody is so darn good. We can’t get away with mediocre golf. You have to play your best all the time.”
The tour will set a record for purses in 2019 for the third straight year, bolstered in large part by CME Group raising the purse for the tour championship from $2.5 million to $5 million next year. The only event with a $5 million purse in 2018 was the U.S. Women’s Open. That seems likely to rise next year, since Whan said the CME event would not have the biggest purse on tour in 2019.
Whan said the variety of winners from the variety of nations — which isn’t a new concept for women’s golf — is a precursor for what he expects to see in men’s golf within the next decade, and he’s convinced the game will be better for that.
“It’s good for our business,” Whan said. “Success from all over the world means TV interest from all over the world.”