HONOLULU – The U.S. Women’s Open is nearly doubling its prize money to $10 million, an announcement that was celebrated across golf and genders.
The LPGA Tour this week starts its 73rd season of running a league all on its own, and no one begrudges the players finally getting paid big money for its biggest major, or the plan for them to play at storied courses.
“My first thought was, ‘Good for them.’ It’s great to see the women’s game getting the attention it deserves,” said Webb Simpson, who won the U.S. Open in 2012 when the purse for the men was $8 million. “I think they’re in a great spot.”
Even so, it wasn’t long before Simpson and other men raised a question that has been brewing for several years and gained renewed traction with the Women’s Open deal.
What does this mean for them?
The year after Simpson won his U.S. Open, the USGA signed a 12-year television contract with Fox Sports worth just over $1 billion. The deal began in 2015, and the prize money for the U.S. Open that year was $10 million, only $2 million more than when Simpson won.
“My next thought was, if they’re doing that, great,” Simpson said. “But I think the players have a general understanding of how much money they make at each U.S. Open. I would like it to go way up. I’d like to see ours double. We’re seeing The Players Championship at $20 million this year. I think the Tour has put a healthy pressure on the majors to increase as well.”
“Here’s the deal,” he said. “We all know they have it, or the ability to do it without compromising their business model. As a player, it makes us happy not so much that it’s more money, but I feel like they’re showing us respect.”
It’s not just the USGA, which is getting attention because of what it announced for the women.
The U.S. Open purse last year was $12.5 million, the largest among majors. The Masters and The Open offered $11.5 million, while the PGA Championship purse was $12 million. The PGA Tour this year has seven events worth $12 million or more.
The announcement is a not-so-subtle way for the Tour – especially with The Players going to $20 million – to motivate the majors to raise their stakes.
“They want to do that because it’s our flagship event, but I think what I’ve heard from the Tour is it also should continue to push the majors to match us because of the caliber of tournament they should be,” Jordan Spieth said. “The purse should represent that.”
At the heart of the conversation is how much money the majors are making from PGA Tour players at their championships.
Income from the U.S. Open helps pay for the other 15 events the USGA runs this year, all of which lose money. It’s no different with the PGA of America or The R&A or even Augusta National, which runs three amateur events and the Drive, Chip and Putt for kids.
Brandt Snedeker first started beating the prize money drum in a players’ meeting at Torrey Pines after the USGA’s television deal with Fox. He believes if PGA Tour players are responsible for the majority of the USGA income, they should know where it goes.
He isn’t expecting a big increase this year from any of the majors, no matter how high the prize money at the PGA Tour climbs.
“That’s been the Tour policy for so long,” Snedeker said. “Instead of addressing the elephant in the room – four tournaments we have no control over – keep punching up The Players to push them to keep up with us. They’ve always been lagging behind The Players. I don’t know at what point they have to start catching up.”
The USGA annual meeting is Feb. 19, which is the same week the PGA Tour is playing for a $12 million purse at the Genesis Invitational. CEO Mike Whan would rather wait until after that to discuss what the USGA has in mind for the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, this year.
The majors are about prestige. That’s where legacies are created. A green jacket is more meaningful than greenbacks. And players aren’t going to boycott a major if the money isn’t what they think it should be.
“It’s not the money issue I’m upset about. It’s an honor to be at the Masters,” Simpson said. “But as the game has evolved, and their revenues have evolved, I think the purse should evolve, too.”
Billy Horschel, who describes himself as a big fan of the LPGA, believes every major purse should be at $20 million. One player suggested the majors go even higher because they’re the biggest events, each with a TV contract and the biggest galleries, selling the most merchandise.
And that’s where the conversation starts. More than a response to the women are questions about how much the majors make and how much they pass along to players who drive revenue.
“I don’t think the men are going to be upset if we don’t get a massive boost,” Spieth said. “It’s great for the game what’s happening with the U.S. Women’s Open. I think it will draw more eyeballs because of that. It’s more taking a look through all the other major championships and saying, ‘What makes sense?’”