LPGA Tour middle-class faces tough times

LPGA Tour middle-class faces tough times

Bader has finished in the top 50 in money only once, in 2007.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

You may have missed the news that our 2010 LPGA season is already in progress. I hope you didn’t, but since the first two events were played in Thailand and Singapore, I understand.

The good news is that our first U.S. tournament arrives this week, the new Kia Classic at La Costa. A week later we have our first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

The bad news is that ­middle-of-the-road players like me feel as if we’re behind the eight ball. Normally, I would’ve played at least two tournaments by now, but I haven’t teed it up yet in ’10. Because I finished 76th on the money list in 2009 ($125,894 before expenses), I didn’t get into those first two limited-field events in Asia. It used to be that some players might skip events in Asia to save travel expenses, but with our schedule down to 26 tournaments, most of us can’t afford to pass up playing opportunities. It should tell you something that before the season Natalie Gulbis committed to play in every LPGA event (there were only 24 at the time) this year. A lot of us would love to be in that position.

I’ve calculated that my money-list ranking will get me into 18 or 19 events this year, and if I play well when I do get a chance, maybe as many as 23. That’s pretty good.

Meanwhile, I’ve kept busy by practicing with other LPGA players—I shot 69 the other day and lost money—and teeing it up in Cactus tour events around Phoenix, which have a $660 buy-in. Some players in those events aren’t even exempt on the Futures tour, our developmental circuit, and somebody asked if I felt guilty about competing against them. Since I’m 0 for 4 on the Cactus tour, no, I don’t feel guilty—they’re taking my money.

In my 10 years on tour I’ve seen the LPGA transform into a global enterprise, with events in Japan, Korea, Thailand, Mexico, France, England and Canada. I drove my car to only five events last year—I live in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.—but most of the time I fly. Flying costs more, but I’d rather play than sit home.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. The tour is headed in the right direction under new commissioner Michael Whan. I own a house and a car. I’m playing golf for a living and seeing the world. That’s very cool. For the first time I have two sponsors on my clothes and one on my bag, which helps financially. I’d like a few more chances to earn paychecks, but the truth is this: If you play well, you still get rewarded. That’s my plan for 2010.

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