WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Here’s the scene: eight women, teeing off in four twosomes on a breezy Sunday morning, playing a course where a lot can go wrong, all of it even before the first shot of the day is played. The winner gets $1 million. It’s not winner takes all, but it’s close. That smell you smell? It’s nervous sweat.
The men, on the rich-for-now PGA Tour, they’re not freaked out by $1 million paydays. Pretty much every Sunday, some lucky soul is going to make around $1 million, or more. On the LPGA Tour, there’s only one such payout: for winning the season-ending ADT Championship, which concluded on Sunday here at the Trump International Golf Club. When Inbee Park won the best tournament in women’s golf, the U.S. Open, played in July in Minneapolis, she earned $585,000. A great trophy and a nice payday. But on Sunday the ladies were playing for a cool mil.
I asked each of them, as they came off the final green, some variant of this question: What’s it like to play one round of golf for $1 million?
The first player I got to was Suzann Pettersen, a feisty and strong women. She had a bogey, bogey start, made a snowman on 16 — she’s from Norway; she knows about snowmen — and followed her quadruple-bogey (two balls in the drink) with a birdie on 17.
“Playing one round for a million, it’s more all-or-nothing,” Pettersen said. “You want to get off to a good start and when you don’t it’s harder to recover.” Her second ball in the water on 16 came when she was out of the tournament and just trying to see if a certain shot out of bunker could be played. As for her now-I’m-totally-out-of-it birdie on 17, she thought to herself, “I wonder what one of the other girls would pay me for that?”
The likely answer is hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Consider Pettersen’s playing partner was Seon Hwa Lee, who finished double bogey, bogey on the last two holes for 74. A par-par finish would have given the six players behind her something to think about. I asked Lee if the $1 million was weighing on her mind as she played the final two holes. “I don’t think it was at all,” she said. “They’re tough holes and I played bad shots.”
The next player in was Jeong Jang, who shot a 79. Her English is far from fluent, but she tries hard. I asked her, “What do you do to keep the $1 million out of your mind?”
“Buy a new car,” she said.
I tried something else. “Was the $1 million in your head when you played today?”
“Half and half,” she said.
“How do you keep half out?” I asked.
“No, no,” she said. “All out.”
I moved on to Jang’s playing partner, Paula Creamer, who had spent Saturday night in a local hospital because of severe cramping and abdominal pain. She felt good enough on Sunday to play, but she was very uncomfortable. I asked her if her discomfort distracted her from thinking about the $1 million. The first-place prize would have made her the leading money winner for the year. “I wasn’t out here for the money,” Creamer said. “The win would have been my fifth win of the year.” Now her wait for next year begins. She closed with a 74.
Karrie Webb, who still has one of the most beautiful swings in golf, shot a final-round 71, good for second and $100,000. When I asked her about the $1 million in-your-head question, Webb, vastly experienced, said, “It’s very hard not to think about. It would be a wonderful problem to have, what you’re going to buy with it, or what you’re going to do with it.”
I got to the two players in the final group, Angela Stanford and Eun-Hee Ji, before I got to Webb’s playing partner, Ji-Yai Shin.
Ji is learning English, so I didn’t get too far. I asked her about playing for $1 million and she said, “Just play for par. Lot of wind.”
I asked, So you can block out the $1 million?”
“Yes, yes,” she said. “Sure.”
I asked again, “You can?”
“No,” Ji said. She shot 75.
Stanford, after shooting 67 in the second round and 69 in the third, ballooned to a 78 on Sunday, playing for the big bucks. But that, she said, was not the problem, or not all of the problem.
“I did a pretty good job of blocking out the $1 million,” Stanford said. “I think it’s true for any athlete. Once you get in the game, or between the ropes, your instincts take over and you just play. Every once in a while I’d think about the money, but then you just have to talk yourself back into your routine. It’s not like playing for the U.S. Open trophy. The U.S. Open is the U.S. Open. This is just money.”
And the ADT is all about the money, and here she is, your winner of the ADT Championship, winner of $1 million: Ji-Yai Shin, who has won 11 times this year around the world, including the British Open. She shot a final-round 70, two under par, and won by a shot and posed for pictures holding high a giant plastic cube with 10,000 Benjamins in it.
I asked her if she thought about the $1 million payday while playing. She’s South Korean and has been taking a crash-course in English, and doing well with it. She said, “First is the win. Million is second. But now I have the million. Happy. Excited.”
And why wouldn’t she be?