Sport

WOMEN’S GOLF

Women’s golf pros would struggle to say no to LIV’s money

Women’s golf pros would struggle to say no to LIV’s money
South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai, who won the 2022 Women’s Open Championship at Muirfield, says it would be hard to say ‘no’ to a LIV Golf offer if it were on the table. (Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Breakaway LIV Golf League has no formal plans to enter the women’s game just yet. But if it did, it might find a welcoming attitude from players.

World golfing superstar Rory McIlroy, who has become the de facto leader of the men’s PGA Tour players against the breakaway LIV Golf League, this week said something that is both entirely accurate and inaccurate at the same time.

“I’m not going to sit here and lie; I think the emergence of LIV or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour has benefited everyone that plays elite professional golf,” McIlroy said in a media conference before the Players Championship.

He’s not wrong – for the men’s game. The response to LIV’s huge signing on fees, which are in excess of $100-million for some players, and a total prize fund for its 14 tournament schedule of more than $400-­million, has been for the PGA to raise its prize funds to similar levels.

But it’s inaccurate regarding the women’s game, particularly on the less well-heeled Ladies European Tour (LET). Only a smattering of LET players could be classed as wealthy while most struggle to fund their dreams of playing professional golf.

“Tell the men to give us some of that money,” was the throwaway line of a very good British women’s player at this week’s Investec Women’s South African Open at the Steenberg Golf Estate in Cape Town.

She and her fellow tour players would welcome a huge cash injection into the game. LIV’s impact is a regular topic of discussion in LET locker rooms.

The 2023 LET schedule is a record-breaking €35-million (R680-million) over 30 official tournaments. It might, on the face of it, sound like a lot of money, but it works out to an average of €350,000 per event, with a first prize being about €45,000 to €50,000 (R970,000).

To put that in context, the prize money for last place at a non-cut LIV event with a 48-man field is $120,000 (R2.1-million).

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LIV Golf is backed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, which is worth between $500- and $600-billion. It is essentially a bottomless pit of money with stakes in other sports, such as Newcastle United.

Eleven-time LET winner Lee-Anne Pace doesn’t believe LIV will enter women’s golf just yet, but would welcome bigger purses in the women’s game. (Photos: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Getting richer

LIV’s aggressive approach to attracting top male golfers to the circuit might have split the golfing world, but ultimately male players are enjoying the conflict because they become richer.

The already rich PGA Tour is simply throwing more money at players to stay.

The PGA and LIV are also in the early motions of lawsuits and counter suits over player restrictions and the right to compete.

But the top women’s tour, the LPGA, where the prize money is about $90-million (R1.64-billion) for a 34-tournament schedule, has not openly distanced itself from LIV Golf, fuelling speculation that they would be open to talks with the rebel tour.

LIV Golf commissioner Greg Norman has made it clear women’s golf is part of their long-term vision. “One hundred percent. Drop the mic on that,” Norman told the Palm Beach Post when asked if LIV were looking at the women’s game.

“We have discussed it internally; the opportunity is there.”

That will be interesting news to top women players who would like to see more investment in the sport.

“I honestly have no idea if LIV Golf will come to women’s golf, but there are obviously some rumours going around,” South Africa’s current Open champion Ashleigh Buhai told DM168 before the start of the Investec SA Women’s Open.

“Where it is right now, I think they’re [LIV] more focused on getting the men’s side just up and running. But I think Saudi Arabia has a lot of money.”

As a sign of intent, two weeks ago the LET staged the Aramco Saudi Ladies Open, which had a total purse of $5-million. It was by some distance the biggest-ever prize fund on the LET outside of the majors.

Criticism of LIV Golf centres on Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record and repressive treatment of women, but moral outrage is a grey area. Most sports people just want to compete and make a good living doing it.

Life-changing tournament

“It was my first time going there [to Saudi Arabia] and I couldn’t fault the tournament, the way it was run, the way we were treated and the way we were hosted,” Buhai said.

“The fact that we got to play for $5-million was massive. I was disappointed by finishing 23rd, but I walked away with $60,000. That’s huge for us (women).

“To be able to have an average week and feel like we’re more than breaking even, it’s life-changing for a lot of us.”

Eleven-time LET winner Lee-Anne Pace is also unsure if LIV Golf will be the future, but she was impressed by the Saudi event.

“I understand some of the controversy around LIV but just that Saudi event has already been a massive boost for women’s golf. I finished 14th and it was worth more ($83,581) than two wins on the regular LET,” Pace told DM168. “If they have a few more events like that, it would be good, but I’m unsure about a women’s LIV Tour.”

Buhai also eloquently explained why more money in the women’s game was essential.

“What’s hard for us as females is we get to a certain age, there’s pressure, we want families,” Buhai said. “Once we have a family, we most likely have to walk away from the game. And then, what is our plan B? We have to go find a plan B….

“If somebody had to come along and offer good money, and knowing that you could, in five years’ time, be set up for life, it would be very hard to say no.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

DM168 11/03 FRONT PAGE

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    The ‘bottom line’ for people who make a fortune from playing golf (or any other sport for that matter) is that they are simply interested in where they can make more lucre ! There are no questions of the ethics of autocratic/neo-fascist regimes hiding behind the lucre, and their desperate need for credibility/acceptance, as was the case with our previous apartheid regime .

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