NAPLES, Fla. – In her first sit-down with the national golf media since taking the reins as LPGA commissioner in August, Mollie Marcoux Samaan was asked a hypothetical question: If she had to work for herself, what would make her most excited, and what would make her most nervous?
“I just love being a part of a team,” she said Friday in a Ritz-Carlton ballroom, just moments after the official release of the LPGA’s 2022 schedule. “I believe in my heart there's no way any of this happens without a big team of people. It's not a one-person show, so I hope people are excited about being part of something bigger than themselves.”
As for the second part of the question, Marcoux Samaan reckoned that at previous jobs she’d had people who said she moved too quickly and had too much energy. “Not with this team,” she promptly added. “I don't think they're worried about that. They're used to moving fast and furiously.”
True to her nature, the former Princeton athletics director has wasted no time. She’s already about three-fourths of the way through her 100-day plan, a period that began with a listening-and-learning phase followed by an outlining of the tour’s new strategic plan, which builds off the work that former commissioner, Michael Whan, did in his 11 years on the job.
When she arrived in Florida three months ago, Marcoux Samaan told GolfChannel.com that her main focus from the get-go would be the competition schedule – and on Friday morning the curtain was finally lifted on that passion project.
The details are impressive: 34 events and, more importantly, a record $85.7 million in prize money. That number, which is aided by nine events bumping up their purses, could rise, too, with additional purse increases expected during the new season.
This year, LPGA players competed for a total of $67.5 million with the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship comprising $5 million of that. In 2022, the LPGA finale will offer a $7 million purse and $2 million to the winner.
“It's just been getting bigger and better,” added Danielle Kang, who’s been an LPGA member since 2012. “I used to play for $1 million purses. … There was never a $1 million [first-place] prize five, six years ago.”
There’s no secret that there has been burgeoning interest and support for the world’s premier women’s golf tour – and women’s sports in general. Marcoux Samaan calls it an “awakening” as, in her words, sponsors have realized, “Wow, this is an undervalued asset out in the world. We need to accentuate that value.”
“And our opportunity is to capitalize on that,” she said.
Marcoux Samaan says it’s not just important for the LPGA to “make sure that the top players in the world can make a living commensurate with their talent,” but she’s also focused on ensuring that all of her membership can make a good living as she continues to push for more equity and lessen the delta in her sport.
This year’s money leader, Nelly Korda, has won four times and earned $2,237,157. The 60th player, Chella Choi, has netted $318,722.
“We're trying to find ways to close those gaps … because these are, like I said a million times, the best golfers in the world,” Marcoux Samaan said.
While the dynamic between getting more compensation for the players and getting more eyeballs on them is a bit of a “chicken-and-egg” scenario, Marcoux Samaan admits, the LPGA has a “multi-tiered strategy” in place that focuses on increasing fan engagement while working with its partners to give them added value to their relationship with the tour. That plan includes increasing the tour’s television exposure, whether via broadcast or streaming.
There’s also an added emphasis on providing prospective sponsors with more information as it relates to the LPGA’s players, especially as it relates to finances.
“If you make the cut, how much money do they make at the cut line? Can that pay for their expenses? That's a really important thing for us to analyze, and I think sponsors and partners are seeing that,” Marcoux Samaan said.
With strong backing from companies such as CME Group, led by CEO Terry Duffy, and JTBC, which will serve as title sponsor for three Southern California tournaments next season, the LPGA has a solid foundation of partners that are both passionate about women’s golf and could potentially inspire others to do the same.
“We are impressed with the leadership Commissioner Marcoux Samaan has demonstrated and are thrilled to help elevate women’s golf,” Duffy said earlier this week after announcing the CME’s purse increase, which will also raise the prize money for last place from $11,399 to $40,000.
Ricki Lasky, the LPGA’s chief tournament business officer, says there’s been a noticeable shift in sponsor engagement during her tenure.
“Our partners that have been there, the conversation has shifted from just titling an LPGA event, and once they come in, they understand the value,” Lasky said. “But now they're talking about not only the entitlement, but everything under the umbrella of the LPGA, which has significantly changed since 10 years ago with: How can I help women's golf? How can I be a part of what you all do as a whole now that you have this global platform that we can be a part of?”
Added Marcoux Samaan: “People are seeing that there are both commercial benefits from the partnership, but also significant value association and brand association benefits from the partnership, and that together we can actually help them accomplish some of their other goals that they maybe hadn't seen before.”
With the announcement coming out during play Friday at Tiburon Golf Club, many players were asked about the new schedule and its beefed-up purses after their rounds.
“Sponsors are stepping up, showcasing women's golf at another level,” Korda said, “and I don't think we can be more grateful for them. … It's been so cool to see how much the sponsors love supporting us, and hopefully we give them a great show, as well.”
Added Lexi Thompson: “We're doing something right, and just very grateful to have the partnerships we do. To hear that kind of news is a big deal for the LPGA.”
So, as the LPGA turns the page on this season and looks ahead to a new, more lucrative campaign in 2022, there is much to be excited about with the direction of the tour.
For Marcoux Samaan, there will be no minute wasted.
“The way we've been talking around our world is this is our time,” she said. “The momentum is with us, and we just think there's even more growth to come in so many different areas.”