It is back to the drawing board for many new and veteran players on the LPGA tour. Even though there are still 9 more events left on the 2016 schedule, including the major Evian Championship in France next week, many players teed it up in what turned out to be their last event of the year last week at the Manulife LPGA Classic in Canada. Their LPGA season is over all too soon if they are not ranked high enough now to get into any of the remaining events.
The players who have now hit their last shot on tour in 2016 (with a few exceptions like Michelle Wie and Yani Tseng) are those who failed to climb into the top 100 on the tour’s money list this season. They now have to deal with returning to Q-School in late November to try to regain good playing status on the tour in 2017. If they fail to grab one of the top 20 spots at Q-School they face the grim prospect of getting into only a limited number of events next year, or worse, losing their LPGA cards altogether. Wie and Tseng will retain good playing status for next year because of their past performances, including victories in major events and career earnings.
25 veteran LPGA players who finished their seasons last week outside the top 100 on the money list and must now head back to Q-School in November include… Belen Mozo, Becky Morgan, Amelia Lewis, Katherine Kirk, Julieta Granada, Sarah Kemp, Giulia Sergas, Lisa Ferrero, and Alison Walshe. There are also close to 50 other less experienced LPGA players, like Jaye Marie Green and Amy Anderson, who finished outside the top 100 and are now facing another grueling five-day Q-School tournament with good playing status in 2017 very much on the line.
The player who currently sits in the 100th place on the money list this season is Vicky Hurst. That could change depending on a couple of scenarios in the Evian Championship. Her career is a case study in just how difficult it is to stay on the LPGA tour. The Florida teenager became a highly-touted LPGA rookie in 2009 after playing one record-setting season on the Symetra Tour in 2008. Hurst won five times on that tour that year, setting a single-season earnings record. She had some early success on the LPGA and was named to the U S Solheim Cup team in 2011. However, her performance then dropped off in 2013. In 2014, suffering from a nagging wrist injury, she made only one cut all year. She lost her LPGA status and was forced to return to the Symetra Tour last year. She finished the 2015 season in the top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list, earning her LPGA card again for this year. This year though she had another frustrating season, resulting in her current 100th place finish on the money list.
Players who finished this season from number 101 to 125 on the money list will maintain some playing status on the tour in 2017 regardless of how they do at Q-School, but those 25 players will drop considerably on the player priority list, sharply limiting their playing opportunities. Players outside the top 125 will lose their LPGA cards altogether for next year unless they perform well at Q-School. It is a complicated numbers game, but players know exactly what they need to do in order to ensure themselves the opportunity of playing a lot next year, to give themselves the most chances to cash big checks and keep their pro careers alive.
There is a de facto two-tiered player system on the LPGA. All of the tour’s Asian events (8 this year; 2 in the spring and 6 in the fall) have limited fields. Generally, a player needs to be in the top 60-70 on the tour’s money list in order to play in those reduced-field events. The Asian LPGA events also do not have cuts, so the players who compete in the Asian swings are guaranteed to cash a check in each of those events. Over the course of the full season that gives the top 70 or so players on the tour a distinct advantage in maintaining a good position on the money list throughout the year.
Competition and the quality of play on the LPGA has never been stronger. The influx of highly talented and younger, players from around the world has been very evident over the past few seasons. The average age of the winners of LPGA events this year is just 21 years old. That is making it harder for new young players on the tour and older, less accomplished, veterans to hang onto their LPGA cards each season. Their only option is to play better or face the prospects of returning to Q-School.
18-year-old Megan Khang from Rockland, Massachusetts (see my profile of Megan, written at the start of the season) is an example of a young player who earned her rookie card at Q-School last December and has made the most of her opportunities in her first season on the LPGA. Following the Manulife LPGA Classic results, Megan now sits at #58 on the tour’s money list, having earned over $216,000. This means she has qualified to play in the Evian Championship, the 6 Asian events this fall, and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida in late November.
All of those extra playing opportunities will give Megan more chances to add to her season’s earnings and to play in the limited-field Asian events at the beginning of the 2017 season. Megan is one of only five rookies to make it into the top 70 on the LPGA money list this year. In Gee Chun, Gaby Lopez, Su Oh, and Lee Lopez are the other four. In fact, only six of the 29 rookies on the tour this year finished their seasons in the top 100 on the money list. The 16 rookies who didn’t will have to return to Q-School in November.
The pressure is always on the players on the LPGA to play golf at the highest level in the game on a consistent basis. Those who do can enjoy long and lucrative careers. Those who don’t will find themselves scrambling most seasons just to maintain their playing status for the following year. Once they have earned their LPGA cards players never want to see Q-School again, but the reality is that many players return to Q-School several times over the course of their careers. Every year Q-School marks the beginning of many new LPGA careers. They are all excellent young players filled with optimism and high expectations.
However each year Q-School usually marks the end of some careers as well. Only a small number of the best women players in the world survive for long on the LPGA.
Dave Andrews is a retired television news reporter. He is also an avid golfer who has become a fan of the LPGA and the Symetra Tour.
Dave is the author of Pops and Sunshine, a novel and screenplay about a young woman pro’s dream and struggles to make it to the LPGA. The screenplay has been optioned by a production company in Hollywood. The novel is available at Kindle Ebooks.
Follow Dave online on Twitter @PopsandSunshine