There’s one last major to be played in 2020, as the US Women’s Open will unfold at Champions Golf Club in Houston.
The club, founded by Jimmy Demaret and Jackie Burke, Jr. in 1957, is a serendipitous host. With a 12-month season, Champions can host the rarest of December majors with a weather forecast that will have highs in the 70s on Thursday and Friday before dropping into the low 60s for the weekend.
The other fortunate break is that Champions has two courses, with the Cypress Creek course and the Jackrabbit course. While the Cypress Creek course was renovated to host the Open, the Jackrabbit is no slouch. With its own character, including tighter playing corridors, the Jackrabbit is a worthy co-host in these unique circumstances.
It was important for the US Women’s Open to be played. Critical even. The US Women’s Open is the biggest event in women’s golf, by far.
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From a prestige perspective, it’s the most-coveted major title in women’s golf, celebrating its 75th playing this year. It’s the major that goes back the farthest, even before the LPGA Championship, which is now the Women’s PGA Championship.
From a financial perspective, it’s an even bigger deal. With a big, 12-year television contract from Fox in hand, the USGA last year bumped the US Women’s Open purse to $5.5 million, making the winner’s share $1 million. Perhaps inspired by the move, the LPGA and CME Group combined to restructure the Race to the CME Globe and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship to hike the winner’s share to $1.5 million.
Last year marked the first time in women’s golf history that two million-dollar-plus first-place checks were awarded in the same season. This season on the PGA Tour, there will only five tournaments where the winner doesn’t get a seven-figure payday. The FedEx Cup $65 million bonus pool and The Players Championship’s $15 million purse is worth more than the entire LPGA schedule.
The US Women’s Open doesn’t only represent a chance to make history, it represents a chance to earn financial security. Sarah Jane Smith had been struggling personally with the decision to start a family. At 34, she didn’t feel stable enough financially to do it. However, after she finished in fifth at the 2018 US Women’s Open, earning $182,487, she and her husband-caddie Duane decided to have a child.
This is a life-changing week for more players than just the winner.
On the LPGA, 14 players earned more than $1 million in a season last year. There are more than 100 millionaires each year on the PGA Tour. Just 69 players earned more than $250,000. Given a pro golfer’s weekly expenses — travel, rental cars, accommodations, meals, caddies — and the litany state and international taxes they pay on their earnings, it is difficult to turn a profit, even at this level. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan has done extraordinary things in a decade in his role, expanding the schedule, creating opportunities and hiking purses by connecting with invested sponsors. The reality is, though, that making it as a pro golfer is extremely difficult, and weeks like this one can turn a year around.
This event had to happen.
It deserves your support. NBC Sports Group, which took over the USGA television contract from Fox after a happenstance conversation over rescheduling the US Open, will air 25 hours of coverage of the event. That’s great, but it’s about one-third the hours allocated to the US Open.
Watching the event linearly will also be quite the exercise. On Saturday alone, golf viewers will have to start with two hours of coverage on Golf Channel, then switch to NBC’s streaming service Peacock for just 90 more minutes of coverage, and then switch back to NBC to watch the rest of the final round.
While the effort to match Fox’s vast coverage windows for the US Women’s Open is admirable, it’s also dizzying and insulting.
Since the TV viewing experience won’t be the smoothest, it’s up to other forces to hopefully pique the public’s interest in this championship up against college basketball and football, as well the NFL.
Fortunately, compatriot male pros have been tweeting in support of the event, telling their followers this is an event worth their time.
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols and the LPGA’s Steve Eubanks will continue doing their great work as the only two remaining beat reporters on the circuit. Golf Digest has committed itself to improved LPGA coverage in recent memory.
DraftKings is offering daily fantasy LPGA games for the first time ever this week. Thousands of new fans could be found this week, as golf bettors and DFS players will tune in to watch their sweat and hopefully come away as fans wanting to play another game next week for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
I’ve long been an advocate for the LPGA — and inclusivity in golf in general. The LPGA is a great watch, regardless of whether you play golf, much less better identify with these pros compared to those on the PGA Tour with 120 mph swing speeds and jaw-dropping power. There are more winning styles on the LPGA, like there used to be on the PGA Tour, but there are power players on the LPGA that will launch some 300-yard bombs this week.
The LPGA’s slogan used to “see why it’s different out here,” but the truth is that women’s golf is golf. These pros play the game at the highest level, and they will entertain you all week. I promise you will love it.