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CME Group CEO ‘exceptionally disappointed’ with LPGA leadership heading for record pay day

The seeds of the CME Group Tour Championship began with a pro-am 15 years ago. During those early years, CME Group President and CEO Terry Duffy received note after note from customers who enjoyed their rounds of golf with LPGA players so much that they instantly became fans. of the tour.

Beginning in 2011, CME began title sponsorship of the LPGA’s year-end event, eventually integrating the company’s Global Financial Leadership Conference in Naples with the LPGA’s season-ending event at the Ritz- Carlton’s Tiburon Golf Club. This week, Duffy will hand over the biggest check in women’s soccer history – $2 million. The overall purse of $7 million is the largest in the LPGA outside of the majors (and is larger than the purses of two of the five majors). The last player in the pool of 60 will win $40,000, close to what 10th place did last week.

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Former U.S. presidents, secretaries of state, and business moguls have made presentations at CME’s conference, and for dinner on Tuesday night, the company typically invites a number of gamers to attend. Earlier this week, when Duffy asked for the house lights to be turned on so he could cheer on the players in the room, the only people standing were those serving the tables.

Not a single player showed up.

“It’s an embarrassment for a company my size and an embarrassment for me personally,” Duffy said, two days after the event.

Duffy’s beef isn’t with the players, though – it’s with who’s at the helm.

“I am exceptionally disappointed with the leadership of the LPGA,” he continued. “They better pull themselves together because they’re going to lose people like me to stuff like this.”

When CME first sponsored the Titleholders event in 2011, the purse was $1.5 million and the winner received $500,000. Three years later, the Race to the CME Globe season points race was introduced with a bonus of $1 million. This bonus has since been incorporated into the official prize money with a win-win format. In 2018, it was announced that the winner would receive $1.5 million, which at the time was more than most PGA Tour winners had received.

“This announcement is really about setting a new standard in women’s golf,” then-commissioner Mike Whan said four years ago. “I would love to lie to you guys and say I called Terry 16 times and pushed and pushed him for this, but it was his idea.”

Duffy aimed to chart a course that he hoped other organizations would follow. Her influence today is similar to what David Foster did in Mission Hills in the 1970s to elevate the women’s circuit with the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle.

Mollie Marcoux Samaan was appointed commissioner of the LPGA 18 months ago, and she was at the dinner the players skipped.

“There has been no greater supporter of the LPGA than CME Group and Terry Duffy,” Marcoux Samaan told Golfweek on Friday when asked about the incident.

“There was clearly a disconnect, and it’s my responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen. So on this particular issue, I take full responsibility as the leader of the organization for myself. ensure that this does not happen again.

This week, the LPGA announced that total prize money in 2023 will cross the $100 million mark for the first time, despite losing three full events and adding just one (although it’s unclear not at this stage whether players will actually be able to travel to the two events in China which are worth $4.2 million). The majors and CME account for nearly half of the tour’s prize money, with just three additional events on the schedule with a purse of at least $3 million. A dozen events still offer scholarships below $2 million.

While the big LPGA events do the heavy lifting, it’s always difficult to nudge long-time sponsors to higher purses and fill in the gaps for those who don’t renew. Veteran players, who not so long ago feared the LPGA would survive, understand that a culture of appreciation remains vital.

The accessibility and accessibility of female players is what prompted Duffy to organize a pro-am event with around 20 female players and make it a benchmark event for women’s sports.

As the LPGA continues to reach new heights financially, the chasm between the men’s and women’s tours only widens as some purses on the PGA Tour schedule now reach $20 million. LPGA veteran Karen Stupples believes it’s essential that LPGA players maintain the “act like a founder” mantra that Whan has preached for years.

“They went to baseball parks and took turns on the fields to get people to watch them play golf,” Stupples said of the 13 women who founded the tour in 1950. “Players don’t have more to do that, they have to go to a party or two. Just treat it like your job. Your job description is to do that.

It is no longer uncommon now for top players to refuse pre-tournament interviews, even at major leagues and the CME. Some will encounter the print media or the Golf Channel, but not both. Sometimes it’s nothing at all.

When Stacy Lewis became the No. 1 player in the world, a few LPGA Hall of Famers sat her down and outlined the expectations.

“They just said, as the top American, as the world No. 1, you’re going to be asked to do a lot of things,” Lewis said. “You’re going to be asked to do a lot of interviews that you don’t want to do. You have to because it’s best for the tour. It will be productive for you; it will be productive for the tour. It creates more exposure, and that’s your job. Your job as a top player is to help build this tour.

Stupples thinks players often get so caught up in their own little bubbles that they fail to see the big picture. Lewis agrees.

“It’s all that kind of stuff that hasn’t been said for so long, and people have done it because it’s the right thing to do,” Lewis said, “and the current generation needs to hear it, needs to learn it.”

For the LPGA to continue on an upward trajectory, player buy-in remains critical, especially when it comes to knowing the expectations of those who write the checks.

“I’m concerned about the future of the Tour,” Duffy said, “because the leaders need to work with their players to make sure everyone clearly understands how we’re developing the game together, with sponsors and others. there is nobody, not two people who can cultivate it alone. You need everyone. They say it takes a village, and I think their village is a bit fractured.

Marcoux Samaan said she continues to emphasize the “act like a founder” culture that Whan has created during staff and player meetings, believing that the organization’s “secret sauce” when it comes to hospitality, sponsor engagement and accessibility remains one of its greatest strengths.

“We just have to keep delivering that message,” Marcoux Samaan said, “and I don’t think anyone disputes that. I think everyone believes in it. Sometimes you just miss the moment.

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