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Notes: Despite prize money gap, Whan sees strength in growth

Doug Ferguson

Every week brings a sobering reminder of how much more money the men play for on the PGA Tour than the women do on the LPGA tour.

With four tournaments left in the LPGA season, Danielle Kang became the 11th player to break the $1 million mark. The PGA Tour had 112 players earn at least $1 million last season. Already nine players have made at least $1 million through six PGA Tour events this season.

Mike Whan brought a different perspective Tuesday at the LPGA's new BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea.

Prize money for the women is growing at a rate Whan didn't think possible when he took over as commissioner in 2010. It's also growing for the men.

''Not sure if we have closed the gap, even though we are playing for dramatically more money,'' Whan said. ''When I started, we were playing for just over $40 million and now we're playing for over $70 million. But the fact is, the men's (prize money) has grown as well. As a result, I don't want to be depressed by that. I think when golf and golf purses are growing for men and women, that's a good opportunity.''

The LPGA had 24 events and official prize money of $41.4 million in 2010. Whan said it had only one tournament with a purse of $3 million or more. This season, it had 32 official events and $70.2 million in prize money, an increase of 70 percent. Five tournaments had prize money of $3 million or more.

The PGA Tour had 46 official events in 2010 and 2019, and prize money grew from $310.1 million (including $35 million in FedExCup bonuses) to $413.6 million (including $60 million from the FedExCup and $10 million from the Wyndham Rewards). That's an increase of 33 percent.

Whan still has his eye on the gap, and he knows that closing it will take time.

''I have not had to be too loud about closing the gap because society has taken that banner for me,'' he said. ''Almost all of my sponsors, almost all of my tournaments, almost all of the people that help lift the LPGA are interested in lifting those purses and equalizing that difference, as well.

''But the reality of it is we have grown significantly, and the gap is about the same.''

MICKELSON AT 50

Phil Mickelson did just enough at the CJ Cup in South Korea - a 68 in the final round to tie for 31st - to fall only to No. 50 and keep alive for another week his remarkable streak of 26 years among the top 50 in the world ranking. How long will it last? That depends.

According to a world ranking analyst who goes by ''Nosferatu'' on Twitter, Mickelson still has a chance to stay at No. 50 even though he is not playing the ZoZo Championship in Japan.

One simplified outlook: The top 12 at the end of the tournament must all be currently in the top 50. And that assumes Lucas Bjerregaard, Tom Lewis or Lee Westwood does not win the Portugal Masters on the European Tour.

If he survives, the ball is back in Lefty's hands. He is to play the following week at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, where he has won twice.

ADVICE FROM THE SHARK

Lanto Griffin couldn't find a place to eat during the Korn Ferry Tour opener in the Bahamas, so he and Will Wilcox dropped in on a pro-am dinner at Sandal Emerald Bay on Great Exuma, where the golf course designer was speaking. Greg Norman's words went a long way.

''He said when he looks at players on this tour, he looks at guys finishing consistently in the top 20,'' Griffin said. ''He doesn't look at guys who finish solo second and MC (missed cut) 10 times in a row, finish third and get their card. He was telling me I'm not who he looks at.''

Griffin thought back to the first time he earned a PGA Tour card through the Korn Ferry. In his first 11 tournaments, he missed seven cuts and finished out of the top 50 in three others. And then he won. After that, he finished out of the top 10 in seven of his eight tournaments.

Most peculiar about that regular season? He didn't have any finishes in the 20s or 30s.

He tied for 62nd that week. Griffin says finishing 60th is like ''taking a week off without taking a week off.''

''I started thinking and playing smarter,'' he said. ''When you're 45th going into the weekend, you're being so aggressive to win a tournament and that's not always the best mindset. Let's see how many top 20s you can rack up. You need luck to win. The weeks you don't get lucky, turn 50th into 20th.

''That's the difference between having a good year and a bad year.''

It will be hard to top winning the Houston Open, his first PGA Tour victory. But he thought about the Safeway Open, where he made the cut on the number, then made one bogey on the weekend, shot 67-70 and tied for 17th.

''The year before if I made the cut on the number, I would have shot even on the weekend and finished 66th,'' he said. ''I was happy to make the cut, but I never got anything out of it.''

DIVOTS

Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson will be among those playing the PNC Father-Son Challenge on Dec. 5-8 in Orlando, Florida. They have 35 majors among them. ... Justin Thomas has 11 victories on the PGA Tour, five of them on the U.S. mainland. He has won twice in Malaysia, twice in South Korea and twice in Hawaii. ... The French Open had a strength-of-field value of 288 points last summer ahead of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National. It was moved to October this year and had a points value of 51.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Cheyenne Knight and Danielle Kang are the first Americans to win back to back on the LPGA tour since Kang and Nelly Korda won consecutive events last October.

FINAL WORD

''There's a lot of countries trying to emulate what Korea has built. It's great, and it's creating opportunities for young girls in countries that didn't even play golf 10 or 15 years ago.'' - LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.