First things first down in Naples.
The CME Group has made an historic move in women’s golf. The sponsor of this week’s LPGA Tour Championship and the season-long race, has done something unprecedented. This time next year, this event will have a $5 million total purse with a whopping $1.5 million to the winner, which makes it bigger than five events on the PGA Tour.
And things will also be simplified this time next year. Instead of a points race that made everyone do a lot of math on Sunday to figure out who among the 72 players would win the $1 million bonus, points will be used to determine a 60-player field, then the points will disappear and anyone who makes it to the Tiburón Golf Club will have a chance at the big prize — which has increased by 50 percent.
The move doubles the Tour Championship prize money from $2.5 million to $5 million, matching the U.S. Women’s Open as the richest in women’s golf. The Women’s Open made out a check for $900,000 to Ariya Jutanugarn, this year’s winner. Next year, the CME Group Tour Championship victor gets nearly double that.
Which brings us back to this week’s finale.
Thursday was a good day for American golfers, Amy Olson in particular. Olson, the only LPGA player from North Dakota State University, opened with a nine-under par 63 and held the day one lead. Olson garnered a lot of attention in the season’s final major when she finished in a tie for second at The Evian.
Fellow American Brittany Lincicome was in with 64 and was tied for second with Japan’s Nasa Hataoka.
Finally, there was a Lexi Thompson sighting. Thompson, who hasn’t played in many events this year, had her best opening round of the season with a seven-under par 65.
Of course the main question was what did CME Globe points-leader Ariya Jutanugarn shoot? The world’s No. 1 had a less-than-impressive opening round — a two-under par 70 that left her tied for 24th. If this was a one-round event, Hatoka would win the $1 million CME Globe bonus but there are still 54-holes to play with plenty of time for Jutanugarn to get closer to the big money.
Minjee Lee, who is second behind Jutanugarn, was in the group at two-under.