My Day On The Road To The LPGA

The Struggle Is Real

Seven players on the LPGA Tour have earned $1,000,000 up to this point in their 2015 seasons. On the PGA Tour there are 101 millionaires this year. On the men’s tour there are 157 players that have earned 500k. The women have 19 players with that amount of yearly income. In no way am I saying the ladies of professional golf should earn more. That isn’t how our country works. I believe in capitalism. The men can draw more eyeballs, more advertisers, and that is what pays the bills. My comparison in this post is used only to show that it isn’t that glamorous of a lifestyle trying to play professional golf for women. The comparison of the men’s and women’s games gets even more out of whack when you dig deeper into their minor league tours one must be successful on in order to make it to the highest level.

For the ladies on the Symetra Tour, the road to the LPGA, a mere $66,000 in earnings will make you the leading money winner. That would be good enough for the 76th spot on the Tour (men’s counterpart). The ladies playing the Symetra Tour often share rooms, rental cars, stay with host families, and save dough in any other way possible to make their way around to various tournaments. While we hear stories like that of Kevin Streelman – PGA Tour journeyman turned Tour Player millionaire – sleeping in his car and putting 500,000 miles on a 1996 Toyota Camry, we don’t often hear about the struggles of an LPGA Tour player before she ‘made it’. Earlier this year I played in a Symetra Tour Pro-Am event and it opened my eyes to the lifestyle of a struggling ladies minor league touring pro.

I Felt Bad For Them

How I was invited to play in the pro-am doesn’t matter. I didn’t pay for it, but the event was quite luxurious. Comped breakfast, lunch, dinner, gift bags, new shoes, shirts, leather luggage, a round at a high end resort….all that was awesome. I’d played the course before, It’s a nice place, but it was in perfect condition for the weekend tournament. Part of the day also included getting to meet an LPGA Hall of Famer who was the quasi host of the tournament (before I forget, I must boast that I did beat the HOF’er in closest to the pin – she hit a 6 iron from 162 to 35 feet and I hit an 8 iron to 5 feet). The entire event, outside of the talent there, was 1st class.

I was excited to meet the professional for my group after I finished warming up on the range. I watched several pros on the practice tee and they all put a good move of the ball, the issue is that 85% of them can’t hit it as far as I hit a hybrid. They don’t have the strength or the speed. There are some hotties. I’d guess 1 of every 4 would be considered attractive, but it seems there is a direct correlation to hotness and game. The hotter you are, the worse you play. The uglier you are, the better your standing on the money list. There are some exceptions to this rule, but I’ll cover them later. Also, many of the Symetra members are Asian, in some way shape or form (Asian, Asian-American, Filipino, etc.). That shouldn’t matter to anyone who is a fan of golf, but I do think it takes a toll on making the ladies game more marketable.

My pro, we’ll call her “Susie Wong”, was as American as apple pie, albeit, Asian American. The West Coast girl was a classic golf nerd. A bit squatty in stature, she’d won less than 30k in almost 4 seasons of playing the Tour. She averaged 233 yards off the tee. And her stroke average was about 76 (per the Symetra website). With a 5 person team, our scramble score was 10 under, and we only used 7 of her shots. She didn’t make a putt over 6 feet all day. And she didn’t even anchor our rotation. I out-drove her by 100 yards on par 5 and hit 9 iron on the 2nd shot where she hit hybrid. My point here isn’t to sound macho, but to question how she’s supposed to be able to compete with a Michelle Wie or Lexi Thompson to make a living? Overall, she simply wasn’t very good or she had a very bad day.

This event wasn’t my first exposure to the Symetra Tour. A friend of mine was married to a Symetra member before their divorce. I played with his wife several times. She would have out-driven Susie by 50 yards. After 18 holes with Miss Wong I pondered how her game stacked up to her peers. Many of her stats were in the middle of the pack or worse. It was easy to see how she became embarrassed of her game over the duration of the pro-am. She didn’t like getting upstaged by her amateur partners. She missed one fairway all day and but still went immediately to the range to work on her game instead of socializing and networking during dinner. It would probably behoove players of her ilk to socialize more to open up business/sponsorship opportunities. This skill seemed lost on several Symetra players.

Susie told us about the host family she stayed with, what she thought of the course, how she played in her last event, what was in her bag, and who she traveled with. She used a caddie provided to her by the resort at no charge. And when she finally did come in from her cram session on the range, she took two to-go boxes home from dinner to feed herself for the next two nights. Any way to save a dime on tour, right? I wish this girl nothing but the best, but I don’t think she’ll ever make it to the big show. 100 of the top 125 players on the Symetra Tour won’t make it. Stacking my cubicle jockey game up against theirs easily tells me why. At what point do they realize they should move on to their back up plan?

Few And Far Future Stars

Don’t get me wrong, there are some legit talents on the Tour. I met Brianna Do, the former UCLA Bruin, who ranks in the top 20 on the money list. She’s only made 40k for 2015 but she’s not far away from earning a promotion to the LPGA. She can play, she rips it pretty far off the tee, and she won the U.S. Women’s Publinks in 2011. She’s not ugly either (on the right).

Madeleine Sheils is also hanging around the top 20 on the Symetra money list. The former Nebraska Cornhusker has the game and the looks to make it to the ladies tour someday. She drives it further than the average Symetra player, hits a ton of greens, and makes a lot of birdies.

I give every one of these broads all the credit in the world for chasing their dreams of professional golf. In many ways I’m envious. They’re young. They chase the sun. And they get to play golf every day if they want. That can’t be all bad no matter what your day to day struggles are. My only advice, hang on as long as you can ladies. Desk jobs and grad school can wait.

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